5 Reminders for a Brain-Friendly Classroom

As I noted in my last blog, Serious Play, The Motivated Brain: Improving Student Attention, Engagement, and Perseverance by Gayle Gregory and Martha Kaufeldt (2015) is an intriguing read.  The first chapter reviews the important research on the brain and motivation that most educators encountered in their educational psychology course or recent professional development courses.  Then why do we still not do what the research shows us works?  Here are a few reminders from Gayle Gregory and Martha Kaufeldt:


  1.  The Yerkes-Dodson Law of Arousal states that increasing the stress, pressure and excitement of a challenge improves performance only until we reach our “maximum cognitive efficiency.”  Past that point the stress and pressure actually decrease performance.

Of course one problem is that the maximum point will generally be different for each student due to their readiness for the challenge, their level of self-confidence in their ability to meet the challenge and their reactions to stress or pressure.  Hmm. . . that’s why we have the need for differentiation.


  1.  Daniel Pink’s synthesis of research on intrinsic motivation, necessary for long-term motivation and persistence, states that extrinsic rewards actually decrease the development of intrinsic motivation.  What really motivates most people are the presence of autonomy, mastery and purpose.

For more on Daniel Pink and motivation, TMLC subscribers can see our Navigator On the Science of Motivation with Daniel Pink Recall the times in your life, the lives of your children or your students when you or they worked long and hard at achieving a goal.  For example, even a four year old will work for extended periods of time to build with legos or blocks or figures what their imagination visualizes.  They have choice, they want to get better and better and they see purpose in bringing to life what their mind creates.  For more on goal-setting and traits for success, TMLC subscribers can also access the Navigator on Growing Our Success in the New Year.


  1. Intentionally promoting the development of emotional intelligence by supporting the growth of connections between the emotional and rational parts of the brain is of vital importance.  The attributes of self-awareness, managing your emotions, self-motivation, empathy, and social skills described by Daniel Goleman must be modeled, discussed, and practiced.

Take a moment to reflect:  How are you modeling emotional intelligence for your students?  What strategies are you teaching your students for managing their emotions and displaying social skills?  What opportunities are you providing for practice in these domains of emotional intelligence?


  1. We must establish an environment where students do not perform due to coercion, rewards or praise but for the joy of learning.  “If learning is interesting, challenging, and meaningful, doing the work is its own reward. (p. 19)”

This goal requires a drastic shift in what happens in many schools and home environments.  The focus must be shifted from grades and test scores to the joy and sense of accomplishment that results from the learning itself.  Creating this shift is a tall order in the current cultural and educational climate and I look forward to contemplating the suggestions of Gregory and Kaufeldt as I progress through their book.


  1. The review of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Glasser’s Basic Needs are once again great reminders of our inability to increase the cognitive engagement of students whose basic physical and psychological needs are not being met either at home or in the classroom.  However, I found the following information from Glasser’s Choice Theory to be a central component to positive classroom management, as discussed both in a previous blog  and the Navigator Classroom Management for an Effective Classroom The key is building positive relationships and according to Glasser our habits for interacting with others either serve to bring us together or push apart.




Maybe we should all print off this map and post it in our classrooms, our home, our offices, etc.  As you interact with your students, your colleagues, your friends and family, which of these habits do you need to break and which do you need to intentionally cultivate?


Stay tuned for more from Gregory and Kaufeldt in upcoming blogs!

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