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Best Practices of Brain Research For Teaching Primary Readers

By Tamara Lee Opalek


Brain-based learning has emerged into modern classrooms creating new practices teaching learning, memory and reading. Many studies relate brain research to best practices into the classroom for learning. Differentiation such as a leveled reading program for students of various reading abilities can help students succeed in reading. Rote memorization is a practice of the past; brain research which matches best practices to students' abilities is the new vitalization for outdated curriculums to increase student achievement. As educators of the twenty-first century, must apply brain research in our classrooms to develop and construct vital curricula which connect to student needs relating teaching to abilities and cultural backgrounds. This project investigates current brain research within the past ten years and applies a differentiated reading program for primary learners of first grade.

[A follow-up presentation and formal paper will exhibit the findings of the project after one year in May of 2006 to colleagues and the School Board of Hardee County, Florida.]

Chapter One: Project Proposal

Problem Statement

Diverse classrooms of the twenty-first century need responsive pedagogy to remedy varying abilities and learning styles (Marshall, 1998; Sousa, 1998b; Tomlinson & Kalbfleisch, 1998). Current research in brain-based learning states that diverse learners need differentiated strategies to accommodate a variety of learning styles for learning and reading (Pool, 1997; Slavkin, 2002; Sousa, 1998a). To improve best practices in reading with diverse primary learners, effective brain-based research must be included in curricula to show how the brain learns and why it does not (Wolfe, 1998). Is it possible for brain research to improve reading with primary learners of diverse learning styles?

Importance and Rationale of the Project

Brain-based learning developed in the educational field in the 1990's with investigative articles by Patricia Wolfe, David Sousa, Susan Kovalik, and Eric Jensen. These forerunners in brain-based learning brought the study of the brain and its cognitive functions away from traditional neuroscience studies and into the educational field with new introductions of best practices in the classroom. It is important to use the latest in research to teach reading in the classroom for effective learning of all students regardless of cultural or socioeconomic backgrounds. Diverse students attending Bowling Green Elementary are bilingual, multicultural, or may have speech or learning histories. These students perform the lowest academically among the four elementary schools in Hardee County according to state testing regiments of the past ten years. For educators to teach reading effectively at Bowling Green, curricula must be tailored with best practices and differentiated instruction in order for diverse readers to achieve the level of independence in one year. The goal of this project is to differentiate primary reading instruction and to implement best practices for diverse learners using the latest research and technology of brain-based learning.

Background of the Project

Brain-based research began with neuroscientists studying the physical and psychological responses of the brain affected with trauma or injured persons. Throughout the 1990's, educators have joined with neuroscientists, cognitive psychologists, sociologists and other educators to produce studies of dynamic changes relating brain research to student learning and memory retention. Current researchers of brain-based learning include Patricia Wolfe (1998; 2002), David Sousa (1998a;1998b), Eric Jensen (Jensen, 1998; 2000; Jensen & Palmer, 1997), Michael Slavkin (2002), Susan Kovalik (Kovalik & Olsen, 1998), John Bruer (1997; 1998), Marian Diamond (Slavkin, 2002), Renate and Geoffrey Caine (1995). These risk-takers have all "pioneered" (Marshall, 1998) trails from traditional educational pedagogy for successful learning achievement in the classroom with brain research and best practices for educators.

To promote better reading and learning among diverse students, curricula needs to be adapted to meet individual learning styles (Pool, 1997; Slavkin, 2002; Tomlinson & Kalbfleisch, 1998) according to current brain research in education. This practice directly relates to the research on which brain-based learning is based. Best practices such as leveled reading programs, authentic assessments and teaching multiple intelligences in brain-based learning can create a better learning environment than the traditional classrooms of the past thirty years. Traditional methods such as rote learning and memorization are ineffective with today's students with unique backgrounds and learning styles in the changing times of the twenty-first century according to brain research (Willis, 2005). Brain research has evolved in the past ten years to bring the most effective pedagogy and educational teaching methodologies for changing patterns of student learning (Sousa, 1998b; Willis, 2005).

Brain research today includes not only neuroscience but educational and cognitive psychology as well (Bruer, 1997; Slavkin, 2002; Sousa, 1998b). Educators are evolving best practices into progressive instruction which teaches to student needs and learning styles (Seita, 2002). Brain research enables educational professionals to redesign traditional roles of rote instruction into differentiated best practices for better student learning and reading (Pool, 1997; Wolfe, 2002).

Students at the primary level come to Bowling Green Elementary with a wide range of abilities and learning styles. Differentiation can close the gap on retention of first graders who enroll late in the school year when parents arrive from other states due to employment with the crop seasons. Students' reading skills must be remediated or else futures become on a lost track toward successful learning beginning in the first grade. Changing curricula with differentiation provides scaffolding for struggling readers toward independent reading skills and hope for passing to the next grade level. Brain-based research instruction can be a positive transition toward changing the outcomes of a population of diverse thinkers and readers at Bowling Green Elementary.

