Is your Childs Reading Program Brain-Based? If NOT, start asking questions…


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  • Souse, 2018


I firmly believe that being an educator transcends all acts of the human race. It means that you have the ability to change the course of a life in a moment. One of the most important skills a teacher can give his/her students in the power to read. Reading is such an amazingly mighty tool in the belt of the human race; it is linked to success in all aspect of life. Literacy is vital in the early years, and most be taught in a way that is understood by all. Unfortunately, there are households that do not give their children the advantage of strong early literacy skills and pre-reading skills. It is up to the child’s teacher to ensure that these skills are taught, sharpened and endure (Dehaene, 2010).

If neurological connections are not aroused and strengthened early on in the development of phoneme mapping, a child will already be at a disadvantage. Furthermore, young child’s brain must be able to detect words and understand how language is structured in his/her language. Parents who talk to their children early and often are strengthening these connections.

Since we know that the brain develops language early on, it is absolutely imperative that delays, difficulties and deficits be addressed as soon as possible. Also, classrooms should be equipped with language rich environments, and support the growth of the brain circuits necessary for reading. Reading is an immensely complex process that is not innate. This makes the job of learning to read difficult, and strengthens the argument for solid reading instruction.

There are three neural circuits involved in the reading process. “The visual processing system scans the printed word, the auditory processing system sounds it out in the head, and the frontal lobe integrates the information to produce meaning ( Sousa, 2017 ).” All three circuits must work together in order to decipher the written word. When these circuits work together, and reading instruction is systematic, continuous and targeted; the greatest reward happens… reading!

First, phonological awareness lies at the forefront of appropriate reading instruction. Phonological awareness is “is the recognition that oral language can be divided into smaller components.” Students must first be able to manipulate sounds, or develop phonemic awareness in in order to tackle written words. A teacher can strengthen these skills by practicing alliteration, rhyme and syllabication. The reading program that my district uses begins student in Kindergarten with auditory alliteration passages that ask students to figure out which sound a set of words all have. The students also have tasks that are anchored to pictures. In these tasks students are told a word, and asked to figure out which picture in the set starts with the same sound. The students then move on to rhyme, which comes in many forms. Students play rhyming games where they have a set of pictures and have to figure out when picture does not rhyme. They also do auditory/oral rhyming, and have to produce the rhyme when given a word. This process moves on through the Kilpatrick program using a P.A.S.T assessment to target phonemic awareness skills that need to be taught. These activities are done in small group settings every single day. Students also use phoneme push-its to push out sounds of words and switch, drop and add sounds later on in the program (Kilpatrick, 2015).

After phonics and phonemic awareness skills are thoroughly investigated, students move on to instruction in word study. Word study is extremely explicit, and is worked on at the students level. Word study looks at the rules of the English language and goes in a very sequential order. Depending on the student’s readiness and ability-level it is either taught inductive through the use of a sort and rule, or through multi-sensory instruction that is more explicit (Johnston, 2017). The teacher leads the students in a discussion about a rule, goes over exceptions to the rule, and works on the new skill. Students identify the rule in context, read words that follow the new rule and practice producing words that follow the pattern. This is known as encoding and decoding. Decodable texts, chunk chunk blend cards, white boards and sand can be used for these activities. The materials my district uses come from various sources. Some of these sources include Words their Way, Word Journeys, Beth Estill, and Orton-Gillingham. A D.S.A is given in order to determine readiness. The D.S.A is from Kilpatrick.

The next task a student must complete is related to fluency. We do not explicitly teach fluency, or the ability to read a text fluidly and with automaticity, in my district. When students are able to decode words quickly following pattern rules, they read more fluently. Decodable texts are used to work on decoding words following new patterns, and committing them to long-term memory. Fluency helps to build comprehension, since more working memory is available when a student is not using it to decode words.

After students tackle learning to read; they are prepared to read to learn. Early on, this is highly guided and done by charting with all students participating in the modeling process. As students become transitional readers, they become fluent enough to use their free working memory to think more deeply about what they are reading. The words on the page began to come together, and the student is able to think beyond the pages. This is the ultimate goal of reading, and is taught through the use of high-quality mentor texts, read out louds and charting. After student are familiar with a piece of the comprehension pie, they are released to work on the skill on their own in a text on their independent reading level. Vocabulary comes into play at this time. New tier 2 and tier 3 vocabulary words are explicitly taught, and others acquired naturally with exposure.

