WBT Book Study

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Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids
Chapter 1 & 2 Intro and Origin

"We can't teach classes that won't listen." (Biffle, 2013)  Excellent classroom management is the key to an organized and productive classroom.  Far too often, as I walk through the halls, I can hear those teachers who are "yellers".   More times than not, it doesn't work and these teachers are still frustrated.  These are the classes that the cafeteria and specials area teachers complain about.  As soon as these children are released from their teacher's grip, they rebel or act out.  Sometimes, I have observed this happening even if the teacher turns her back for a moment.  Children will mimic their learning environment.  If it is a conflictive and aggressively driven classroom, then the students become what is modeled.  Children today require an element of mutual respect and a quality model of expected behavior.

Many times the simple solution is based on the preparedness of the teacher and her ability to emotionally invest in each child.  When you do not give the student’s time to be distracted and the children know you really care, they will work to please you and strive to meet any expectation you set.  The Whole Brain Teaching (WBT) philosophy actively engages every student in an interactive and exciting way.   Their techniques model and reinforce positive behavior and learning choices, effectively extinguishing those disruptive attention seekers in your classroom.  

Chris Biffle, the founder of WBT, realized after "25 years of failure," that there was something "dreadfully wrong with the lecture model."   He knew that his college students needed more and that in order to avoid having them zone out; he needed a way to engage them.  He began trying different approaches and admits to some failing.  However, Biffle also describes his amazement when he realized his discovery, "I had a technique that worked no matter whether I was teaching Aristoltle or the art of zone defense."  At this point, he reached out to two former students who were elementary school teachers and asked them to try it out.  After several weeks of noticeable improvement, Biffle and his partners had discovered a behavior management system that works for all grade levels ranging from Kindergarten through college.  Since 1999, Biffle and his team have been meeting with teachers, holding conferences, providing webinars and free resources for thousands of educators looking for something to revolutionize their classroom management.
I am one of those teachers.  In 2012, I was mentoring a brand new kindergarten teacher who was having some behavior management issues within her classroom.  I would like to say it was me who led her down the the path to the wonder of WBT, but I cannot.  I gave her the typical advice:  color chart, positive reinforcement, and be stern.  For most of her students my techniques worked but it didn't reach everyone.  She didn't give up; and being an eager teacher, she went to YouTube to find new and interesting ways to access the attention of all her students.  I remember the day we sat next to each other planning for the following week.  She looked at me and asked if I had ever heard of WBT.  Having no idea what it was, I asked her to tell me about it.  She responded that she wasn't quite sure what it was but that this video showed a teacher using gestures that the kids copied and then paired and retaught to each other.  "Interesting," I replied, "send me the link."  It took one video and I was hooked.  For three hours, I scoured YouTube for videos.  Seeing the fun and enjoyment both the teachers and students had, I felt a new energy and excitement about teaching.  The very next day, I began implementing the rules of the classroom and then slowly over that week, I began to implement different elements like, Class-Yes, Teach-OK, Mirror-Gestures, and the Scoreboard.  And, like Chris Biffle, I thought to myself, "Eureeka, this is it!"  
Today, I am a different kind of teacher and I now have all of my student's attention.  Behavior problems are rare.  Learning is fun...for both of us.  Most importantly, I am teaching students that listen!     

Chapter 3 
Seven Common Teaching Mistakes

"Grow or die." (Biffle, 2013) Teaching today is more than just showing up on those contracted days and maintaining a status quo for the allotted hours you are required to be teaching.  Chris Biffle said it best, "You're a teacher.  Grow, learn, transform yourself, or die by ossification.  If you are afraid to try new teaching techniques, you are petrifying yourself to death."  The U.S. Census Bureau reports that 30% of of students are struggling and average one or more grade levels behind in their education.  Many teachers feel overwhelmed with behavior issues and lay blame on out of control classrooms as the reason.  According to Biffle, there are seven ways to avoid exacerbating those challenging behaviors:
  1. control your temper
  2. confront challenging students when they don't have an audience
  3. be organized
  4. fall in love with your profession
  5. work hard at teaching, when you are not in class
  6. understand that your students are not your clones
  7. grow or die
At this point, it is important to reflect on your own experiences and plan a way to avoid some of these mistake in the upcoming year.  I know that I am less than perfect and could use a little behavior modification every now and again.

Note to Self:

In the next year, choose to focus on two of the common mistakes.  Confronting challenging students and being organized are two areas I could refine. 

