Making Connections is for educators and others who know that schools must change. It adds to the growing body of knowledge and research suggesting that we need to move beyond simplistic, narrow approaches to teaching and learning.
When I read professional books, I like to reflect on my own educational philosophy and consider methods or research that will help me improve. As I reread this book, I found some very meaningful spots that absolutely apply to me.
Currently literature, mathematics, history, and science are often seen as separate disciplines unrelated to the life of the learner. And much of what we presently accept as teaching is based on the mistaker belief that students can be taught reading and writing as separate from meaning and purpose, and that somehow what happens in the classroom is unaffected by the real world children and adults inhabit. Brain-based learning on the other hand, rests on the fact that the various disciplines relate to each other and share common information that the brain can recognize and organize.
Likewise, if I can relate my material to my students, they will be more apt to be interested. Sometimes that means I have to get them interested. It's always easier to start from a familiar point or with familiar experiences.
Excellent teachers do more than teach to the test. They use the background and information students bring to class, including their experiences with parents, power, and love. Such teachers attempt to help students recognize the deeper meanings and issues...and make genuine personal connections... These connections include increasing familiarity with a somewhat different vocabulary, society, and period in time. Students also learn about themselves and life in the process. Thus, immersion in the subject, linking the information to other subjects and personal meaning, and expansion of vocabulary, history, and psychology has begun.
As much as I tried to cross curricula, I also had to consider challenging my students by asking them higher-order questions and by putting forth mysterious scenarios. I had to understand that the teacher does not provide everything - that the teacher is not the nurturing, patient soul that many people think he is. I finally concluded that that type of teaching - the kind that presses me to be with the kid throughout the process, to correct and handhold - would drive me to an early grave. Not only this, but helping that kid perform everything perfectly is not what's best for her. Robert Kaplinsky touched on this in his blog post on May 9: Why I Want to Be the Least Helpful Teacher Possible (You have to appreciate the title.).
Here's how the authors put things in Making Connections:
Among the features of brain-based learning are active uncertainty or the tolerance for ambiguity; problem solving; questioning; and patterning by drawing relationships through the use of metaphor, similes, and demonstrations. Students are given many choices for activities and projects. Teaching methods are complex, lifelike, and integrated, using music and natural environments. Brain-based learning is usually exprienced [sic] as joyful, although the content is rigorous and intellectually challenging; and students experience a high degree of self-motivation. It acknowledges and encourages the brain's ability to integrate vast amounts of information. It involves the entire learner in a challenging learning process that simultaneously engages the intellect, creativity, emotions, and physiology. It allows for the unique abilities and contributions from the learner in the teaching-learning situation. It acknowledges that learning takes place within a multiplicity of contexts - classroom, school, community, country, and planet. It appreciates the interpenetration of parts and wholes by connecting what is learned to the greater picture and allowing learners to investigate the parts within the whole. Brain-based learning is meaningful to the learner. What is learned makes sense.
Unfortunately, many teachers who are aware of the complexities of learning and teaching have been intimidated into ignoring what they know. They have had to fight both a factory model that places a premium on low-quality output and a research model that implies that their observations of what actually happens are invalid. It takes a strong personality and enormous conviction to ignore such pressures.
The change the authors called for in the 20th Century is still what I strive to achieve in the 21st.