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Marcia Tate, the brain, and worksheets

As my only daughter, Erin has to put up with my often expressed frustration with the current education process. Too much sit and get. Too many lectures. Too many worksheets. Not enough critical thinking. Not enough problem solving. Not enough authenticity.

As a junior in high school, she often echoes my frustration. It was several years ago, as an 8th grader, that she became a bit more vocal about it. She was heading out the door on her way to middle school and wasn’t too excited about it.

But bless her heart, she attempted a bit of humor to lighten the mood:

I’m off to change the world, one worksheet at a time.

I laughed but also felt a twinge. She had already figured it out:

Just survive four more years. I might learn something but it’s more likely that most of what I’ll do will be busy work.

Her solution? Make t-shirts.

My daughter claims any and all intellectual property rights.

Of course, that solution doesn’t do much other than make her feel just a little bit better about spending 35 hours a week in the bottom third of Bloom’s.

It certainly doesn’t solve the problem that still exists in many of our schools. We don’t challenge our kids. We don’t ask them to think in deep ways. We don’t require authentic learning. And we know the result – disengaged kids, low levels of retention, and students not prepared for the 21st century world that they will soon be entering.

And the scary thing?

We know better. We have the research. We understand how the brain works. And we choose to ignore it. I’ve heard one researcher call this ignoring of how the brain works:

. . . educational malpractice.

So it’s both frustrating and exciting to listen to Marcia Tate this morning at the AESA conference. Frustrating because it reminds me of how many schools still are and exciting because it provides a model of what schools could be.

Marcia is the author of a whole series of books that focuses on brain-based strategies. The series is called Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites.

She shared a ton of her ideas this morning but the thing that stuck with me is that all brains have two sides – one side that is good at playing the game of school and one side that is good at playing the game of life. As teachers, we focus too much on the left side – the school side – and not enough time preparing the right side – the side that plays the game of life.

And one way to find this balance is by using the following 20 brain-based strategies:

  • Brainstorming and Discussion
  • Drawing and Artwork
  • Field Trips
  • Games
  • Graphic Organizers, Semantic Maps, and Word Webs
  • Humor
  • Manipulatives, Experiments, Labs, and Models
  • Metaphors, Analogies, and Similes
  • Mnemonic Devices
  • Movement
  • Music, Rhythm, Rhyme, and Rap
  • Project-Based and Problem-Based Instruction
  • Reciprocal Teaching and Cooperative Learning
  • Role Plays, Drama, Pantomimes, and Charades
  • Storytelling
  • Technology
  • Visualization and Guided Imagery
  • Visuals
  • Work Study and Apprenticeships
  • Writing and Journals

This is what my daughter needs. Not more worksheets, more engagement. Not more lecture, more collaboration. Not more rote memorization, more learning.

Not sure what this might look like in a social studies classroom? Marcia has a great book called, you guessed it, Social Studies Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites. Is teaching with these strategies more difficult that traditional methods?


But you know what? My daughter’s worth it.

13 Comments Post a comment
  1. DR #

    Why is it taking soooooo long to change classroom practices that improve student learning?

    November 29, 2012
    • glennw #

      Oh, I wish I knew!


      November 29, 2012
  2. Excellent read Glenn. Seems your daughter is wise beyond her years. Thanks for sharing!

    November 30, 2012
    • glennw #


      Thanks for the comment. And yes, my daughter is brilliant. Thankfully she takes after her mother!


      November 30, 2012
  3. I wonder what reaction I would get if I were to wear such a shirt to work…

    I do have one quibble with your analysis though Glenn. The idea that a “lecture” can’t incorporate and/or facilitate the the brain-based strategies you outlined is just not complete. This may be an issue where we have to make “lecture” a bad word since few seem to understand that they can be interactive but I still think it does a disservice. TED Talks are lectures, for example, and they are incredibly brain-stimulating.

    December 1, 2012
    • glennw #


      I agree with you that a “lecture” can be very interactive. In fact, a year or so ago, I wrote several posts about how to make lectures more interactive and which used a variety of brain-based strategies.

      My concern is that the “traditional” form of lecture that I see so very often is not based on this sort of research. Even great TED talks, which I love, can be very one-sided. I do like the fact that TED talks are limited to 15-20 minutes!

      So you’re right. Maybe we need to another term for that sort of teaching strategy. Maybe just insert the word “boring” or “one-sided” in front of the word. 😉

      Thanks for your comment!


      December 1, 2012
  4. Andy Hanson #

    Where can we get those shirts?

    December 5, 2012
    • glennw #

      Erin and I were just kidding around about the shirts but . . . we’ve had more than several people ask about them! She’s thinking about starting a Cafe Press account. We’ll keep you posted!


      December 5, 2012
  5. CountryDuck #

    Classroom practices aren’t changing rapidly because we have an acceptable number of students who are successful in spite of the system, not because of it. With engaging, brain-based strategies, they could be even more successful, and students who are failing could be saved. I concur with you completely, Glenn. Erin does take after her mother. 🙂

    December 6, 2012
    • glennw #


      I like your comment:

      “we have an acceptable number of students who are successful in spite of the system, not because of it.”

      I think sometimes we take what we do for granted – I heard a speaker a week ago say that what we do is “literally a matter of life and death.” using these sorts of strategies together with a caring heart can and does make a difference!


      December 6, 2012

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