Wednesday, October 29, 2014

What Listening to a Story Does to Our Brains

Our brains become more active when we tell and listen to stories.

If we listen to a PowerPoint presentation with boring bullet points, certain parts in the brain get activated. Scientists call these Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area. Overall, it hits our language processing parts in the brain, where we decode words into meaning. And that’s it, nothing else happens.
When we are being told a story, though, things change dramatically. Not only are the language processing parts in our brain activated, but any other area in our brain that we would use when experiencing the events of the story are too.
If someone tells us about how delicious certain foods were, our sensory cortex lights up. If it’s about motion, our motor cortex gets activated...

A story can put our whole brain to work! 

And it gets better!  When we tell stories that have helped us shape our thinking to others, they will experience the same effect! The brains of the person telling a story AND listening to it, can synchronize. By simply telling a story, you can plant ideas, thoughts, emotions and even academic concepts into the listeners’ brains. Anything you’ve experienced, you can get others to experience the same, or at least, get the same areas of their brain to be active, too.  
A story is the only way to activate parts in the brain so that
a listener turns the story into their own idea and experience
Why does the format of a story, where events unfold one after the other, have such a profound impact on our learning? 

The simple answer is this: We are wired that way! 
A story, if broken down into the simplest form, is a connection of cause and effect.  And that is exactly how we think! 
Whenever we hear a story, we want to relate it to one of our existing experiences. While we are busy searching for a similar experience in our brains, we activate a part called insula, which helps us relate to that same experience of pain, joy, disgust or else. Everything in our brain is looking for the cause and effect relationship of something we’ve previously experienced. A story is the only way to activate parts in the brain so that the listener turns the story into their own idea and experience.  

The above excerpt is from an article by Leo Widrich on the Science of Storytelling—What Listening to a Story Does to Our Brains.

Think of stories as "memory-enhancers!" Stories are like strong, memory-holding templates that help to anchor new information, providing learners with a much-needed framework for memory reconstruction (excerpt from The Neuroscience of Narrative and Memory by Judy Willis).

Stories are EASY to remember because they are HOW we remember. This is some powerful information for teachers. As while we have always known that telling stories can make what we teach more investing and memorable for students, realizing the science behind why this is so makes this long-used teaching tool only that much more effective! 

Understanding why something works is the key to making it work even better! And this leads leads me to my next great teaching find...

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Take Hold and Others Come Unstuck, by authors Dan and Chip Heath, which provides a useful list of ways that we can make information more memorable for our students!







Together, they make up the acronym SUCCES!  (Yes, the last S is missing.)  

So then what does all of this mean?

Well, if the Secret Stories® were a cake, the above list of ingredients would make up its creamy center, and the fact that the stories are "secrets" is what makes up the yummy frosting on top! 

Click here to download the free Secret Stories® mini-anchor pack!

And here's why... 

1. Simplicity

The Secrets are simple because the "goal of the game" is not in telling them, but in USING them to read and to write... and the brain research shows that the simpler the story, the more likely it will stick.   

2. Unexpectedness 

The brain loves novelty in all forms: unusual noises, extreme motions, exaggerated body gestures—all of which are infused into the telling of the Secrets! 

3. Concreteness 

We remember best what can be seen, touched, heard and personally experienced. Knowing the Secrets about the letters and their sounds allows learners to experience them as realistic and familiar, with logically associated actions and behaviors that are readily predictable.

4. Credibility

Because the Secrets explain what letters do when they don't do what they should, sounds that might otherwise appear random now make perfect sense! (Think of the Secrets as a sort of "cheat-sheet" for the best-betting odds in Las Vegas!) Knowing the letters' "secrets" means knowing how they will behave in given scenarios, and thus, the most likely sounds they will make. This inside-knowledge equips even the youngest of learners to easily work through various sound options for letters in text, so as to quickly assess their most likelynext-most likely, and "if all else fails" sound alternatives!  

5. Emotions  

Emotions and feelings are what motivates our actions and behaviors, and the letters are no different! In fact, "it's neurobiologically impossible for you to think deeply about things you don't care about" (Emotions, Learning and the Brain by Mary Helen Immordino-Yang). Learners who know the "Secrets" about the letters can easily relate and empathize with their actions and behaviors, thus making their sounds readily predictable, even in words they have never seen before.  