Statement of Purpose

The purpose of this project is to implement best practices of brain-research learning into the classroom at the primary level. Primary reading curricula with brain research practices can create an improved learning environment to meet the needs of diverse learners and to foster literacy values among students at Bowling Green Elementary. Research of the most current brain-based learning will be the basis of creating a flexible curriculum of instruction for the diverse learning of primary readers. All data information related to reading will be collected, assessed and shared with colleagues at the end of the 2005-2006 school calendar. A school power point presentation and formal paper will verify brain research in the primary classroom and narrate the results of achievements, strengths and weaknesses of this project to peers and the Superintendent. The ultimate goal of this project is for Bowling Green Elementary to become a pioneer brain-based school (Marshall, 1998). This project will be setting the standard for Hardee County to implement brain-based research for reading district-wide at the primary level.

Objectives of the Project

The objective of this project is to create a brain-based learning environment to teach reading successfully to primary learners at Bowling Green Elementary. Bowling Green is a highly transient rural community with a low socio-economic status which is reflected in the migrant population of the community. The demographics are composed of 82% Hispanic, 5.5% African-American, 10% Caucasian and 2% Other Cultures. There are 120 current LEP students and 125 ESE students in this K-5 elementary. This Title One district received a C rating from the state of Florida last year after having missed 17 days in August because of three hurricanes passing through the county. BGE had the lowest scores in reading among the four elementary schools in Hardee County. Hardee is the only school district in Florida to be granted an alternative FTE count from the state of Florida. The reason for this is that the high migrant population of the county fluctuates according to the growing seasons of local crops. Students do not all begin school in August because they enroll in later months with the picking seasons such as October and January.

All students come from diverse backgrounds and family situations. Students can be monolingual with Spanish as their first language, bilingual in Spanish and English, or diverse in their cultural background. Bowling Green is a rural town and the majority of the parents work picking fruit or vegetables in local fields or orange groves. The purpose of a brain-research environment for learning rather than a traditional experience is to encounter the challenges of diversity among the children and improve learning according to separate abilities and needs of the students. Differentiation is a new practice in the current curricula yet can solve many individual reading problems in a first grade classroom. All educators should be encouraged to try and facilitate brain research in the classroom for improved reading and learning for optimum achievement among students.

Teaching practices must be differentiated according to each student's abilities and needs in reading because all students do not read at the same level. First grade reading levels range from PreK to third grade. Authentic assessments (Weber, 1998) and the Accelerated Reader Program will be used to gather data (Appendix B) as this project unfolds through the year within a primary classroom for reading. Brain-based reading practices will be implemented and documented on a weekly basis (Appendix B and C) according to student needs and growth in reading. Student goals will be organized individually in reading to establish fluency by May of 2006. Authentic assessments, KWL charts, Story Grammar Charts and Thinking Maps (Appendix C.4) will be incorporated into the curriculums which are based upon brain research to increase student achievement. Current best practices in brain research (Kagan & Kagan, 1998; Kovalik & Olsen, 1998; Milam, 2005; Nunley, 2002; Morris, 2004; Sousa, 1998a; Sousa, 1998b; Seita, 2002; Tomlinson & Kalbfleisch, 1998; Weber, 1998) will guide flexible curricula as it relates to reading and learning in a primary classroom. (Appendix D).

This project will be not be completed in a year because research states that brain-based learning is an on-going process (Sousa, 1998b). Previous studies have stretched from three to five years before substantial findings were concluded (Caine & Caine, 1995). Data will be researched from the Accelerated Reader Diagnostic Reports to assess each student for their achievements, strengths and weaknesses in reading until May. A power point presentation will be designed to conclude findings of the project for colleagues and to open discussion concerning feedback or further implementation at the elementary level. A formal paper will be presented to the school board relating to the justification of brain-based learning and research in educational classrooms.

This is the beginning of brain-research based curriculum in this district; it is not intended to prove or disprove brain-based theories of current research. All data and test scores collected will be considered for statistical purposes only for this project and not considered as a competitive means to drive theories in the classroom (Weber, 1998; Wolfe, 1998). Brain-based learning for reading is an evolutionary process for each learner and competitive gains are not the purpose of this project. Each student will set goals for reading through the Accelerated Reading Program to read independently by May 2006. A bulletin board will be created to share brain-based strategies with other teachers at Bowling Green (Weber, 1998).

