Over the years as an educator, the researcher has studied much about the brain and its machinations. The study of the brain as it relates to thinking and learning is one of the established axioms in working with children, parents, and teachers, especially for Hispanic ELL communities.
The brain is at the core of experience, teaching, learning and language. Why is it then that parents do not dialogue and construct conversations with their children? What follows are a few ideas shared with diverse parents in the engagement training model, all of whom indicated in the research studies that the time constraints of a busy life keeps parents from connecting and communicating with their children. The human brain is a unique phenomenon of nature. It is formed and reforms itself with neurons that both develop, grow and die-out. Weighing three pounds and containing over 100 billion cells, the brain passionately performs a sophisticated cacophony orchestration of purpose and flexibility. It is unlike any computer designed. The human brain relies on input and feedback and requires the organization and reorganization of patterns of information. (Feurestein, 2001)
The human brain is a unique phenomenon of nature. It is formed and reforms itself with neurons that both develop, grow and die-out.
Advances in neuroscience continually reveal new capacity, capabilities, and adaptabilities with direct implications for teaching and learning goals and initiatives. As a teacher and trainer, the researcher cannot conceive of fostering parental engagement or student learning without serious consideration of the brain’s need for input and feedback in order to build the structures for thinking and learning.
Brain-based learning refers to teaching and learning approaches, methods, and intentional strategies that use a myriad of styles and types of activities, especially as it relates to cognitive development—how students learn differently as they age, grow, and mature socially, emotionally, and cognitively. In designing a training program for ELL students, the researcher developed six scaffolded and intentional brain-based thinking strategies based on seminal work by various educators and authors (Bartoszeck & Bartoszeck, 2012; Caine & Caine, 1994; Calvin, 1996; Caulkins, 1999; Condliffe, 2015; Degen, 2011; Feuerstein et al., 2010; Goldberg, 2009; Hart, 1983; Healy, 1994; Jensen, 1996; Rock & Page, 2009; Rodriguez, 2013; Schachter, 2005; Skuy, 1996; Sousa, 2005; Sylwester, 1995; Van Hecke et al., 2010; Vygotsky, 1978; Wilson & Conyers, 2010). The strategies included the following:
1. Using the brain: Focus, self-control, functions of the brain, the precortex, and how the brain’s executive functions work (Goldberg, 2008; Sylwester, 1995).
2. Communicating and perspective taking: Making connections, using the right brain, the nervous system, neurons, dendrites, connecting to memory, brain strategies that work (Bartoszeck & Bartoszeck, 2012; Rodriguez, 2013; Schachter, 2005).
3. Think-Frames™ or cognitive maps (Feuerstein et al., 2010): How kids think to receive, organize, analyze, and evaluate information (Caine & Caine, 1994; Hart, 1994; Sousa, 2005).
4. Understanding the topic: Critical thinking, project-based learning, how technology helps both thinking and learning, and what controls are needed (Goldberg, 2008; Rock & Page, 2009; Rodriguez, 2013; Wilson & Conyers, 2010).
5. Searching and finding: Sorting and resorting information, encouraging critical thinking (Caulkins, 1999; Condliffe, 2015; Degen, 2011).
6. Making a plan to write: Self-directed engaged learning from formats to formal projects (Caulkins, 1999; Degen, 2011, Feuerstein, 2010; Jensen, 1996; Sousa, 2005).
The basic question becomes: What parts of the brain connect to make learning more efficient and productive as well as long lasting in the brain’s memory?
The answer shifts the emphasis from past educational practices of following the latest teachers’ standards, or established conventions, to knowledge about how-to-think and how- to-learn. Intelligence for all children, then, is the ability to learn and understand any information.
It was commonly believed, for example, that intelligence is a fixed characteristic that remains largely unchanged throughout a person’s life. Recent discovery (Feurestein, 2010) in cognitive science has revealed that the human brain physically changes when it learns. After practicing certain skills, it becomes increasingly easier to continue learning and improving those skills. (Calvin, 1996). This information is significant for Hispanic parents as they delight in and indulge their children by doing most everything for them.Because thinking and learning are the two axioms at the nexus of intelligence, the researcher believes that it is how ELLs process information and, moreover, how their parents can help them to process the information that helps them become more meaningful thinkers and learners.
