Even though the instructional delivery method called whole brain teaching has been in existence for more than a decade, no research-based studies have been done on its effectiveness, according to David Brobeck, a graduate-level professor at Walsh University in North Canton, Ohio.
However, teachers including at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School in Belleville and college professors across the country praise whole brain teaching, where students are encouraged to be actively engaged and teachers assign gestures to concepts to help students remember them. A critic of the teaching method says it doesn't facilitate higher-level thinking and analysis.
Chris Biffle created the concept of whole brain teaching in 1999 with fellow teachers Jay Vanderfin and Chris Rekstad in California.
Brobeck said he has been using whole brain teaching in some of his graduate-level classes since he first became familiar with the instructional delivery method in 2011.
"I played with the techniques in my philosophy class," he explained. "Philosophy tends to be something that's hard for people to remember. The feedback I got at the end is that they remembered almost all the concepts I taught using the gestures and the whole brain teaching methods."
Because no research-based study has been done on whole brain teaching, Brobeck is currently working on a qualitative study with a colleague that includes interviews with teachers who have implemented whole brain teaching to find out if it's made a difference in their classrooms.
Brobeck also has been researching the functions of the brain and what neuroscientists have discovered about learning. He said he believes whole brain teaching aligns with neuroscience.
Brobeck, who worked as an educator at the K-12 grade level for 35 years, said teachers "tend to do what works, but don't really ask why it works." Now at the college level, Brobeck said he has a responsibility to do research about why whole brain teaching works or doesn't work.
"All indications are it's an extension of cooperative learning, which has been around and proven to work and be effective," he said. "Everything he (Biffle) does is based on cooperative learning, which is more active learning."
"We know if students are more engaged and if they laugh ... it actually increases their capacity to learn and ability to remember," Brobeck said. "The bottom line is my students have reported they remember things more when they use gestures."
Brobeck described whole brain teaching as a "great emerging possibility." One of the things he said he likes is it's "high energy" and "entertaining."
Brobeck said he expects to have the first independent research-based study on whole brain teaching completed later this spring.
David Wees, of Vancouver, British Columbia, criticized whole brain teaching as an effective instructional delivery method in a blog he writes called "Thoughts from a 21st century educator." Wees is a learning specialist at Stratford Hall, an independent school in Vancouver.
Wees admits he hasn't experienced whole brain teaching personally, but he said from the research he's conducted he feels it's misnamed. "It doesn't involve the part of the brain that's the thinking part," he said. "The students never really get an opportunity to analyze anything they are learning. They are just basically memorizing stuff over and over again."
Wees said students taught using whole brain teaching will have trouble developing abstract reasoning and problem solving skills when they get older. "The minutes spent in school should be productive and I don't think whole braining teaching is an effective use of developing essentials skills," he said.
However, Angela Macias, who trains teachers to use whole brain teaching, disagreed with Wees. She said often critics of the instructional method only have a minimal understanding of it.
"It can be used to promote high-level thinking," said Macias, who's a teacher at San Gorgonio High School and a college professor at University of Redlands in San Bernardino, Calif.
Macias, who's been using whole brain teaching for eight years, said she has seen it effectively used at all grade levels from kindergarten through college. "If a teacher is using it effectively, you follow the normal pattern of learning, beginning with some memorization and repetition to understand basic skills and then later on apply more higher-level thinking," she explained.
Whole brain teaching is effective, Macias said, because it breaks down lessons into smaller pieces. She said the method works extremely well for "kinesthetic learners" who learn best by moving their body and experiencing something physically.
"They tend to have a little more trouble in classes that are heavy in language and auditory learning," Macias said. "We require students be as interactive and involved as the teachers so they become teachers in a whole brain teaching class."
For more information visit www.wholebrainteaching.com.
Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or firstname.lastname@example.org.