A second goal of this project is to involve parents and families with brain-research learning through a class web page designed to share links with students and parents for reading. A weekly classroom newsletter will guide parents and students for daily reading homework and literacy notes (Appendix E). The project of this masters' thesis will be published by December 2005 through Grand Valley State University's reading program to acknowledge all credible resources and studies relating brain research to the teaching of reading of primary students.

Definition of Terms

Authentic Assessments- Classroom assessments created by the teacher or other to represent real-world examples for the student (Biller, 2002; Morris, 2004; Slavkin, 2002; Weber, 1998).

Best Practices- Teaching pedagogy which centers on growth of current research and the latest in technology, procedures and effective classroom procedures (Zemelman, Daniels & Hyde, 2005).

Brain-Based Research- The merging of research from neuroscientists with cognitive psychologists, sociologists, and educational professionals to study best practices of how the brain learns best in the classroom (Slavkin, 2002).

Constructivism- Dynamic collaboration among a group of students or teachers to develop answers with the process of reason rather than individually (Slavkin, 2002).

Differentiation- The ability to tailor curriculum according to student needs with brain-based research (Tomilinson & Kalbfleisch, 1998).

Learning Styles- Based upon Howard Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences, learning styles have evolved into many different modes of learning rather than the traditional single way to learn in the classroom (Slavkin, 2002).

Memory Retention- Learning by students which is stored and then assessed using memory (Willis, 2005).

Multiple Intelligences- A range of instructional strategies based upon Gardner's theory of eight intelligences to teach the wide range of students' learning abilities (Kagan & Kagan, 1998).

Primary Readers- Students from K-2 of varying abilities and diverse backgrounds.

Pedagogy- Knowledge and educational practice constructed by documented research, prior knowledge and personal or authentic experiences (Slavkin, 2002; Sousa, 1998b).

Technology- visual, audio or other sensory equipment used for learning with best practices in the classroom.

Limitations of Project

This project is the formal beginning of recognizing brain research practices for the teaching of reading at the primary level. It is an ongoing process (Sousa, 1998a) and will encourage colleagues to recognize brain research credibility with feedback and data in the presentation at the end of the school year. The time constraint of five months after this project is published in December will not be sufficient to validate results. In fact, studies suggest a three to five year time frame for implementation of any brain-based research curriculum (Biller, 2002; Glenn, 2002; Milam, 2005; Morris, 2004; Slavkin, 2002). The important concept of this project is to implement the latest in brain-based learning to differentiate curricula for all students to become successful readers. If one teacher begins implementing brain research practices with a moderate to high success rate as measured by the California SAT-10 Test for first graders, others will follow. The cycle of low testing scores which has been the norm at Bowling Green will be broken as learners are directed to new paths of learning to succeed in reading with brain research practices.

Sharing among colleagues concerning the trials and tribulations of brain-based learning (Wolfe, 1998) is imperative for positive growth and achievement. All data of this project, successes or failures of brain research strategies for reading, will be accessed monthly and shared in grade group meetings and organized meetings after school. Success can later be examined with purpose for the district to evaluate authentic brain research in reading for all learners in Hardee County at both the primary and secondary levels. This project will be submitted for publication in December of 2005 before data can be collected and accountability can be measured with best practices in the classroom. A power point presentation for colleagues and a formal paper to the superintendent will communicate validity of brain research in the classroom after test scores for the California SAT-10 become available in May.

The diversity among the primary learners for this project encompasses three active ESOL students, twelve former ESOL students, two ESE speech students, one Caucasian student, and one African-American student. All students have families of various cultural backgrounds and socio-economic status. Bowling Green Elementary is a Title One school in a rural farm community of fewer than 5,000 residents. This project will target the necessity of brain research for readers at the primary level. The intent of this project is to foster individual abilities of reading of students at the primary level amidst cultural diversity and adversity. The goal of this project is to create life-long learners of reading with best practices of brain research in a flexible curricula.

Chapter Two: Literature Review


Most empirical studies reviewed within the past eight years are not from primary but secondary school studies with brain research and brain-based learning (Biller, 2002; Milam; 2005; Nunley, 2002; Pool, 1997; Sousa, 1998a; Sousa, 1998b; Weber, 1998). Elementary studies available were limited (Caine & Caine, 1995; Kagan, 1994; Kagan, 1998; Kovalik, 1998; Seita, 2002) but clearly describe the pioneers who have set the agenda for brain-based learning in the classroom. Literature from authors of early research (Caine & Caine, 1995; Jensen & Palmer, 1997; Kagan & Kagan, 1998; Kaufeldt, 1999; Kovalik & Olsen, 1998; Myrah & Erlauer, 1999; Sousa, 1998b; Tomilson & Kalbfleisch, 1998; Wolfe & Brandt, 1998) have later published detailed brain-based research textbooks relating to reading at the primary level (Erlauer, 2003; Kagan & Kagan, 1998; Lyons, 2003; Sousa, 2005; Wolfe & Nevills, 2004). Primary educators must synthesize this latest research and personalize BBL principles into the curriculum and classroom to attend the needs of individual students to improve reading (Erlauer, 2003; Lyons, 2003; Marshall, 1998; Smith & Call, 2002; Sousa, 2005; Weber, 1998; Wolfe, 2004).