When all things come together, and students are given proper reading instruction; the miracle of reading happens for most readers. If a student is not identified quickly, and given differentiated interventions when they are not successful; it becomes extremely difficult for them to keep up and catch up. The use of systematic, consistent and brain based reading instruction is imperative in classrooms (Wolf, 2010).





Souse, D.A. (2017). How the brain learns (5th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin

Kilpatrick, D. A. (2015). Essentials of Assessing, Preventing, and Overcoming Reading Difficulties. John Wiley & Sons.

Dehaene, S. (2010). Reading in the brain: The new science of how we read. New York: Penguin Books.

Wolf, M. (2010). Proust and the squid: The story and science of the reading brain. Cambridge: Icon Books.







Memory: A complex process

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The brain is a complex mechanism that is yet to be fully understood. Through research and current neurological studies, scientists have been able to unearth information about the brain that has huge implications for success in the field of education. As a teacher, I use current brain research to inform my instruction. Knowing about the brain, and understanding how students process information is best practice in the teaching profession of today.

There brain processes information from short-term to long-term memory using a complex set of “rules”. Without us even knowing, we are subconsciously making choices that will either send information into our long-term memory or into a dumping ground. It is an educator’s hope, that the new information being taught will become part of a student’s long-term memory, ready to be taken out of the file and used at a later date. This is not always the case. Bad teaching practices, emotional situations and classroom distractions can easily send kids spiraling into a black hole of memory loss.

First, in order for something to enter into long-term memory, a student must be emotionally capable of accepting the task. If a student does not have a positive self-concept, they will not be able to commit new information into long-term storage. Emotions can and will over-ride new learning capabilities. In second grade, a strategy that is used inside my classroom is that of growth mindset. From the start of the school year students are coached on perseverance, failure as a learning opportunity, and emotional stabilization and self-regulation through mindfulness exercises. The students and I use morning meeting in order to talk about anything that may have happened the say before in our classroom community. This also allows students to feel safe, respected and loved in the environment in which they are learning. Every classroom should have time set aside to work on emotional regulation and mindfulness to promote positive self-concept. The conversion of short-term working memory to long-term memory is blocked by poor self-concept, feelings of fight or flight and poor self-regulation skills for coping with stressful and challenging situation. This is why the development of a program in every classroom to teach these skills through text or discussion is essential.

Second, in order for students to be able to commit items into long-term memory, the direct instruction environment must be distraction-free, and chunked into small bouts of direct instruction followed by practice. The chunking strategy uses the known fact that working memory only lasts so long, and can only hold so much information at one time. When new information is chunked into smaller bits over time, a student is able to pull from their background knowledge (long-term storage), connect to prior concepts, and apply their new skill to what they already know. This helps to ensure the new information makes sense to the student, can be held onto and does not exceed the working capacity of a 7-8 year old. This time frame for direct instruction tends to run from 10-15 minutes. If the student can recall the information after 24 hours, then it is transferring from working to long-term memory storage over night.

Last, I use emotions, feelings and background knowledge of students to create meaning during instruction. I always try to make new learning and practice relevant for students, so that they can connect to prior experiences and knowledge in a way that is personal to them. When I teach a lesson about teaspoons, I ask students if they have ever run out of spoons before. When student reply “yes”, I then tell them a story about how I ran out of spoons at the table (tablespoons), and my kids used the tablespoons to eat their cereal. Most of my students get excited to hear that I have gone without proper eating utensils. I then explain that the reason I only have teaspoons left is that they are so teeeeeny tiny that we couldn’t use them to eat our cereal. My students always enjoy hearing stories that they can relate to, and pull from their own background knowledge with. I also tell a lot of stories about my own kids when teaching, since my son is in 2ndgrade also. The students love relating to my kids, since they are the same age.

To sum it up, students must be given small chunks of information that is meaningful to them in order to commit new knowledge into long-term memory. Through the use of relevant, interesting and engaging chunked instructional practices, most students can succeed. The only other item that can get in the way of this instruction is emotional well being. Students cannot learn without a positive sense of self-concept and a mind frame that is ready to learn. When students are stressed, or feel unsafe in their learning environment, they cannot learn new information and commit it to long-term storage. Mindfulness and relationship building can help to alleviate these roadblocks. The brain is complex, but brain-based teaching can help to ensure it is maximized for learning.

