This is your brain on edtalk

A reader writes:

I am in a educational psychology class where the teacher is really pushing “Brain Compatible Learning.” After the first class (3 hours long) I don’t have a clue what it is except that it involved us coloring and having lollipops. I tried googleing it but most of the sites were either practitioner sites full of jargon or syllabi from other schools’ professors. After seeing a math class lesson plan based on BCL I can’t say I’m impressed. Do you know what all this is about and could you address it on your blog?

I’ve never heard of “brain-compatible learning.” I thought learning was brain compatible by definition. Can anyone explain this?

About Joanne


  1. Walter Wallis says:

    One of the disadvantages of most continuing education requirements is that they can fund some really weird experiments.

  2. Have a look here:

    Lots of $5 words to state obvious points, and some dubious conclusions.

  3. Richard Heddleson says:

    I am really pleased to see the era of Brain Incompatible Learning (BIL) come to an end. My brain could never understand what Mrs.Drake was trying to put into it. As a result, I had to suffer through 12 years of Brain Incompatible General Education and my central nervous system has never been the same.

  4. Steve LaBonne says:

    This is your brain.

    – –
    – –

    This is your brain on “educational psychology”.


  5. Steve LaBonne says:

    Darn, formatting got messed up and destroyed my doodle. Oh well.

  6. And here I though all along that it was the liver that was the seat of understanding. After all, Aristotle held that the brain was for cooling blood.

    Google turns up a host of hits for BCL – 4200, too many to wade through at once. At first glance, it seems to be related to the Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Here’s one clip from an early link:

    Brain-Based (Compatible) Learning

    “The nine brain-compatible elements identified in the ITI (Integrated Thematic Instruction) model designed by Susan Kovalik include: Absence of Threat, Meaningful Content, Choices, Movement to Enhance Learning, Enriched Environment, Adequate Time, Collaboration, Immediate Feedback, and Mastery (application level).”

    I still think a reasonable approach is a wooden desk, a slate with a small piece of chalk, a teacher with steel-rimmed glasses and a short cane.

  7. Wacky Hermit says:

    I wasn’t aware that this was a WHOLE NEW THEORY that nobody had ever come up with before… I thought it would be self-evident to anyone who’s ever learned anything. I’d be curious to know what these theorists do about the “Meaningful Content” part.

  8. Straight from the horse’s mouth,

    Which then results in your school district spending money on JLC workshops for teachers, sending them off with handy pocket guides such as this:

    “Not Brain-Compatible:

    Low emotional impact

    Concern with being ‘on task’
    Standard boring illustrations
    Suppressing learner energy
    Lecture, more didactic
    Emphasis on content only

    Emphasis on quiet learning

    Disciplined, ordered, quiet, repressed

    YES: Brain Compatible:

    Appropriately high emotional arousal

    Alternating focus-diffusion learning
    Colorful, abundant memory maps
    Utilizing & expressing energy
    Multiple intelligences served
    Emphasis on context, meaning & value

    Often rich with talking, music, activity

    Expressive, changing, noisy

    There’s too much for me to type it all in here in a comments section, but I’d be happy to scan it for anyone interested. Some of it, of course, is common sense good teaching, e.g. “Feedback quality and quantity is increased” so I’m not slamming it all.

    It’s a progressivist utopia, and contrasts starkly with the means employed by KIPP academy and others to create an environment in which it is quiet enough for children to learn.

    After considering all of the JLC emphasis on children getting up and moving around during class, I ask, “isn’t that what recess is for?”
    Do all children need to keep moving all the time, in order to learn reading and math?

    At our school this fall there was a shocking development. At the request of a couple of mothers, one third-grade teacher brought in desks and lined up the children in rows! The desks are not touching! No more group tables with far-distant cubbies! It must not be brain-compatible, because the express intent was to calm the classroom.

