Tuesday, June 17, 2014

You Can't Fight the Brain


You can't fight the brain.  You will lose!  

In my last Secret Session, I explained how to get the most brain-BANG for the buck during phonemic skill instruction by prompting learners to "think through" or pattern-out alternative sound options (with the Secrets™) for letters/letter patterns to attack unfamiliar words, rather than simply memorizing them. (Read the recent Stanford University study on "reading vs. memorizing" in the brain in this post—this is a must-read for all primary grade teachers!)  

While that post focused on how to facilitate learners' ability to "Think Like a Doctor" when working with unfamiliar text,  this one will explain why.  

Image Source http://www.beatricebiologist.com
When it comes to learning, the brain's core belief system is comprised of everything that's already known to be true.

Our brain is the ultimate "pattern-making" machine!  It is continually engaged in two primary functions, seeking-out patterns and creating new ones!

Whether deciding what to eat for lunch or solving complex mathematical equations, our brains remain on a perpetual hunt to both find and make new patterns!  

Once a pattern has been identified, our brain will attempt to connect the new information its perceived to that which it already owns, so as to create a new pattern! This is the learning process in a nutshell.

And with each new pattern connection made, our 'thinking-network' continues to grow... and the more connections madethe easier it is to identify new ones! 

Acquiring knowledge in this way is both easy and effortless, with no memorization or repetitive skill-practice required! 

(For quick mastery of individual letters & sounds, click here)

Research shows that those considered most intelligent (based on testing) are actually the best pattern-makers, able to "see patterns where others see only randomness." 

In his recent blog post entitled How Geniuses Think, Michael Michalko (author of Thinkertoys, Cracking Creativity, and Think-Pak) wrote that "when confronted with a problem, a genius will ask, "How many different ways can I look at it?..... How many different ways can I solve it?" 

When learners use the Secrets to help them identify unknown letter and pattern sounds in words they can't read, they should employ the same analytical thinking....  "What else can it be?....  What else could I try?" 

Engaging with unknown text in this way transforms daily reading and writing into a virtual playground for critical thinking and diagnostic analysis, as opposed to learners asking "What have I been taught by someone else about how to solve this?" (a.k.a. 'memorizing it')

Find this Article and MORE up-to-date Brain-Based Teaching Bits Here

 How Geniuses Think by Michel Michalko 
According to Michalko, it is the ability to 'connect the unconnected' 
that makes one capable of "seeing things to which others are blind." 
Einstein, Mozart, Edison, Pasteur and Picasso.... some of history's most prolific thinkers 
who were also known as prolific pattern-makers! 

Research shows that it's about teaching students how to think, not what to think!

So what does this mean for teachers?
It means that we can teach thinking by teaching (i.e. modeling) patterning!  

It means that regardless of students' personal strengths or weaknesses, inclinations or academic interests, teaching them how to pattern-out new information makes them better thinkers ... and more intelligent!  That's right!  The research shows that helping learners foster new connections within the brain actually builds-up the brain, itself, maximizing learners' potential by better preparing them for future learning!

It also means that we can't tell beginning learners that the letter will make the sound as heard at the beginning of the word turtle, and then proceed to ignore all of the times that it doesn't (i.e. the, this, they, those, them, then, than, these, etc...)

When we know that the odds are almost 'ten-to-one' against a letter actually making the sound that we say it's going to, teaching it to learners serves little purpose by the brain's standards (as the caption in the first picture clearly states!) 

Daily literacy skill instruction should align with the brain's natural learning process, not fight against it... especially given the amount of time spent working with text across the elementary grade levels.

Teaching critical reading and writing skills with the brain in mind allows learners to actually understand the skills, not just remember them.  

"Cheating the Brain is Like Robbing a Bank!"

And if you're not convinced that teaching critical literacy skills with the brain-in-mind can really be this EASY, check out the Kindergartners in this video, below!

Until next time,


Blog Lovin




  1. This looks amazing! We used your free Secret Stories Sampling Pack last year and my kids loved it and caught on so quick! I would love to be able to use more in my classroom this coming up year!

  2. There's nothing in my classrooms students use more!

  3. I would love to try this with our homeschool group .

  4. This intrigues me so much I'm willing to try it out! :) Please include me in your drawing as this looks fantastic and I'd love to help my students discover the story secrets in words!!

  5. I would love a chance at a free set. I do reading recovery and LOVE what I have seen so far. I hate having to say, I know it doesn't say what it should.......

  6. Would love to try this with kindergarten students so please enter me in your next drawing! Fingers crossed!

  7. I love your secret stories. I started teaching more linguistics rules last year in my class than phonics. Giving my 'littles' a reason for sounds or a pattern to look for made them more confident and their reading and writing showed it. I would love to be part of your drawing. Well I really would rather Win the free set.
    Pauline at First Grade by the Sea

  8. I am most interested in trying your products. I have been teaching for over 30 years and I think you are "spot-on" with your methods.

  9. I'm an ELL teacher, and your multi-sensory approach sounds great!

  10. I LOVE the Secret Stories! I used the kit about 10 years ago when it was supplied by my school. I have since been teaching in upper grades and last 4 years only primary math. This coming fall, I will be teaching every subject to my kinder class and I would love to have this classroom kit please. Using secret stories is the best way for the kiddos to learn and enjoy learning.

  11. I just discovered your work. I feel like I have hit a treasure trove.