6. Stories  

(This one's obvious!) 

Do you use stories to teach concepts in your classroom?

If so, I would love to hear about it! And I hope that by incorporating the "SUCCES" (without the last 'S!') strategies, your stories can become even more powerful teaching tools!

"Mrs. Mac Moments"

I just love receiving these little clips that capture student discoveries of Secret Stories® throughout the instructional day! These minute-long video clips are from Mrs. Mac's Class, first grade teacher at Cottonwood Elementary in Hesperia, California. 

This little first grader was so excited to share her "secret" discoveries in writing! (I especially love the idea they came up with to "dot" the i!

And the little guy in these next two clips (which I'd actually received last month but am just now posting!) is using the Secrets to decode unfamiliar words in a beginning Level A reader during guided reading.  

I especially LOVE the questions Ms. Mac asks in this second clip about his thinking-process with regard to the Secret strategies he's using to decode the text!  


And I also received a special Halloween-treat from some VERY creative kindergarten teachers in Frederick County, Virginia, who surprised their students this Halloween by dressing up as the Secret Stories Superhero Vowels®!  

Until Next Time,


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Gaining Perspective!

Can you make sense of the first picture, below?

What is it? 
"....Ummm, something sparkly??"

How about now?
"....uh, something sparkly that's in the shape of an O!
But what's that white stuff around it?"

Is this better?
"Oh! The O is actually the ZERO in the number TWENTY!
But what is it sparkly and written on a towel?!!"

"NOW I get it!"

Access to the WHOLE picture gives us perspective.

And with perspective comes the necessary context through which we can are able to make meaning for genuine understanding. 

Access to the "whole" picture provides the perspective needed to make sense of, and thus understand the otherwise confusing, smaller bits and pieces.

Knowledge of the whole provides a context for making meaning, as well as a "connective-framework" for easy acquisition and retention of new information that's related.

Bits & Pieces of the "Code"

For the same reasons, learners need access to the WHOLE code if they are to "make sense of" reading and writing! The advantages are obvious. The disadvantages, non-existent!  And while changing the "way we've always done it" can be scary, not taking advantage of the brain science, as teachers, simply defies common sense!
The Brain's Way!
Neuroscience and its implications on teaching are an invaluable asset in the classroom. Teachers with knowledge about how our brains receive, store, and process information are better equipped to provide optimal learning experiences through which critical literacy skills are most easily acquired. The research on neuroplasticity shows that as teachers, we have the ability to not only build learners' brain potential, but to help them literally change their brains... and intelligence, so as to bridge the achievement gap and support their highest level of learning!

But as always, the proof is in the pudding.... with REAL kids!
Below is a 'mini-moment' captured by Mrs. Mac of one of her first graders explaining 
(i.e. "making sense of") something she'd noticed on her Math paper. 

(Click video below to watch)
Establishing a "Connective-Framework" 
for Making Meaning (and Cracking the Code in Math!)

It's as simple as knowing these SECRETS!
A special thanks to Mrs. Mac and her fabulous first graders for once again letting us peep into their little world!  And I welcome others who are using the Secrets in their classrooms to share, as well!

October Giveaway!  For those who already have the SECRET STORIES Class Set, you can opt for the alternative prize-option of a class set of SECRET STORIES Porta-Pics, as shown  here.  *Winner must be a current subscriber to the  SECRET STORIES Sessions Blog

Happy Fall! 
And Until Next Time,
PS!!  I wanted to let all who follow on Pinterest know that I pin the famous "Free Best-Teaching Finds" between MULTIPLE boards daily, depending on where they fit best. As a result, those following only one or two boards see only a fraction of them :(  

So rather than having to follow everything, I've identified those boards to which these FINDS are pinned daily with a "RED DIAMOND" .... as shown (and explained) below. I hope this is helpful, and thanks so much for following!!! 


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Visit Katie Garner- Educational Author/ Speaker's profile on Pinterest.