  9. Steve LaBonne says:

    This is a perfect example of why “educational psychology” departments should be closed, and education students should be required to take courses offered by the _real_ psychology department. The edupsych morons were also behind the whole-language movement, among other fiascos. Didn’t we already go through plenty of educational disasters caused by “expressive, changing, noisy” classrooms? Kids nowadays already get too much of that from TV and video games- anybody whose brain is common-sense-compatible would realize that the last thing they need is more of the same at school. (Note that in Japan the longer school day is longer not because of additional instructional time, but because the kids get more breaks in which to work off their excess energy, so thy’re ready to concentrate. Guess that’s hopelessly brain-incompatible.) Why do the same lame Progressivist fads keep coming back over and over and over under new trendy names, despite the disaters they cause each time around?

  10. Just sounds to me like people trying to make their jobs seem as complicated and arcane as possible, in order to increase their value in the labor market.

  11. If Rebecca’s description of what an ideal “brain compatatible learning” environment would look like, my highly distractable, but very bright fifth-grader would be a disaster. He is attending a magnet school that emphasizes teacher-led instruction, staying on-task, quiet learning, etc and is really thriving. I wonder what kind of child honestly and *measurably* learns better (i.e. mastering content and skills) in the second type of “expressive, noisy” classroom. I guess there may be some, but I’m also guessing it’s not the majority of kids…

  12. Margaret: Maybe when all the kids are on Ritalin…

  13. Ha! I’m sure my fifth-grader would strike some teachers as a classic case for Ritalin, especially if he were in an “energetic” classroom. His first few days at this new school were marked by way too much jumping out of his seat, talking out of turn, etc. But he didn’t need medication, just a couple of days to adjust to a structured, quiet environment. And lo and behold, he did!

  14. As a child (and an adult), I cannot concentrate in a noisy, chaotic environment. Learning requires quiet, focus, and attentive instruction based on facts and reality, not someone’s mood, their self-esteem (artificial or otherwise), and/or allowing children to do whatever they want instead of being still and paying attention.

    That said, kids can’t be expected to sit still for more than an hour or so at a time. Hell, adults can’t be expected to do that either. This is why god invented recess and the smoke break.

  15. If large percentages of kids began to be taught using methods that don’t involve staying on task (which is a learned skill), look for some very frustrated employers in a few years.

  16. Laura,

    They’re already out here in the workforce, and it’s very frustrating dealing with them.

    Easily bored, doing just enough to get by, demanding that their work be ‘entertaining’, considering that detailed or repetitive tasks are beneath them, …. That’s what we have to live with from the latest crop of college grads entering the work world. Add to that problems of poor or nonexistent work ethic, no understanding of manners or dress in the work environment, and situational ethics, and you’ve got a mess on your hands.

    Fortunately, there is a small minority of exceptions, and attitudes seem to be changing somewhat in younger kids still in school – maybe a backlash to the irresponsibility of their parents or older siblings?

  17. I agree with Claire. Employees with ambition and a solid work ethic are becoming increasingly rare. The only things they are proficient at are spouting attitude and trying to look busy. Even Madison Avenue is being influenced by it. Remember the UPS advertisement in which the female worker explains to the new male worker that they need help in the shipping department. He tells her: No, you don’t understand. I have an MBA. I don’t do shipping. The reply is classic: Oh. You have an MBA? Then I’ll have to show you how to do it. All these touchy-feely education programs have produced is fussy, arrogant, and lazy slackers who expect to go straight from graduation to CEO. But at least they are in touch with themselves and their feelings. For all of our education-impaired friends out there, that’s irony.

  18. Giving students little “breaks” to move doesn’t mean a noisy learning environment. They can be built into the class, ie. 20 minutes of lecture, transition, 20 minutes of writing, transition, 20 minutes of discussion. You have to train the kids as to what you expect during transitions, but it’s very doable and orderly. It is hard to sit still for an hour, but with a couple of tiny transitions built in, it becomes easier (especially for the more active kids). Again, the old bugabook of “either-or” in education. All good teaching is a pastiche of these theories — whatever works.


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