The ideal brain-based learning classroom for reading can be created by any educator who chooses to read current research the latest brain-based principals in professional reading journals or texts. Yet educators must use caution to implement brain research effectively because not all research applies directly to learning (Sousa, 1998b; Wolfe, 1998). Educators need to implement flexible curricula and then reflect on best practices that do or do not work with students in reading with brain research. Moreover, discussions with colleagues and brain research scientists (Wolfe, 1998) help reinforce best practices and validate new brain research values. Core brain-based ideals are similar in many studies and texts and can be initiated easily into the classroom (Erlauer, 2003; Hodgdon, 1995; Jensen & Palmer, 1997; Kaufeldt, 1999; Sousa, 2005; Tomilson, 2003; Wolfe & Nevills, 2004).

Current Best Practices of Brain-based Learning in Education

Brain-based learning is not a fad in the field of education. What had begun in neuroscience has crossed over into established educational practices in working classrooms of educational research to find difficult answers in our ever changing environments of the twenty-first century (Sousa, 1998a; Sousa 1998b). Student learning styles are not the same today because teaching practices have not changed in the past thirty years of educating students and rely heavily on rote memorization (Sousa, 1998b). Teaching practices must correspond to how the brain learns best in the classroom (Morris, 2004). Many educators have published research (Baikowski & Mehring, 1999; Myrah & Erlauer, 1999; Sousa, 1998; Tomlinson & Kalbfleisch, 1998; Wolfe & Brandt, 1998) relating studies or best practices to brain-based learning which were originated and conducted in secondary school settings. However, these same practices based in brain research can be implemented into the primary setting as well, specifically teaching reading to the beginning learner within a diverse community. Patricia Wolfe's consultation to professional educators is not that brain-based research has an answer to all problems (Wolfe, 1998), but that educators must use this "window of opportunity" (Sousa, 1998b) to explore brain-based learning which is based upon the union of education with neuroscience "to increase the understanding of teaching and learning" (Morris, 2004) in the classroom.

An Ideal Brain-Based Reading Classroom: Differentiation

Differentiation is a major principle in brain research with education (Banikowski & Mehring, 1999; Biller, 2002; Morris, 2004; Tomlinson, 2003; Tomlinson & Kalbfleisch, 1998) which can solve many frustrations in teaching reading within a diverse classroom of varied learning styles. Patricia Wolfe's consulting to educators connecting brain research to educational practices does not present an instant fix to problems of learning in the classroom; yet, she consistently presents evidence supporting the premise that brain research can respond effectively to build reading concepts effectively with primary readers (Morris, 2004; Wolfe, 1998; Wolfe, 2002; Wolfe & Brandt, 1998; Wolfe & Nevills, 2004). Wolfe strongly advocates that educators should understand the brain before designing a curriculum conducive to emotion in the classroom in order for learners "to increase retention and plan classroom instruction accordingly" (Morris, 2004, p. 23).

Reading with Brain-based Learning and Wolfe

Few current studies relate to the primary learner with brain research or to primary readers. However, brain-based learning is becoming more oriented to the elementary student. For example, concepts such as activating prior knowledge or making connections to students' backgrounds are new strategies to improve the teaching of reading (Sousa, 1998b) and can be adapted to the primary curricula. Research studies of the 1990's have solidified works in brain-based learning by several authors including Wolfe, Jensen, Sousa and Erlauer. Patricia Wolfe's latest work with Pamela Nevills, Building the Reading Brain, PreK-3 (2004), is an excellent resource to incorporate brain research principles for reading at the primary level at Bowling Green Elementary.

Teachers need time to reflect on their practice, to engage in substantive dialogue with others (including the researchers) about what they are accomplishing and why, and to assist other teachers in carefully studying new research and innovations to determine whether they validate their practice, require them to rethink their practice, or both. (Wolfe, 1998, p.64)

Sharing best practices among colleagues will facilitate a better understanding of how we teach brain research in the classroom. It will also reveal how our students learn best and what needs to be changed in curricula to improve reading.

