At the start of August, some 375 teachers from around the country gathered at Forest Ridge Academy in Schererville, Indiana. Attending a seminar led by Chris Biffle, their focus was learning to better engage challenging students and using the Whole Brain Thinking approach. Biffle, the keynote speaker, along with two colleagues, created the “Whole Brain Thinking” process in 1999. The Whole Brain Thinking process calls for students to be actively engaged in learning, and teachers to assign gestures to concepts to help students remember them.

During the seminar, teachers learned new classroom management techniques that focused on quickly establishing order and moving on to the actual business of teaching.

With teachers laughing and talking, and modeling Biffle’s techniques, they learned how to motivate youngsters to work hard. He said the methods can be used for students in kindergarten to college.

“Use gestures when you teach. Gestures are important,” Biffle said. “The longer you talk, the more kids you lose. You can be your biggest classroom problem.”

Biffle said he is a proponent of the Common Core Standards, which call for students across the country in the same grades to learn the same concepts. He said the seminar would cover Common Core concepts, what teachers need to know about the brain, five powerful classroom rules for challenging students and how to develop critical thinking skills in students.

“Common Core is the way to go,” Biffle said. “I want the students you teach to come to me (in his college classroom) with those concepts.”

Biffle also told students that in whole brain teaching, students are assessed every 45 seconds, and he encouraged teachers to praise and prompt students. “If they can mirror what you’ve told them, they’re learning. If they can’t, you need to reteach.”

Stephanie Strawbridge, a second grade teacher at Bailly Elementary School in Chesterton, said she has been teaching for 37 years, 20 in the Duneland School Corp. She said she used some of the classroom management techniques last school year.

“Sometimes we’ve used some different gestures,” she said. “The most important part of the mirroring is that you know students are listening to you and learning. I find the younger kids like the use of the gestures a lot. I also like the smiley faces and frowning faces. We’ll be using that as part of our reward system.”

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