"Disorganized teachers breed chaotic classrooms." (Biffle, 2013)  An organized classroom does not mean that at a quick glance around the room, there is a place for everything and everything has its place. Although this is a start, it is deeper than that.  Planning and preparation are key to our survival as teachers.  We do ourselves a significant injustice if we teach on a whim or have a loose idea of what we will be doing.  Our students deserve well thought out carefully orchestrated lessons that provide unique and engaging learning experiences.  Acknowledging that "idle hands are the devil's playground" (Haziq Hamid) is key to the acceptance that it is our duty to keep out students on task and focused. 

"Our worst students are geniuses at rebellion." (Biffle, 2013) In the heat of the moment, when the proverbial straw has broken the camel's back, it is important to appropriately choose the time and place to challenge that rowdy and defiant student.  Realizing their ultimate goal is attention, it is vital to accept that they are seeking their peer’s attention more than yours.  By confronting them in the moment, you are essentially giving them the stage.  Not only does it thwart the intended learning goal, it creates a tug of war for audience control.  Simply using the Whole Brain Teaching techniques will often shun the challenging ones into compliance.  If you can maintain center stage with engaging, interactive and entertaining teaching, most of the students will want to follow you.  More often than not, the challenger will often succumb to the peer pressure and follow the teacher as their leader.  Following up with this student in a less public arena is key to not only gaining that student's respect but also keeping your calm and focused demeanor.

As you continue on this Whole Brain Teaching journey, take a moment to reflect on your past challenging students.  What tipped the iceberg for you?  As you think, look at the seven common mistakes and find two areas you can work on.

Chapter 4
Charting Progress

In order to continue to grow and refine your craft as a teacher, you should track your own progress as well.  Choose two of your own behaviors that you wish to improve.  For example: prepared well thought out and organized lessons in all subject areas and confronted disruptive students calmly and away from a peer audience.  Each week, as part of an evaluation system give yourself a grade 1-10 (with 10 being the highest) on your ability to be organized and control your emotions. (Biffle, 2013)  By adding these two together, you will get a teaching score.  

As an additional section of the evaluation system, you can chart your student's classroom behavior.  Using the Whole Brain Teaching rules, you can create criteria.  For example:  follow directions quickly, raise their hand for permission to speak, raise their hand for permission to leave their seat, and completing tidy work.  Divide your students into four groups and assign points:  Alphas (4 points), Go-Alongs (3 points), Fence Sitters (2 points), and Challenging Students (1 point).  As a goal you can establish a "Leaders" (5 points) group for those who rise above the Alpha rank.  By also keeping a weekly log of student behavior performance, you can track your progress, especially those challenging students.  Take the class average and track this along with your personal behavior. 

The goal is to get each group to move up at least one behavior group.  Considering the data, you could tell how effective you were.  In addition, you could draw a correlation between your behavior and the student behavior.  Is there a connection between you having a day where your emotions were not in check and your challenging student's erratic behavior?  "You cannot manage your own student behavior if you cannot manage your own behavior." (Biffle, 2013)
Imagine next year is completed. You’ve faithfully charted your own behavior as an instructor and your students’ progress. Looking back, what did you learn? 

I considered this idea of tracking my own behavior and correlating it to my own student's.  In effect, I imagine that if I can consistently increase my score while bringing up the student score, I should see a significant improvement in student behavior.  I could also look back at more specific data pertaining to a targeted group.  I could ask myself, do I have too many "Fence Sitters"?  If that were the case, I could easily evaluate that I had a majority of students who inconsistently demonstrated the criteria of raising their hands to speak or leave their seat and had days on task and some off.  Perhaps my personal behavior goal is not in line with the expected student behavior.  Emerging from this data is need to practice the rules and model expected behavior more often.  This in turn would mold my personal behavior goals for the following school year. 

As you can see, this type of self-reflection based on personal and student data can be very valuable.  It is a systematic approach to evaluating the effect of one’s own behavior on their students.  

Chapter 5
The Brain on Whole Brain Teaching

Understanding how the brain is linked to learning is the key to the success in Whole Brain Teaching.  A connection is made between several systems in the brain.  The Motor Cortex has the best capacity for storing memories.  "If you haven't been on a bike in 20 years, you can still ride one perfectly well...because complex bike riding information is stored in your motor cortex." (Biffle, 2013)  Your prefrontal cortex is your "brain's boss" and controls reasoning, planning and decision making.  In your visual cortex, memories are stored as images and is in the rear of your brain.  Hearing, understanding language and speaking are found in your left hemisphere in the Broca and Wernicke's areas.  