Reading with Brain-based Learning and Sousa

David Sousa's brain-based studies of "translating current brain research into classroom practice" (Sousa, 1998, p. 26) has been transposed into the teaching of reading arena with BBL in his latest work, How the Brain Learns to Read, 2005. Like Wolfe, Sousa advocates reading is a natural venue which brain-based learning can be applied, synthesized and verified within the curriculum to help learners with reading difficulties. Sousa suggests brain-based research creates better classroom environments to "close the achievement gap in reading" with struggling readers and to "encourage teachers to be researchers" (Sousa, 2005, p. 214). Moreover Sousa quotes Slavkin stating cooperative learning methods which "showed that student achievement in a variety of settings increased significantly" (Sousa, 2005, p.108) for teaching English as a Second or Other Language (ESOL) children with the latest in brain research learning. Sousa's research is solid and provides insight for instruction at Bowling Green Elementary because as many as 80% of the students come from multicultural or diverse backgrounds. All teachers within the state of Florida are required to be ESOL endorsed because of changing communities in the state.

Reading with Brain-based Learning and Lyons

Carol A. Lyons' text, Teaching Struggling Readers: How to Use Brain-based Research to Maximize Learning, 2003 takes a different approach to brain-based learning and reading than Sousa and Wolfe because her background comes from the Reading Recovery Program of Marie Clay. Lyons includes movement, emotion, memory and literacy environments in her research with struggling readers. Emotion has been researched in connection to reading (Banikowski, 1999; Marshall, 1998; Morris, 2004) but is relatively new brain-based research. Lyons is the first to include this concept with the teaching of learning and memory and how it relates to cognitive and emotional development or "dual-coding" (Lyons, 2003, p.61) at the primary (PreK) level. Lyons' research supports her brain-based research concepts of developing the mind to read within a literacy environment of struggling readers. Lyons discusses in-depth analysis of brain-based educational theories of many experts of the field in this text. However, this book does not have the teacher-friendly strategies of Wolfe or Sousa to develop best practices in the classroom for this knowledge of brain-based learning with reluctant, unmotivated or hard-to-teach learners (Lyons, 2003).

Reading with Brain-based Learning and Jensen

Eric Jensen's perspective of brain research and learning delves into physical education, music and the fine arts as well as reading in his video with L. Palmer, Bright Brain: Learning Readiness Simulators for Ages 4-8, 1997. This brain-based resource demonstrates gentle exercises for children directly related to reading and learning of the brain. Jensen advocates brain-break exercises for students to recharge energy during long periods of learning (Jensen, 2000). The thirty second energy boosters (Jensen, 2000, pp. 110-111) can be kinesthetic transitions for any classroom, especially during the required ninety-minute literacy block in daily agendas. Jensen uses much background with neuroscience (Jensen, 1998) in his discussions and studies concerning brain research and education. He then later specializes his topics relating to reading, the arts or physical education (Jensen, 2000) with his brain research which can be adapted into a primary classroom of readers of various learning styles. Moreover, the yoga video, Yoga for the Eyes: Natural Vision Improvement Exercises, 1999 can be adapted to aid young readers to develop stronger vision for reading and to strengthen focus in reading for comprehension which is important at the primary level.

Brain-based Learning in Relationship to Teaching of Reading

Brain research cannot be too complicated to be implemented into the classroom for primary learners. The roots of brain-based research began in neuroscience and have crossed over to many fields of cognitive education or psychology (Marshall, 1998; Slavkin, 2002; Sousa, 1998; Wolfe & Brandt, 1998). Educators should be aware of how the brain works and how research can improve student learning in the classroom (Biller, 2002; Morris, 2004). Not all current brain research or brain-based learning relates to reading or to primary learners. A few studies in brain research directly relate to learning or memory retention and this directly involves reading skills and practices (Banikowski & Mehring, 1999; Perkins, 2002; Slavkin, 2002; Willis, 2005; Wolfe, 1998). Other studies link brain-based research to emotion and learning in the classroom (Glenn, 2002; Kovalik & Olsen, 1998; Marshall, 1998; Morris, 2004; Wolfe & Brandt, 1998).

Wolfe advises in her studies of brain research that educators consider that "work needs to be done before the results of scientific studies can be taken into the classroom" (Wolfe & Brandt, 1998). Bruer is also prudent concerning implementation of brain-based research and warns educators to be careful because much research has the chance of becoming a pseudo-science in education (Bruer, 1998). On a lighter note, Sousa announces that now is the time for educators to "evaluate the research that seems sufficiently reliable to enhance our practice" (Sousa, 1998, p. 21). Jensen used the classroom as his field for brain-based research and continues to publish many brain-based learning texts relating to students' specific learning styles (Jensen, 1998; Jensen, 2000; Jensen & Palmer, 1997).