Tierno (2016) found that intentionality yields learning by using patterns, colors, numbers, and symbols. This learning effectively improves brain functioning, resiliency, and working intelligence. Techniques such as asking questions and engaging in creative problem-solving or project-based learning are merely two examples that potentially have far-reaching implications for how schools can design parent seminars and trainings using their academic programs. Significantly, however, Jensen (2015), continues to affect our thinking on the brain and learning, finds that the fundamental themes needed for parents in poverty require active and engaged training, with a choreography that includes breakfast, lunch and breaks. This means that themes need to relate to one another in some pattern or unique way. Parents need factual knowledge and the context of activities in order to understand new information and organize the facts and information in a conceptual framework. Tierno (2015) discovered that this has to be fine-tuned around a myriad of distinct activities that build thinking in the parents. For parents, the scaffolding and organization of the information has to be simplistic enough to retrieve it and apply it sometime in the not too distant future. This term is noted as memory, which is connecting and forming in the brain for use at another time.
In sharing strategies with parents, is important that parents understand that each part of the brain has responsibilities for thinking, and each part of the brain has responsibilities for learning.
Since 1995, the researcher has developed, directed and implemented research projects that have served over 1,500 Hispanic, African-American and other diverse immigrant parents (mostly mothers) in five urban centers. Included in the work was the development of a parent engagement model for training parents of ELL children. According to the researcher’s work, there are three basic needs in designing and implementing brain-based parent training:
- Developing relationships with the parents (of ELLs)
- Providing structured parent training
- Building capacity as participants and coaches
In sharing strategies with parents, it is important that parents understand that each part of the brain has responsibilities for thinking, and each part of the brain has responsibilities for learning. Complete connections cause children to think much more efficiently and productively with words. In 2015, the model was replicated with a phenomenological (qualitative) research study of 40 Hispanic parents. The research validated and added to the researcher’s work and the emerging research.
The study brought the parent engagement model forward into the 21st Century with three groups: Hispanic parents, their ELL children, and their children’s teachers,
One of the findings after implementation of the model was that educators/trainers need to take the time to talk to parents about how the brain connects structures for thinking. One specific kinesthetic strategy used was to form a big circle of participants (Circle of Knowledge–COK) and build a web of connecting dendrites with string and yarn. In the circle, the trainer talks about the dendrites and their neurons, emphasizing that neurons carry information, and the dendrites connect to other pieces, folders and compartments in the brain that store information.. Parents are encouraged to read a story to the child and ask questions such as:
- What does this mean?
- How is it like something you do?
- When or where have you heard about that before
Parents need to know how to help their children connect those particular structures of thinking in order to form lasting dialogue abilities that lead to secure comprehension. Parents are reminded that safety, social issues, environmental and technology issues affect the thinking and learning connections.
Parents today are connected to their iPhones and iPads. Children who have grown up with parents who have gadgets in their hands are what Tierno (2019) likes to call the Swipe Generation. The new phenomenon of learning via the APPS on the ipad (or the iphone) has demonstrated that our youngest generation has brain changes that allows them to learn in milli-seconds, and as many parents noted in the research surveys, becomes distracted and moody in equal amounts of time. Children of this Swipe Generation learn differently and require more help with their thinking, their socio-emotional learning and memory in many ways.
Describing a framework or platform, the scaffold is the ideal way to structure parent engagement. Once the scaffold is in place, a trainer can choreograph, organize and plan around that meaningful nexus, a community of stakeholders, who come wanting and ready to learn.In order to discover whether brain-based training can improve engagement between Hispanic parents and their ELL elementary-age children, a series of surveys were designed (Tierno, 2016) to develop the pilot training and coaching program.
It is researcher’s hope that themes, patterns, and insights into new and profound information about the brain, thinking, and learning strategies will help the Hispanic parents to grow and establish more profound and meaningful relationships with their children, their children’s teachers, and become a community of stakeholders.
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