Getting to Know the Brains of Your Students

Megan Howe
Megan Howe
13 Aug
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The summer always seems so long and full of possibility when we end a school year. Then, it seems, it is gone faster than you can say “Pass me the lemonade.” Here we are again, embarking on another school year. Have your back to school dreams started yet? I saw an advertisement in the paper last week for back to school shopping. Already!

I’ve mentioned before in previous posts that every school year I like to focus on something new in my practice. This helps me deepen my knowledge of learning without being overwhelmed. For the first time in 14 years, I will not start the school year because we welcomed a new baby boy into the world over the summer so I will be on maternity leave in the fall.

I am slightly anxious being absent because I know the importance of the start of a school year. Routines, expectations, and classroom culture are established in the first few weeks. Since I won’t be there at the start of the year, I will use my time to continue my tradition and get a jump start on learning something new.

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Some years I have focused on reading, math, or writing. Strong academics are vital to a successful school year. Last year I spent a lot of time learning about play in the classroom – I am a kindergarten teacher after all. This year, my focus will be learning more about the developmental aspects of early childhood.

When I taught fourth grade for so many years, one thing that helped me get better at teaching was understanding what was happening in the brain of a 9 and 10 year old. For example, I didn’t understand that 9 and 10 year olds need support to develop executive functioning skills. I would hand out things like binders, folders, and notebooks expecting my students to use them and use them well. It seemed like a pretty simple task. Once I discovered there was just as much teaching to be done around organizing materials as there was in reading, writing and math, I took the time to imbed executive functioning skills in my lessons. Not only was I teaching about asking questions while reading a text, I was also teaching ways to organize notes. I taught about geometry and how to organize a locker. At the end of class, I gave my students an extra 5 minutes at the end to make sure they took time to put their work away where it belonged. Their developing brains needed just a few extra minutes to get this right.

When I moved to kindergarten two years ago I was at a loss. I have seen how this has been a missing link for me. I need to know the changes that are happening in 5 and 6 year old brains, what motivates them to learn, how they handle change and conflict.

If you haven’t taken the time to get to know how the brains of your students think about their world, maybe this is your year too! Check out some books, take a class, do a little research. I guarantee it will deepen your practice too!

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