Other studies in brain-based learning present clear outlines and concrete examples to guide educators in the classroom adapting brain research to curricula for reading which can also be adapted for primary students (Chapman 1993; Erlauer, 2003; Hodgdon, 1995; Kagan & Kagan, 1998; Kaufeldt, 1999; Smith & Call, 2002; Wolfe & Nevills, 2004). The significance of brain research relies on educators to begin an on-going dialogue with scientists and colleagues (Sousa, 1998b; Wolfe, 1998) to improve learning at a personal level with students with professional dispositions and flexible curricula. A change in traditional modes of teaching represent significant evidence to improving current best practices in the classroom for reading and learning with brain research.


Teaching Reading in a Brain-Based Learning Classroom Pertinent Data

Secondary school studies of brain research can be adapted to primary classrooms. Primary school studies such as the Dry Creek study of Caine and Caine (Caine & Caine, 1995), Wolfe and Nevills studies in reading for PreK-3 (Wolfe & Nevills, 2004) and Kagan's multidimensional learning program which includes multiple intelligences (Kagan & Kagan, 1998) provide sufficient data to warrant change in curriculum with best practices of BBR in reading. Current brain-based learning can be synthesized by educators to create literacy environments which best meet the needs of diverse students.

Differentiation of curricula (Banikowski & Mehring, 1999; Tomlinson, 2003; Tomlinson & Kalbfleisch, 1998) creates a learning environment conducive to learners of varied learning styles and cultural backgrounds. Reflection in best practices analyzes classroom learning with higher thinking skills (Milam, 2005) and therefore accurately evaluates data to understand what works and what does not in our goals of teaching (Wolfe, 1998). Knowledge of how primary readers learn with the thinking process of brain research enable educators to identify reading problems and to create best practices for an intervention program and close the achievement gap in reading (Sousa, 2005).

This project synthesized brain-based research to respond to the needs of struggling learners from a diverse rural community. Investigated research constructed a background necessary to target primary readers (Chapman, 1993; Erlauer, 2003; Jensen & Palmer, 1997; Kaufeldt, 1999; Sousa, 2005; Wolfe & Nevills, 2004). Diverse learners demonstrate needs in reading performance that traditional curricula can no longer deliver. Modifications for different learning styles and brain-based learning in current practices construct an ideal classroom which will improve reading and learning. Inclusions of best practices such as Learning Readiness Simulators (Jensen & Palmer, 1997) and Brain Boosters (Jensen, 2000) demonstrate current knowledge of brain-based research and responds to learners and their need to exhibit control of learning in a literacy classroom effectively. Moreover changes and adaptions of present curricula to incorporate integrations of brain-based research can generate more effective, more productive designs to educate diverse primary learners of reading. Effective readers in first grade formulate into life-long readers as educators synthesize best practices from brain-based research into the classroom.


According to the latest research in brain-based learning, traditional curriculums of rote memorization and learning no longer apply for effective pedagogy in the classrooms (Caine & Caine, 1995). Teaching of reading must change as students' learning styles evolve with the new challenges in the world of the twenty-first century. Critical thinking and analysis by educators in reading must generate and demonstrate connections of brain research to scaffold student learning for fluency in First Grade (Pool, 1997). Creating and designing curriculum with "brain-based theory and practice" (Caine & Caine,1995, p.43; Marshall, 1998; Sousa, 1998a; Sousa, 1998b) to connect with the diversity of new readers displays wisdom in educational pedagogy. Teaching reading to improve student learning can be accomplished by adapting current curricula to best practices of brain research . Closing the gap between traditional pedagogy and brain-based learning (Biller, 2002; Caine & Caine, 1995; Kovalik & Olsen, 1998; Milam, 2005; Morris, 2004; Slavkin, 2002) is the ultimate goal for educators to reach the needs of students in reading. Research of brain-based learning empowers a student with personal goals, real-world connections and authentic assessments which have been non-existent or significantly lacking in traditional classrooms (Slavkin, 2002). Improving reading with brain-based learning is not an option in today's data-driven curricula. Improving reading is a necessity to establish life-long learning habits for children with diverse backgrounds in the age of the twenty-first century.

Chapter Three: Project Description


Brain-based research needs to generate positive results in reading classrooms. Primary teachers must synthesize best practices for the teaching of reading or change curricula until student achievement becomes progressive. Creating an ideal literacy environment based upon brain-based learning and research can improve current reading achievement in a primary classroom. Moreover, collaboration among other educators such as brainstorming during grade group or faculty meetings supports further improvement on a larger scale than only one classroom's focus on brain-based research. Best practices can be further researched and tested weekly in classrooms much like the studies researched for this thesis project. A calendar of inclusive brain research topics will be documented, curriculum changes for better practices with brain research will be accessed and implemented, and reflections of best practices of brain research in the classroom will be reviewed and shared among colleagues, parents and the administration of the district.

