Moffat County Teachers use new method to engage young students | CraigDailyPress.com

Moffat County Teachers use new method to engage young students

Bridget Manley





Kestrel Copeland, center, makes a gesture to help teach her classmate, Norman Cruz, a math concept Tuesday morning in Jennifer Willems' second-grade class at East Elementary School. Willems and several other teachers at East Elementary are using whole brain teaching this year, a method designed to engage students using gestures and visual and verbal cues.
Bridget Manley

Alegra Corey, East Elementary School first-grade teacher, guides students through a demonstration of whole brain teaching to Moffat County School Board members during the board's regular meeting Nov. 17 in the school district board room.Bridget Manley

At a Glance …

Several East Elementary School teachers are using whole brain teaching this year.

The method is designed to engage all parts of the brain using speech and motion.

Teachers: Whole brain teaching works for a variety of students, including English language learners, and is also a classroom management tool.

Jennifer Willems, a second-grade teacher at East Elementary School, could have easily posted her classroom rules on the wall and left it at that.

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Instead, she chose a different method.

"Rule No. 1," she said Tuesday morning as her students sat on the floor in front of her.

"Rule No. 1: Follow directions quickly," her students chorused.

They made a weaving gesture with their hands, as if to indicate forward motion.

"Rule No. 2," Willems said, holding up two fingers.

"Rule No. 2," her students responded in sing-song voices, "raise your hand for permission to speak."

This method, called whole brain teaching, is designed to use speech and movement to accomplish what its name implies.

"It really just is engaging all parts of the brain with every concept that you teach," said Alegra Corey, East Elementary first-grade teacher.

The system stemmed from a grassroots education reform movement launched in 1999 by three California teachers, according to the website http://www.wholebrainteaching.com.

Chris Biffle was one of them.

The idea for whole brain teaching was born in part from "my frustration with teaching philosophy," he wrote in an email.

Whole Brain Teachers of America has given seminars to more than 6,000 educators in the past 10 years, according to the website.

East Elementary teachers learned about whole brain teaching through a webinar, Corey said. So far, only a handful of teachers at the school are using the system, but it may not stay that way for long.

"It's definitely catching on," Corey said.

Willems "dabbled" with the system a little last year, she said, and has used it more extensively this year.

In her view, it's made a difference in her classroom.

"The student engagement is better," she said. "As far as when I'm teaching a lesson, they're actually much more focused on the actual lesson."

The method uses a combination of gestures and visual and verbal cues, which helps teach all students in a classroom, Willems said, including English language learners and those with special needs.

Whole brain teaching can be tailored for any subject area, and educators can use it to teach to mandated standards, Corey said.

Those standards can include teaching young students about phonics, which isn't always an easy concept to grasp.

"When you're teaching first-graders what diagraphs are, it's a little overwhelming," Corey said. "This is just a fun and engaging way to teach the standards."

The biggest component of whole brain teaching, though, is behavior management, Willems said.

Teachers can keep track of students' behavior using a scoreboard split into two halves.

Following instructions warrants a point on the side with a smiley face and a class-wide "Oh, yeah." Disobey instructions, and a point goes to the side of the board marked with a sad face.

Willems' students got a point on the former side Tuesday for returning to their desks quickly after reviewing classroom rules.

"That's an 'Oh, yeah,'" Willems said.

"Oh, yeah," her students echoed back.

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At a Glance …

Several East Elementary School teachers are using whole brain teaching this year.

The method is designed to engage all parts of the brain using speech and motion.

Teachers: Whole brain teaching works for a variety of students, including English language learners, and is also a classroom management tool.

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