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Why Should I go to EdCamp?

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Have you ever sat through a professional development and thought to yourself, in between Facebook posts of corse, “This should have been an e-mail?” You are not alone. Let me tell you, I have been there many times. However… That does not happen at EdCamp! So, I am here to share with you some of the amazing things you can learn while at EdCamp, and will NEVER hear about anywhere else. Well, unless you and some colleagues are three coronas deep after school on Friday.

  1. All about Boogers-  Yes, BOOGERS. How many teachers have tackled this wonderful conundrum. I wonder if it’s the taste or the mysterious feeling of getting away with it, but this seems to be an issue K-12. I sat in a room with eight other educators at EdCamp talking about eating, wiping, blowing and smearing BOOGERS. There is NO PD for this guys! So, I found out that there is a BOOK.. like, a real actual book about what to do with boogers. OMG guys! I was on Amazon ordering it as if my career depended on it… so was the middle school teacher. Here it is guys! Only $5 for booger sanity! Count me in!

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2. Don’t poop in the urinal and other lessons on back to school night- Okay, this one was new to me. Before I had kids of my own I assumed ALOT.  My husband would take my kids into the bathroom, and I had this vision that they learned NOT to poop in the urinal at this time. Who would have thought? So, we are discussing the first day chat about not peeing on the playground, and this one comes up. Yes, we all agreed that we teach a lesson on the first day of school about whipping it out on the playground. Take notes new teachers!!! Then, a preschool teacher lets us in on her secret. She asks the parents to take their kids into the bathroom (boys) to teach them about the urinal. Who would have thought? Yes! Simple, yet so overlooked.

3. Don’t smear your poop on the bathroom walls – Not sure why our future leaders and hope for all humankind want to touch and smear their own feces, but they do. All the way to high school! Yup, never would have guessed that one from the depths of elementary. How do you get them to NOT do this? You describe the feces that lie underneath their nail beds and the future implications of you letting their significant other in on the action that transpired in the 10th grade bathroom. Yep.. that’ll do it.

More to come…

Ten Things Every Educator Should Know About the BRAIN

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Fact One: Students learn in their own time

Human intelligence does not meet certain criteria at a certain age. Students can and will show a huge spectrum of cognitive abilities at the same age. Just because a student is a certain age, does not mean he/she should be expected to perform certain tasks that are deemed “age-appropriate”. We should be looking at each individual student for readiness, not at a standard or bracket (Degen, 2014).

Fact Two: The brain has a short attention span

“Students don’t learn if they are stressed-out, despondent, or otherwise distracted (Degan, 2014).” As teachers, we have to work to get our students into something called “flow” where they are so into what they are learning, that they get absorbed by it. It is in the state of “flow” that our students learn the most, and are able to maintain greater attention over time. Creativity and spontaneous curiosity lead the brain into a state of high retention and arousal. This allows a student to actively participate in challenging activities and higher cognitive tasks with great joy. Flow is the space between anxiety and boredom (Degan, 2014).

After a mere 10 minutes, the brain looses focus. In order to maintain focus, you must actively engage students in a task that engrosses their emotions. Using 10-minute segments of information followed by emotional education allows students to continue learning for longer periods of time without checking out (Degan, 2014).

Fact Three: Students need to experience things in order to learn

Students need a rich and stimulating learning environment in order to be successful knowledge seekers and absorbers. Since students learn through experiencing things, it is our job to provide an environment in which this can occur. When students are given authentic opportunities to experience their own learning, they can reach “flow”. Chances to make sense of the world through experiences are invaluable to students. Not only is this best-practice, but it is essential for the absorption of deeper and more meaningful knowledge (Degan, 2014).

Fact Four: Students who experience chronic stress need special support

Chronic stress sends a person into a constant state of fight or flight. The individual is then extremely reactive, and reverts to poor decision-making skills and blocks out new learning (Degan, 2014). Stress is associated with health issues, school failure and delinquency in school (Creedon, 2011). When students are overwhelmed with the life they live in, it is up to us to help them cope. When cortisol levels are elevated by stressful situations, our brain struggles to differentiate between memorable items and trivial ones. This makes the accusation of new knowledge difficult. Endorphin release helps to counter the effects of stress on the brain. Through the use of music and arts in the classroom, teachers can help to counteract the effects of chronic stress (Creedon, 2011). Music and art education have been shown to “reduce stress, enhance readiness for learning, and enhance the emotional well-being of students (Creedon, 2011).”