Best practices must remain flexible and adaptable according to needs and learning styles in the classroom. A survey of learning styles will be given to identify personal connections with students. Surveys and educator feedback will guide which practices this project will incorporate into the classroom for reading, learning and reflection. Authentic assessments regarding reading comprehension of the Accelerated Reader Program will be documented on a weekly basis with a reading tutor in the classroom until May 2006. The major focus of this project is to create a literacy environment conducive for primary readers to attain fluency in reading before May 2006. The Accelerated Reader Program, the district-wide adopted curriculum for Hardee County for reading, will generate differentiation with leveled texts for for all readers in this project. The Accelerated Reader Program is a multi-tiered program which provides differentiated reading texts of all genres for readers PreK-12 grades. Tests of each book read by the student are taken on the computer and scored. Story grammar charts and Thinking Maps will scaffold student learning with higher order thinking practices. The premise is to encourage children to read more and build comprehension and fluency for life-long reading and learning. Diagnostic reading reports of individual readers will be monitored and percentages calculated toward fluency and ability to achieve student goals. Reading A.R. texts correlate with students' weekly Library activity. Prizes will be awarded school-wide in May with the Accelerated Reader Program to honor excellent academic achievement.

A formal paper will be presented to the Hardee County School Board concerning the results of this project in conjunction with DIBLEs fourth quarter gains. The results of the SAT-10 California Test administered in March to all first graders in Florida will also be a factor determining gains in achievement with brain research practices in the classroom. A power point presentation will be designed to encourage staff, faculty and parents to continue brain-based best practices in literacy at Bowling Green Elementary. An article regarding brain research in reading with primary ESOL students will be published in The International TEYL Journal sponsored by Advanced Teacher Training. A class web page has been developed on EdGate of the district page to promote brain research and reading for parents and students with interactive technology and web links.

Professional Development is important for educators to continue learning about best practices in brain research. Eric Jensen's Brain Expo and workshops relating to brain research in Tampa in 2006 (Appendix E) will be included as a possibility for more background information for this project to add depth and breadth to brain research applied in the classroom. A workshop concerning K-2 Readers by Fountas and Pinnell in Orlando in 2006 is another option for further Professional Development of reading with colleagues. Brain research and best practices will be implemented in the classroom and will be shared among colleagues and administration with sincere expectations that curriculum reform can be a reality district-wide of brain research implementation for successful achievement of students with diverse backgrounds.

Project Components

Brain research is a relatively new field combining neuroscience, cognitive psychology and education to form progressive best practices for today's diverse learner. Research concerning brain-based learning continues to verify its authenticity in sound educational pedagogy in both primary and secondary school settings. Implementing brain research is not difficult and can improve reading, memory retention and learning. Many resources are currently available to begin brain research best practices in the classroom for primary readers to improve achievement in reading.

The objective of this project is to research and implement best practices in brain research to help diverse learners of varied abilities in a primary classroom. A literacy environment will be developed for first graders which will foster differentiation with the Accelerated Reading Program for children of different talents and backgrounds. The main focus is to enable each student to read fluently by May 2006. Researched practices concerning brain learning will be implemented in a flexible language arts curriculum such as student goals, Brain Boosters and Brain Breaks (Jensen & Palmer, 1997), yoga exercises for vision and focus in reading, and guided reading which fosters reading at below grade level, at grade level and at fluency level. Diagnostic reports and data from DIBLES and the California SAT-10 will determine final appraisals of student progress with brain-based learning. Brain research principles and practices will be shared among colleagues and administrators on a monthly basis until final results in May conclude this project. A formal paper presented to the Hardee School board synthesizing the knowledge and data of brain research for reading in a primary classroom will document the validity any substantial results or problems of brain research for reading at the elementary level of investigation. A final power point presentation will cumulate this project in May with final results of data analysis in conjunction with the results of using brain research in the classroom for reading.

The Appendix of this project contains all data forms which will be used administer this project in a first grade literacy environment. It includes a reading unit with brain research ideas to be implemented on a weekly basis with reflection. Sample data analysis reports are also included and can be individualized to track individual growth through the Accelerated Reader Program. All data analysis will compare data from the beginning of the project in December to its conclusion in May will be synthesized on EXCEL with a district program analysis disc.

Project Conclusions

Conclusions of this project will develop with the trials and errors of implementing brain research from the sources included in references. Curricula remain flexible and will change as the project develops the best practices suitable for the learners in the Bowling Green Elementary classroom. The scores in reading are the lowest at this elementary than of the four elementary schools in Hardee County. Educators must find best practices which are effective in improving reading at the primary level with the changing times and multicultural diversity of the community. This project of implementing brain research best practices in reading will continue as professional development, experimentation of practices in the classroom, and reading of current brain-based learning validate student learning in reading. Educators make a difference employing best practices based upon brain research of the teaching of reading in the twenty-first century classroom. Students' futures regardless of diversity to current curricula depend upon it.