The connection happens when "information passes from your visual cortex (seeing), to Wernicke's area (language understanding), to Broca's area (speaking) and finally tothe motor cortex to activate your lips, tongue and vocal chords." (Biffle, 2013) If you decide to stop what you are doing and do something else, your prefrontal cortex has taken control.  Once you attach feelings to your activity, the limbic system becomes active and can take control of you prefrontal cortex which controls reason.  

Practice makes perfect.  Repetition builds dendrites in your brain.  The more you grow, the more learning is taking place.   Additionally, if you involve multiple areas in your brain, "the deeper and more lasting your learning." (Biffle, 2013)  

As a teacher, I have to reflect on my learning style because I am predisposed to teach that way.  Recognizing this in yourself is key to expanding your ability to be a better teacher and reach more students.  Last year, I had to take a learning style test during a staff meeting.  The results were very interesting.  I learned that I was both a visual and auditory learner.  When I reflect on these results and connect it to my teaching, I realize that I tend to want to talk, write and draw while teaching.  When I try to recall a memory, I visualize the event.  Knowing this, completely impacted my teaching.  It made me aware of my need to increase the kinesthetic and emotional context of my lessons.  

Doing this increase the knowledge and memories of my students.  This is especially true when I ask my students a question and I hear crickets chirping in the background.  As soon as I make the gesture, almost every student is eagerly raising their hands.  Whole Brain Teaching makes that easy.  All of the "Big Seven," Class-yes, teach-okay, the 5 rules, Scoreboard, hands and eyes, switch, and mirror connect many areas of your brain at one time.

Have you thought about your teaching style?  How does it impact your students?

 Chapter 6
I love the Whole Brain Teaching Rule:  If repeating yourself bugs you, don't go into teaching.  Teaching is repeating. Class-Yes is a technique that will be used about 15-20 times and hour.  It's an engaging attention grabber.  Here is a script from this chapter to help you get started:
  • Teacher:  When I say Class!, you say Yes! Class!
  • Students:  Yes!
  • Teacher:  However I say Class!, you say Yes! Class! Class!
  • Students: Yes! Yes!
  • Teacher:  (Using a low voice) Classsssssssss!
  • Students:  (Mimicking the teacher's low voice) Yesssssssssss!
  • Teacher:  (Using a high voice) Classsssssss!
  • Students:  (Mimicking the teacher's high voice)  Yessssssssss!
  • Teacher:  Classity, Class!
  • Students:  Yessity, Yes! 
Here are some variations of Class-Yes I like:
  • Teacher: (in the tune of Beethoven's No. 5)Class! Class! Class! Classsssssss!  
  • Student:  Yes! Yes! Yes! Yesssssss!
  • Teacher:  Oh my wonderful class!
  • Student:  Oh my wonderful yes!
  • Teacher:  Classtastic!
  • Student:  Yestastic!
  • Teacher:  Class-a-doodle-ding-dong!
  • Student:  Yes-a-doodle-ding-dong!
  • Teacher: (Using a super hero stance with hands on hips, feet spread apart, and head turned with nose in the air, yell) CLAAAAASS!
  • Student:  (Mimicking gestures) YEEEEES!
  • Teacher: (Using a fast paced and quick tone with a loud burst at the end) Classy, classy, classy, CLASS! 
  • Student:  Yessy, yessy, yessy, YES!
  • Teacher:  (Using a picture taking gesture) Class! CLICK!
  • Student: (Mimicking gestures) Yes! CLICK!
  • Teacher:  (Using the "We Will Rock You" song)  *Clap *Clap CLASS!
  • Student:  *Clap *Clap YES!
  • Teacher:  Classity, classity, class, class, class!
  • Student:  Yessity, yessity, yes, yes, yes!
  • Teacher:  (In my most Jedi character voice, waving my hand as if I am using the force) Is this the class I'm looking for?
  • Student:  (Mimicking gesture and tone) Is this the yes I'm looking for? 

Do you have any favorites you would like to share?

Chapter 7
Five, Powerful Classroom Rules

"Don't scold, rehearse." (Biffle 2013) This sentiment is the cornerstone to  creating a climate of unified students.  If a child is well practiced in any aspect of his or her life, they are armed with the tools that will set them up for success.  Whole Brain Teaching has five distinct rules with associated gestures.  The first three are very common habits that cause disruption, often leading to significantly wasted time.  The last two are phrased in such a way that many elements of character traits and classroom expectations fall under under them.  