Fact Five: Aerobic activity enhances performance

Early on in life, your brain in very sensitive to changes that occur when you are practicing and acquiring new skills. Trying to learn new skills later on in life is difficult, because complex motor skills are needed early on in order to develop procedural memory. Through continuous practice of a new motor skill, your brain structure truly changes. Studies have shown that a small amount of aerobic exercise prior to learning a new skill actually enhances your brains ability to absorb. Not only is exercise important when learning new motor skills, but also when learning new cognitive skills (Sousa, 2017, pg.

Fact Six: Mindset Matters

A person’s history has a profound effect on their cognitive abilities. We all possess something called out “self –concept”. A self-concept is how we view ourselves in the world we live in. This can either be positive or negative (and even in between) depending on our history. If a person is constantly being told negative things about their sense of self, and given negative feedback it leads to a negative sense of self. When a person is constantly reminded about all the things they are mastering, and given positive feedback, it leads to a positive self-concept. The type of feedback that teachers have given and continue to give has a dramatic effect on their students. When a student has developed a positive sense of self, they have a growth mindset and learn more readily. These students believe that learning and cognitive ability is not innate. Students with a fixed mindset think that there is no use in trying anymore, because they just aren’t smart enough and never will be. These students see it as you either got it or you don’t. The way your brain develops cognitively is highly reliant upon your sense of self (Sousa, 2017, pg. 75).

Fact Seven: Not everyone learns in the same way

As we grow as teachers we realize that not all students learn the same way. Students have differing opinions about what their ideal learning environment consists of and how they like to engage with and acquire new knowledge. “Evidence suggests that using multisensory activities that promote student engagement during a learning episode improves student learning and retention (Sousa, 2017 pg. 79).” If we use multi-sensory approached, all learners can be engaged. The theory is that certain genetic factors contribute to faster processing by specific neural networks. This leads to a sensory preference (Sousa, 2017 pg. 79).

Fact Eight: Standardized testing hurts learning

High-stakes testing is just that, high stakes. When teachers see a need to get students to pass an assessment, they begin to teach to the test. This inhibits the transfer of new knowledge by blocking deep learning. In order for our brains to move information from our working memory into our transfer knowledge, we must have meaningful learning that crosses subject matters and allows students to see the importance of the content in their futures. When skills are taught in isolation, they are non-transferable. Students stagnate within a single area, and cant use their new knowledge to enhance other areas of understanding (Sousa, 2017 pg. 185).

Fact Nine: Frontal Lobes Develop Over Time

Located at the front of your brain towards your forehead and behind the prefrontal cortex, lies your frontal lobe. This area of your brain develops slowly over time. It controls many things, including emotions. Since this part of your brain develops slowly, you can expect that young children have underdeveloped frontal lobes. This means that they are unlikely to have full control over their emotions. Full development of the frontal lobe does not happen until early adulthood. Problem solving, working memory and risk-management are also located in the frontal lobe. These skills are also acquired and developed over time until adulthood (EQ, 2006).

Fact Ten: Similarities can lead to retrieval problems

When teaching a new concept there is an overwhelming desire to connect to prior concepts. This is a great strategy, except when the concepts that are being noted, are too similar. The brain has a hard time telling the difference between items that are very analogous. This causes a retrieval problem. When new knowledge is mixed with similar preexisting knowledge, it is retrieved incorrectly. In order to avoid this confusion, it is best to teach about the key differences FIRST. The teacher should also be the one modeling the more complex examples to the students directly (Sousa, 2017 pg. 191).


How can Brain Knowledge Help Make me a Better Teacher?


            Teaching is a complex art. New knowledge is always coming out, and it can be hard to know just what to do.  There is one undeniable truth; the presence of brain related research is growing. With the growth of this fascinating knowledge, comes a new frontier for education. But how should we use our new knowledge to teach our students in the best way possible? The answer is simple, read about how the brain functions, and you will realize how easy it is to discern good and bad practices.