Project Plans for Dissemination

Suggestions for information obtained in this project include:

  1. Weekly progress chats among colleagues
  2. Initial Power Point presentation to colleagues
  3. Parent Newsletter (weekly) to encourage reading
  4. Classroom web page on the computer with interactive literacy links
  5. Formal paper to school board reporting results of project in May
  6. Creation of a local National Council for Teachers of English for Hardee County
  7. Professional Development to Brain Research workshops by Eric Jensen, Caine & Caine, Fountas & Pinnell to learn more best practices in reading
  8. Final Power Point presentation to colleagues concerning results of project
  9. Continued reading and research concerning Brain research and best practices
  10. Continued collaboration with colleagues concerning brain research
  11. Publish article relating brain research and reading with ESOL students in The International TEYL Journal.


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Biller, L. (2002). Integrating brain research into schools. Principal Leadership, 2(5), 73-75.

Bruer, J.T. (1997, November). Education and the brain: a bridge too far. Educational Researcher, 26, 4.

Bruer, J.T. (1998). Brain science, brain fiction. Educational Leadership, 56(3), 14-19.

Caine, R.N. & Caine, G. (1995). Reinventing schools through brain-based learning. Educational Leadership, 52(7), 43-47.

Caine, R.N., Caine, G., McClintic, C. & Klimek, K. (2005). Twelve Brain/Mind Learning Principles in Action: The Fieldbook for Making Connections, Teaching and the Human Brain. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press.

Erlauer, L. (2003). The Brain-Compatible Classroom: Using What We Know About Learning to Improve Teaching. Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

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Jensen, E. (1998). Teaching With the Brain in Mind. Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Jensen. E. (2000). Learning with the Body in Mind. San Diego, California:The Brain Store.

Jensen, E. & Palmer, L. (1997). Bright brain: Learning Readiness Simulators Ages 4-8. (VHS Media). Del Mar, California: Turning Point Publishing.

Kagan, S. & Kagan, M. (1998). Multiple Intelligences. San Clamente, California: KAGAN Cooperative Learning.

Kaufeldt: M. (1999). Begin with the Brain: Orchestrating the Learner-Centered Classroom. Chicago, Illinois: Zephyr Press.

Kovalik, S. & Olsen, K.D. (1998). How Emotions Run Us, Our Students, and Our Classrooms. National Association of Secondary School Principals, NASSP Bulletin, 82(598), 29-37.

Lyons, C.A. (2003). Teaching Struggling Readers: How to Use Brain-Based Research to Maximize Learning. New Hampshire: Heinemann

Marshall, S.P. (1998). Creating Pioneers for an Unknown Land: Education for the Future. National Association of Secondary Principals, NASSP Bulletin, 82(598), 48-55.

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Morris, B.J. (2004). Brain Research: Environment and Emotions. School Library Media Activities Monthly, 21(4), 22-25.

Myrah, G.E. & Erlauer, L. (1999, September). The Benefits of Brain Research: One District's Story. High School Magazine, 7(1), 34-40.

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Tomlinson, C.A. & Kalbfleisch, M.L. (1998). Teach Me, Teach My Brain: A Call for Differentiated Classrooms. Educational Leadership, 56(3), 52-55.

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Wolfe, P. (1998). Revisiting Effective Teaching. Educational Leadership, 56(3), 61-64.

Wolfe, P. (2002). Brain Matters: Translating Research into Classroom Practice. Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Wolfe, P. & Brandt, R. (1998). What do we Know from Brain Research? Educational Leadership, 56(3), 8-12.

Wolfe, P. & Nevills, P. (2004). Building the Reading Brain, Pre-K-3. Thousand Oaks, California:Corwin Press.

Zemelman, S., Daniels, H., & Hyde, A. (2005). Best Practice: Today's Standards for Teaching and Learning in America's Schools. (3rd Ed.). New Hampshire: Heinemann.


[These appendices will be available very soon.]

Appendix A

Calendar of Best Practices in Brain Research with Reading

Appendix B

Assessments in Reading

  1. Goals of students
  2. Rubrics of Reading in First Grade
  3. Authentic Assessments
  4. Best Practices in Reading
  1. KWL Charts
  2. Story Grammar Charts
  3. Thinking Maps-Specific

Appendix C


  1. ESE Students
  2. ESOL Students
  3. Below Grade Level Students
  4. Grade Level Students
  5. Challenging Level for Students

Appendix D

Texts for Teaching of Reading with Brain Research

Appendix E

Parent Communications of Project

Appendix F

Power Point Presentation to Colleagues, October 10, 2005

Appendix G

School Permission Forms

Appendix H

EDR 695 Data Form

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