Monday, September 27, 2010

Whole Brain Teaching is a Lie

from the Power Teachers Training Manual:

TRAINER: Here is another huge point.The Scoreboard game is fixed! The score never comes out to be anything other than what you want it to be. In elementary school, we reward initially with one minute more or less of recess. On the first day, be sure your students lose by one minute the first few times. Take them out to the playground with a stopwatch in hand and let them watch the other kids play for a minute. Make sure they never lose by more than a minute … they might get too upset. Sometimes, let them score come out even, neither losing nor winning a minute. Then after a few days, let them win a minute.

... Now, listen to me very carefully. The smaller the reward you give, the more valuable it is. Make my gestures. (Spread your arms out very wide. Make other graphic gestures as you continue talking.) It’s a long year. You’ve got to give small rewards at the beginning. When you finally give your students two minutes free time, it will feel enormous to them! Teach!

This amounts to mocking a child's innocence. Children are naturally trusting, and when they "lose" the scoreboard game, they will feel that they did something wrong.

What kind of sick mind wants to see kids knock themselves out for a trivial prize? Probably the same sick mind that thinks it's amusing to make kids beg (@6:08) for their reading lesson.

Also, if WBT is as much fun as its promoters claim, why is two minutes away from it perceived as a reward?


  1. Every time I read these posts, I am thankful that my school district does not use this abusive program (...yet).

    I dislike authoritarian approaches to education, and I think a lot of the coercion and manipulation of kids in schools is unnecessary and dehumanizing. But I think the layer of dishonesty over it all is even worse. I'd rather have an openly authoritarian system than one that tries to put a fake happy face over it.

    Your WBT quote is an extreme example, but there are lots of temptations to be less than honest with kids "for their own good." To pretend that a heavily coercive program is "fun," or that an unfair teacher is "strict," or even just that a poorly worded homework assignment is "challenging," is to deny the reality that a kid can plainly see. What better way to create alienated kids than to pretend that you don't see the things that are right in front of their eyes?

  2. Chris, Agreed. The scary part is many parents (especially mothers) buy into many of the dehumanizing elements of school. Because of the media's obsession with school violence, many mothers (ironically in safe suburbs) are scared that violence will erupt on campus and that order must be maintained by any means necessary. If a school is oppressive, that's o.k. because oppressive equals safe.

  3. Here's a pretty funny thread of college professors posting casually about Chris Biffle's Whole Brain Teaching.,72021.0.html

    I got a kick out of much of it, and this one response in particular.
    ".... we had a speaker come demonstrate something quite similar to this method (I think it had a different title, however) to faculty, and during the break, the entire psychology department left and never came back. Their reason was that the explanation that the speaker had provided (and had us chant and use gestures to learn) about the way the brain and memory work was so flatly wrong (or grossly oversimplified, depending on which faculty member you speak to) that it would have received a failing grade as an explanation in a freshman level course at our college.

    In other words, the method was being demonstrated to us by teaching us the supposed neurobiological basis for it. And that basis was judged, by a department that does not usually act in lockstep, to be completely wrong."

  4. and here's a true link:

    Whole Brain Teaching/Power Teaching

    Wow -- that's an interesting thread. I liked this comment:

    My initial response at watching the elementary teachers use this technique was that I would feel extremely violated to be forced to participate in class in this way. I couldn't quite put my finger on it -- but after thinking about it a bit more I think perhaps it's because:
    a. I'm an introvert and I"m not sure I could handle this level of (superficial) interaction with people for several hours a day
    b. I have enough Aspie traits that I'm actually EXTREMELY uncomfortable with looking people in the eye, and I would find having to mimic the instructor's tone of voice extremely difficult, if not impossible
    c. I'm one of those people who learns more by READING than by LISTENING to other people, and I found having most of the information presented only orally to be extremely challenging
    d. These women all reminded me of cheerleaders. I"m not a cheerleader and I don't want to be one. I found the overall upbeat tone quite difficult to take on a sustained basis.
    c. I felt like I had ADD after watching only a few short clips of this -- the constant switching between activities was really challenging for me as well. It felt very choppy and difficult to keep switching from one activity to another with no prior warning at such short intervals.
    My initial response to seeing this was "Oh my God. I hope they don't introduce this in my kid's schools because they wouldn't cope well and I"d probably have to find a new school." Am I the only one?

  5. Uh-oh. The Chronicle might just tick off your recent guest, "jenni." Google Whole Brain Teaching and the sixteenth hit is theirs.

  6. PsychMom said:

    That thing where the whole psychology department got up at break and never came back....that's mostly what I've been doing with this whole topic. I can't comment because everything being purported and done is just so.......ill informed, amateurish and well, wrong.
    But the belief system of people like jenni won't be budged.