The five rules are:

Rule1:  Follow directions quickly.
Rule 2:  Raise your hand for permission to speak.
Rule 3:  Raise your hand for permission to leave your seat.
Rule 4:  Make Smart Choices.
Rule 5:  Keep your dear teacher happy. 

Each rule has a universal gesture and is fun to say.  Teaching the rules in a way that combines the prefrontal cortex, motor cortex and the limbic system are a surefire way to create a concrete memory of the rules.  The key is to practice each rule with your students.  Once they seem to have mastered memorizing one, move on to each of the others until all five are mastered.  When you are confident in their rule knowledge, mix them up and test out their know how by yelling out the rules in a different order.

There are many ways to get posters for each rule.  The Whole Brain Teaching website, as well as Teachers Pay Teachers, have many free downloadable resources. 

These were made by Mrs Magee.
 Gestures for rule one are to raise one finger; then move this hand rapidly through the air.  The purpose is to eliminate any wasted time when students are asked to follow any number of requests (handing in papers, returning to their seats, opening a book to a certain page).

Gestures for rule two are to raise two fingers; then bring your thumb and forefingers together.  Open and close them to make your hand talk.  In order to establish this rule, it is important to "NEVER (unless it is an emergency) answer a student who violates this rule." (Biffle, 2013)  Firmly say, "I would be happy to answer your question, but please raise your hand."  It is important to understand that when you begin to establish this rule, you may have to repeat your expectations many, many, many times a day.

Gestures for rule three are to raise three fingers; then with two fingers "walk" the fingers through the air.  Unless given special permission, generally, we do not want students to run amok through our classrooms.  This rule supports a calm order within those walls.  However, if there are times during our daily teaching that we require the students be able to move about freely, simply place a colored post-it note or something over the poster to indicate that students do not require permission.  

Gestures for rule four include raising four fingers in the air; then tap your temple with one finger, four times.  This rule is "wonderfully powerful. It covers every area of a student's world at school, at home, out with friends, on the internet, engaged in sports or hobby, dating, everything." (Biffle, 2013)  This rule is especially useful in reinforcing expectations with any kind of disruptive student behavior within or outside of your classroom.

Gestures for rule five are to raise all five fingers in the air; then take both hands to frame your face, bob your head from side to side while grinning merrily.  Like the fourth rule, this covers an enormous amount of student activity.  "Rule 5 is especially useful in covering the countless remarks students made that were hurtful, rude, sarcastic, or disrespectful."  (Biffle, 2013)

Establishing a routine and practice is the key to uniting your class around these rules.  Especially when they are first introduced, they need to be rehearsed at least five times a day.  As a habit, I will review the rules after every transition.  In about 30 seconds, the tone for the lesson is set and students are reminded of the expectations as they move forward.  There have been times, when I observe more than a few students off task, that I will stop the lesson in its tracks and recite the rules.  

Don't scold, rehearse.


"Researchers report that, regardless of the subject matter, students working in small groups tend to learn more of what is taught and retain it longer than when the same content is presented in other instructional formats."  (Biffle, 2013) It is emphasized by Coach B that, Teach-Okay is Whole Brain Teaching's core educational device.  It is a technique that engages the learner in a fast paced divulgence of knowledge.  This simply allows the student to become a part of your lecture by engaging them and breaking down your instruction into digestible bites or chunking.  Biffle adds that engaging students in this element of "educational tomfoolery" activates their limbic system, adding an emotional tie to their learning. It is also important to get your students to move quickly with a full complete turn.  Practice this to emphasize the need to be facing your partner so that you are fully engaged with them.
In addition, when pairing students for partnership, it is important to assign their mate.  It is suggested that you rank your students according to achievement.  If you have 20 students, pair the twentieth student with the tenth, the nineteenth with the eighth and so on until all students are partnered.  This partnership allows for a level of work that will drive both students toward furthering their knowledge. My students are assigned these partners for daily interactions.  This eliminates wasting time with partnering your students and also motivates learning.  Once paired, assign each group with a name or number.  For example, the students to your left are 1's and to the right are 2's.  Or, you can all them names like "peanut butter and jelly."  However you organize them, it is important to have this ready.  Sometimes during Teach-Okay, you will implement the "Switch" technique.   This is a very successful and fun way to engage students while teaching them to respect the boundaries of someone speaking while the other listens.  
Here is a video demonstrating both the "Teach-Ok" method and the basic "Switch" method.


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