CATEGORY / Teaching

Rebels With Applause: Brain Compatible Approaches For Motivating Reluctant Learners

Motivation strategies
1. show a question to think about (metacognition)
2. short questions to answer
3. music in the background
4. chimes
5. guessing
6. activities (tongue clicking)
7. repetition (with pauses)
8. review and recap
9. applause
10. safety (pre-empting, will not call on participants unless you want to answer, gentle high-five, gestures if we do not understand speaker, introduction of frisbee – physical and emotional, introduction of tetris – emotional)
11. procedures
12. unusual times
13. relevance
14. enthusiasm
15. choral recital
16. high five (physical connection when customers connect with cashiers at stores)
17. personal connections
18. laughter
19. pauses for engagement
20. movement (student and teacher)

Behavioural problem or a slow learner?

  • Need for efficacy and power
  • How do you love and care for a slow learner

An environment which is meaningful, challenging and in which the students’ minds are actively engaged.

Visuals (let visuals do our work)
1. What’s today’s lesson materials
2. Seeing themselves motivated and ready
3. Having group project
4. Readiness to learn rubric
5. Test taking
6. Circulation ring
7. Putting supplies away
8. Dismissal rubric
9. Wall of readiness

Effective procedures
1. Assume the best
2. High expectations
3. Clear road map
4. Practice

The more words we use, the less powerful each word becomes.

How might you use visuals / rubrics to teach or reinforce procedures in your classroom / school?

Rat experiment: Rats’ brains are equally unstimulated if they are watching an activity compared to being totally isolated from the activity.

Attention + Connection + (Collaborative) Rehearsal = Long Term Retention

1. Selective – filters out input
2. Up to 3 seconds – auditory

The cocktail party effect
The mind can pay conscious attention to only one thought at a time.

Implications in the classroom:
How do students take notes and listen at the same time?

1. Teach note-taking
2. The Runaway Stage Coach Principle (allow students to be distracted for a while before drawing them back)
3. Stop, look and listen


  • start
  • close
  • movement / transitions
  • during students conversations

Emotion is the envelope of learning. Music makes the envelope bigger.

1. Connect to previous experience
2. Create a new experience together

Meaning leads to memory.

Reciprocal teaching strategy
Ask students to teach one another about a concept that was just taught.
General guideline: pause every 10-12 minutes to engage actively with the material

1. Summary
2. Highlights
3. Rhyme / rap / song
4. Slogan (e.g. just do it)
5. Comparison (e.g. comparing photosynthesis with a fan)
6. Question? (come out with a question that the student does not know about)
7. Question! (come out with a question that the student knows about)
8. Translation (e.g. translate the Declaration of Indepedence to someone that a primary 4 can understand)
9. Speculation
10. Acronym (e.g ROY G BIV, BODMAS)
11. Alliteration (e.g. singing and slogans sure seem to serve Sally)
12. Examples
13. Reflection

1. Writing
2. Out loud with partner
3. Drawing
4. Out loud with teacher
5. Silent think time

What are some ways to have positive connections with students?
1. 2 minutes a day, 10 days in a row have a personal connection with them
2. Build in choices for students
3. Seeing the good in them

Where can I build-in student choices?
1. Alternatives to assignment
2. Kids teaching each other
3. Project-based learning
4. Community service

Strategies for participation
1. 8 raised hands (need at least 8 students to raise their hands before calling out on them)
2. All raised hands
3. Over the shoulder (look over the shoulder and tell the student that he / she is right)
4. Class consultant (ask someone else to answer and for the shy one to agree or disagree)
5. Answer or echo (either answer the question or echo the correct answer later)
6. I don’t know … yet
7. I’ll come back to you
8. But what I do know is …
9. Advanced notice (pre-emptive success)

The Pyramid Game
Student facing the screen needs to give hints to the student facing away to guess the words.
Make a list of eight words that you could use with your students to play the game.

Arguing With The Ref
Before argument: Proximity, teacher look, calling out name, giving consequence (student argues with teacher)

Arguing is in and of itself a disruption deserving a second consequence.

Student lawyers start on a higher level of the consequence hierarchy (NBA rules).

The Goal Of Education

How often do we think of education as a point to study what we will use in the future?

When we start to think about the utility of education, we start to lose the macro perspective of it – we study Mathematics only if we can see how to use the calculations in engineering, we put less focus on Arts & Crafts as we probably will not use that in the future, and we study specific topics in Science if we want to be a doctor.

Especially in today’s day and age of technological advances, with massive open online courses (MOOC), students are starting to be disgruntled at the point of coming to schools. Why come to schools when they can stay at home and learn content, useful for work purposes in the future?

More than schools being a place for interactions and learning life skills, I think the purpose of education is to learn perseverance. Perseverance to study subjects that students do not see the point in studying, perseverance despite the dull nature of the subjects, and perseverance despite doing terribly in the subjects.

Because in the future, students will face lessons that are beyond their control – problems in relationships, in the workplace, and in their future marriages. Thus, if they do not learn the simple but profound nature of perseverance, they will not be able to push through the difficult times in relationships, the mundane times at work, and the challenging moments in marriages.

May we inculcate the true goal of education to our students.

Treasured Time (Students)

Building upon the previous post on treasured time, likewise, students ought to pay the fullest attention to his or her teacher during a lesson time.

Imagine a disruptive student on average takes up 5 minutes of the lesson because the teacher needs to stop and scold him, he would have wasted 21 days of time in a year of all the students because of his disruptiveness.

Students, understand the magnitude of your actions and be respectful to your teachers and each other.

Treasured Time (Teachers)

A paradigm shift came to me, when I was thinking in terms about the amount of time teachers teach our students.

In Singapore, teachers of Mathematics see our classes of 40 students approximately 5 periods of 40 minutes each week, 30 weeks in each year. Multiplying this together, per lesson, we are utilising 1,600 minutes of our students’ time and in a week, 8,000 minutes, and in a year, 240,000 minutes, 4,000 hours or 167 days of our students’ time.

How much more should we invest in planning for every lesson to ensure that our students get the most out of the time we have with them?

Learn, Unlearn, Relearn

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.

Alvin Toffler rephrased the quote from Herbert Gerjuoy.

How true it is, that as people living in this fast-paced technological age, information abounds everywhere. Furthermore, even science, some denote as facts, changes as new discoveries are found daily. Learning to unlearn and to relearn is the way forward.

Are We All Teachers?

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

It takes a village to raise a child.

Teaching is indeed a valuable skill to develop – being able to impart knowledge to the future generation is deeply essential, especially when we will not be around forever.

Have we thought about how do we leave behind our legacies, to allow future leaders of society to learn from and to develop further?

Indeed, every single one of us have a part to play.