Sunday, June 22, 2014

Whole Brain Teaching

I had put this out of my whole brain until Diane Ravitch posted a clip this morning from Nashville Prep. Here's the clip:



This looks to be an application of Whole Brain Teaching, sometimes called Power Teaching, a technique that seems to be the brain child of Chris Biffle. Biffle is no slacker; he's published an assortment of books with legit publishers, and his Whole Brain empire boasts a pretty well-developed website. And for the leader of a teaching movement that has been in action since 1999, Biffle keeps a remarkably low profile. It appears that he was a professor at Crafton Hills College, a community college in Yucaipa, CA, and it was there that he teamed up with an elementary and secondary teacher to create Whole Brain Teaching, which has grown pretty much on its own.

So there's not much that seems shady about WBT. Some sources suggest that Biffle has mis-stated his resume, but if the man's goal was to become rich and famous, he doesn't appear to be doing a very good job of achieving it.

The stated goal of WBT was to put some organized fun in the classroom. And I could try describing how Power Teaching is supposed to work, but it will be more effective to dip into the extensive youtube library of power teaching examples


As you can see, Biffle himself is kind of an avuncular and unthreatening, so the overall effect is kind of like a Hitler Youth meeting run by Fred Rogers. Some of the groupiness aspects are recognizable to anyone who was ever in band, choir, or the armed forces. And I have to tell you-- given the youtube and on-line testimonials, and WBT's persistence over fifteen years, there are people out there who love this. I can see the appeal if you are in a school mired in endless chaos, or if you've always struggled with classroom management, or if you're Dolores Umbridge.

All that aside, it is creepy as hell. Set your individuality aside, become part of the group, do as you're told, sit up, lie down, roll over , speak (but only as directed). Just imagine what this would look like with someone more stern, more authoritarian, more Hitlerish, in front of the classroom. If you can handle it, you can find sample lessons all the way down to Kindergartners.

But in a funny twist, per Ravitch's post this morning, it turns out that Biffle was a man ahead of his time, because what Nashville Prep and others have discovered is that WBT is great for test prep. It turns out that subsuming your individuality, spitting out dictated exact answers on demand, and generally being a good little all-fit-one-size widget is excellent training for taking standardized tests.

So if you find this little mini-re-enactment of the Cultural Revolution unappealing, the bad news is that this is exactly what high stake standardized testing call for.


15 comments:

  1. These remind me of this scene from "The Wave"

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQBNPShPD6c&index=5&list=PL624C1ED14643BC3E

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  2. Dolores Umbridge. You always have the ability to make me laugh while crying. Thank you.

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  3. Peter, I can not find where Diane has posted any video like this. Can you direct me to the link? Thanks.

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    1. The link is on her post that I linked to above. It is the same video clip that appears above-- the six minutes with Mrs. MacDonald

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  4. Peter, frankly, this looks like a reformster's dream come true. This whole brain teaching reminds me of this scene from The Lego Movie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGnH6JPsv7E

    If you haven't seen The Lego Movie, I highly recommend that you do. Deep themes in that movie, and though it's certainly not limited to this view, you could take the whole thing as a metaphor for the battle over public education.

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  5. This would make some sense to use as a single method among many, very briefly, occasionally, with specific kinds of information. I can see that there would be kids who would thrive on this. But dedicating a whole classroom to it? The kind of general use seen here? Ewww.

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  6. I've enjoyed your posts for quite some time. I first heard of Whole Brain Teaching about a month or two ago, so I thought I'd check it out. I read as many journal articles on brain research as I can, so I figured, why not? Here's the problem... I'm an educator with real credentials and experience in the field. After reading parts of a WBT book online and seeing the ridiculous video (and all the great ways to say the word "class"), I decided to roll my eyes and move on.

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    1. That was EXACTLY my reaction. My principal has completely bought into it, but after watching some creepy videos of robot students and reading about the pseudoscience behind it, I rolled my eyes and went back to what has worked for the past 9 years of my career. Classroom management and engagement have never been problems for me anyway. I'm a professional, and classity class is not. I'm trying to develop mature, responsible, deep thinkers, not mindless robots.

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  7. That McDonald video is definitely NOT whole brain teaching. It is rote repetition and chanting. None of the big 7 techniques are being employed here.

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    1. Yeah... I guess to be accurate about the teaching method, it comes from the "Teach Like a Champion" techniques. I suppose it is good to know the differences between different forms of Constrained Regurgitation Assessment Procedures (CRAP).

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  8. Not sure if this comment will be read, since this post is a year old now, but I just have to say that it seems to me that there is a place for some of this. We want kids to learn to think, yes. But they can't learn anything if they can't pay attention because their classrooms are chaotic. If we are teaching great material, and they can't catch it because they are not good listeners, or because they are sitting beside someone who distracts them, or because they are just tired and bored, we've lost a chance to impact them positively. Maybe it's okay to say, "class", and get them to respond so that they can refocus on what we are teaching them. No? Can we have a more balanced discussion about this? Anyone out there see any sense in what I'm saying here?

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    1. I know Chris Biffle personally and worked with him when Whole Brain Teaching was Power Teaching. He offered his course on classroom management for free, over ten year, wanting to pay it forward after collaborating with former students who became teachers and seeing the techniques work at all levels of education. Upon retiring as philosophy professor he decided to formally publish his work at his wife's coaxing and take the opportunity to travel the country to share his ideas with more people.

      It's not rocket science that engaging the brain in as many ways as possible increases learning and that is the idea behind most of the techniques. You can read up on Eric Jensen if you want the research end of this. The gestures, talking, and repetition helps students to retain concepts in a fun and engaging way. I first taught in an urban area riddled with generational poverty and gangs. If had not learned these techniques back then I would of left teaching long ago.

      Today, and over ten years later I still use the techniques I learned in my classroom as needed. I would say it only comprises 10-15 percent of my day on average as I also rely on many other teaching strategies and classroom management techniques. But the scoreboard is used daily and is the cornerstone of my success as it motivates my students to work hard as a team to earn happy points each day. There are also reading and math games, along with grammar techniques that have really helped my students!

      You can read more about my experience over on my blog.

      Teacher Ms H ~ Hooray for Whole Brain Teaching

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