The brain of a child is completely unlike that of an adult. Although there are many similarities, they are still developing. From one day to the next, every child is developing at his/her own rate that has to do with genetics and environment. The age in which a child can cognitively be prepared for certain tasks is not something that is set in stone, neither is social emotional learning. Things such as past experiences and trauma can have massive impacts on a child’s ability to learn and stabilize. If a child has a lot of negative experiences, they can develop a low sense of self. This makes learning difficult. One thing that can help maximize learning is the use of music and art education. This helps the release of good hormones inside the brain that help to counteract negative effects. You can also boost a child’s sense of self by giving positive feedback, and boosting self-esteem. Teaching mindfulness can also be extremely helpful in developing a positive sense of self, leading to a more flexible growth mindset.

The brain also benefits from smaller bits of information being delivered at a time. Since our brains really have a short attention span for committing to new information, we must do our best to change the way we teach. By providing 10-minute lessons and brain breaks in between that engage the body, emotions and senses, we can allow new materials to permeate into long term transfer knowledge. Aerobic exercises and social/emotional learning open up the brain to absorb new learning, and allow students to relax into mindfulness state where learning can occur.

Educators also need to make sure they engage all learners by using multisensory methods to deliver content. Movement mixed with a sensory stimulating activity can reach all learners. Some students are genetically predisposition to learn better one way than another. By offering multi sensory instruction, you can address the needs of everyone you teach.

Through the use of brain research all educators can ensure that they are meeting the needs of their students. Brain research really is the cutting edge way we should be professionally developing ourselves to be better educators for every student. By applying my new knowledge, I will reach out to students through movement, a positive feedback model, growth mindset, multisensory education and small bits of non-similar information being delivered at once (Creedon, 2011), (Degen, 2014), (EQ, 2006) and (Sousa, 2017).




Creedon, D. W. (2011). Fight the stress of urban education with the ARTS: the arts not only build our brains, they insulate them from our stressful urban environments. Phi Delta Kappan, (6), 34. Retrieved from


Degen, R. J. (2014). Brain-Based Learning: The Neurological Findings About the Human Brain that Every Teacher should Know to be Effective. Amity Global Business Review9, 15–23. Retrieved from



EQ and the emotional curriculum. (2006). New York, N.Y. : Films Media Group, [2006]. Retrieved from


Sousa, D. A. (2017). How the brain learns (5th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, a Sage Publishing Company.



Flexible Seating: How flexible are you?

Flexible seating is a huge craze in education right now. I argue that it is not a craze, but a new way of designing a classroom with students in mind. Most classrooms that claim to have flexible seating oportunities fall short. Flexible seating means that students are free to choose their seating option.

A true flexible seating classroom will not have names written permanently on desks. This is a gentle release process for my classroom. The year starts with name tags that slide into clear name tag holders every morning. The child picks a seat for the day. I laminate the name tags, and adhere clear pockets to each seating option for the child to slide their name into. This allows students to “claim” their seat in the morning. As the students show more maturity in the seating arrangement, they are given more responsibility. Eventually, about half way through the school year, the name tags disappear completely. The students are free to roam and sit where they please for the activities they are completing. If this is done gradually and over-time students do not argue over seats. Seating is seen as a best-fit for the situation rather than something you claim for the day. A student may pick a desk to eat at, then pick the floor to write at. I also allow my students to use the hallway outside of the room to record in. They leave the door open, and sit in the hall where I can see them.

Another thing that gets in the way of truly flexible seating is the lack of options. The available options should include sitting on the floor, kneeling at a surface, sitting at a chair (wobble stool, balance ball etc…) and standing. I also provide various sizes of seating, because not every kid is the same height.

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Below you will see that the beauty of fully-flexible seating is that you end up with zones for activities rather than claimed micro areas that are unusable by the class for the rest of the day. All areas have the ability to evolve over the corse of the day. The best part? The kids are responsible for picking a place where they are successful. I don’t re-arrange seats when my class is having a bad day, I have a conversation about picking a partner and work area that will make you successful. I can honestly say that the kids spread out all over the room, and this helps with classroom management.

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The last item is far-fetched for a lot of people. This year, I have chosen to fully implement the word flexible into my classroom environment as a whole. My seating can be pushed to the side to create an entirely floor-level space. This allows us to do large scale projects without the desks getting in the way. We used this to run our Sphere Bolt robots in teams this week.

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Flexible seating has been an amazing year and a half adventure for me. I always start the year out with desks, and a way to claim a seat. I then, based on readiness, remove the barriers of full flexibility. I cannot say enough about student voice, choice and comfort flexible seating allows me.

Flexible seating: