Chapter One Synthesis

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Chapter One Synthesis

Webster’s dictionary defines synthesis as: “The combining of separate elements or substances to form a coherent whole”. Throughout the journals in this course you will have the opportunity to synthesize each chapter, or, as Webster would say, combine elements of the chapter you think were especially poignant to form a short paragraph that captures it as a whole. Your synthesis of Chapter One should be 200 words, be written in only your words (i.e., no quotes, paraphrase, etc.), and capture the essence (essential points) of the chapter concepts. 

A. Shean (Ed.). (2012). The Final Step: A Capstone in Education [Electronic version]. Retrieved from

chapter one below

The Brain Itself

The brain is a highly complex system. It is divided into three main areas: the hindbrain, midbrain, and forebrain. Most of what we have learned in school was taught to us through our forebrain, the thinking part of the brain. The forebrain, which is where the cerebral cortex is located, is where most of the learning processes are done. The cerebral cortex is the part of the brain that is responsible for thought, perception, and memory. It is also where many of the motor functions, social abilities, languages, and problem-solving abilities are developed. The cortex is divided into four lobes: the frontal lobe, the temporal lobe, the parietal lobe, and the occipital lobe. The connections between these structures number in the billions and allow them to communicate. Each lobe is associated with certain processes and functions

The brain is the thinking and learning organ, and it is important for every teacher to understand how the knowledge of the brain is applied to the classroom, applied to teaching, and applied to learning. Students’ cognition will vary depending on their individual life experience, biology, and environment. A classroom with learners at a variety of developmental stages means the teacher must provide a variety of instruction.

Research shows that the brain needs something novel, something different and special to be ready to learn and engage (Jensen, 2005). Engagement and learning take place because the brain is sensing something new and interesting. This excitement is translated into a reason to pay attention. There are many reasons to pay attention, but some of the best reasoning comes from challenging situations. When teachers pose challenging situations, students will find they are attracted to things that make them think. The challenge then becomes that of choice and active exploration.

Children start their early elementary years with a desire to engage in active exploration, which is where learning takes place through interaction with people, ideas, and events. This interaction helps create a new understanding and desire to learn (Hohmann & Weikart, 1995). This desire must be facilitated for students to gain understanding about the world around them. The brain is ready for problem solving, learning to read, solving mathematical equations, and writing. This means the teacher must provide developmentally appropriate strategies that meet the needs of a diverse student population. The following are strategies teachers can take to make their classroom engaging.

·         Anchor learning: In anchor learning, learning is contextualized and provides students with a realistic role that enhances the transfer of knowledge. The term anchor in neurolinguistic programming is the “stimulus or stimuli that elicit a reflex response” (Dilts, 1983). In this strategy, a teacher helps students anchor their learning through active processes. This can include note taking for older students or the use of repetitive verbal responses for younger students. This and other learning strategies will be covered in Chapter 3.

·         Flexible environment: The classroom provides an environment that is rich in sensory data. Students of different learning modalities should have avenues to relate their sensory experience to their learning. This environment should be flexible enough to reach students as their learning styles develop.

·         Assessment of learning: Assessment should trigger critical thinking in addition to activating recall. By adding reflective assessment to traditional formative and summative assessment, students will be given an opportunity to make connections while retrieving information. We will cover assessments in more detail in Chapter 4.

In the case study from Section 1.1, Mr. Rodriguez had to understand how the brain worked to understand his students. Not only that, but he also had to understand how each of his students developed both cognitively and socially. The following three theories within the field of cognitive and social development have helped him understand how students learn.

1.       Maturationist theory. Based on the work of Arnold Gesell (1880–1961), who believed that children would be developmentally ready for school when they were biologically ready, and the developmental process would occur in stages. This theory instructs educators and parents to rely on the idea that children will acquire knowledge as they mature (Demarest et al., 1993).

2.       Environmentalist theory. Coined by John Watson (1878–1958), B. F. Skinner (1904–1990), and Albert Bandura (born 1925), this theory states that learning takes shape based on stimuli from the child’s environment. Environmentalists believe that children who respond well to the classroom environment are developmentally ready to learn.

3.       Constructivist theory. Developed by Jean Piaget (1896–1980), Maria Montessori (1870–1952), and Lev Vygotsky (1896–1934), this theory believes that learning takes place from interaction between experiences and previously held ideas. In other words, students are not a blank slate to be written upon by a single influencing factor, but they are thinking machines that can build new knowledge by combining experiences and previously understood ideas.

These theories should provide a foundation for any teacher, and according to these theories, if the students come to school ready to learn, are provided the environment in which learning could take place, and are allowed to make meaning for themselves, they will indeed learn. However, not all students come ready to learn. They come to school with varied experiences and therefore are at varying cognitive and social levels.

Each person carries their identity and experiences through life. This is true for children as well as adults. This cognitive and social baggage includes influences from the home environment, existential and identity perceptions, natural abilities, and much more. A child’s backpack often carries these in addition to schoolwork and lunch. In fact, the analogy of a backpack can be used to look at social and cognitive concerns. Just as you can see the concrete ideas contained in the backpack, you can also be aware of the cognitive and social items and the heavy load each student is carrying with them—things such as family and culture as well as individual goals, aspirations, values, and expectations (Hill & Chao, 2009). Teachers must acknowledge these concerns and understand how they affect learning to help students unpack baggage and utilize the contents to their advantage.

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