Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa
Questions from participants in the Neuroscience and Education Conference in Porto Alegre, Brazil

Questions from participants in the Neuroscience and Education Conference in Porto Alegre, Brazil

6 Apr 2015


November 2011 Questions from participants in the Neuroscience and Education Conference in Porto Alegre, Brazil

QUESTION 1: “In your speech, you point out the need for integration of the areas of neuroscience and psychology in the classroom. At the same time, you warn us that some information has been accepted by the education department without due consideration. What needs to be advocated by teachers in order for this “bridge” to become a reality?

Professor Sabrina Ferreira de Souza, Master in Education – Teacher at the Marista Rosário School and FAPA.”

ANSWER (TRACEY): Teachers need to be cautious consumers of the information they buy into. Just because something has sold well does not mean that it is valid; and just because other ideas are less well known does not mean that it is not better than popular information. Teachers should also work hard to document their practice well. A concrete suggestion to teachers is to use information that has been validated by experts in the field. Many books that can serve as a guide include the following:


  • Battro, A., Fischer, K. W., & Léna, P. J. (Eds). (2008). The educated brain: Essays in neuroeducation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  • Blakemore, S., & Frith, U. (2007). The learning brain: Lessons for education. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
  • Bransford, J., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (Eds.). (2003). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
  • Byrnes, J. (2007). Some ways in which neuroscientific research can be relevant to education. In D. Coch, K. W. Fischer, & G. Dawson (Eds.), Human behavior, learning, and the developing brain: Typical development (pp. 30–49). New York: Guilford Press.
  • Doidge, N. (2007). The brain that changes itself. New York: Penguin Group.
  • Fischer, K., Bernstein, J., & Immordino-­‐Yang, M. H. (2007). Mind, brain, and education in reading disorders. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Geake, J. (2009). The brain at school: Educational neuroscience in the classroom. England: Open University Press.
  • Goswami, U. (2008). Cognitive development: The learning brain. London: Taylor Francis.
  • Levine, M. (2000). A mind at a time. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  • Hattie, J. (2008). Visible learning. New York, NY: Routledge.
  • Marzano, R. (2003). What works in schools? Translating research into action. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
  • Marzano, R. (2007). The art and science of teaching: A comprehensive framework for effective instruction. Arlington, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
  • Marzano, R., Pickering, D. J., & Pollock, J. E. (2004). Classroom instruction that works: Research based strategies for increasing student achievement. New York: Prentice Hall.
  • Pickering, S., & Howard-­‐Jones, P. (2007). Educator’s views on the role of neuroscience in education: Findings from a study of UK and international perspectives. Mind, Brain, and Education, 1(3), 109–113.
  • Posner, M., & Rothbart, M. K. (2007). Educating the human brain. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
  • Wiley & Sons. (2008). The Jossey–Bass reader on the brain and learning. San Francisco: Wiley.
  • Willis, J. (2006). Research-­‐based strategies to ignite student learning: Insights from a neurologist and classroom teacher. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
  • Wolfe, P. (2001). Brain matters: Translating research into classroom practice. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

QUESTION 2: “I feel that the goal of preparing teachers with the aim of molding students as good thinkers is currently the biggest challenge we face, as some still prefer to make use of very technical methodologies. What can be done to enhance the conscientiousness of these educators so that they may inspire learning with meaning considering the previous experiences of those being taught?

Maria das Graças Verônica de Lima, Director – Santa Teresa de Jesus School – RJ”

ANSWER (TRACEY): I agree that forming critical thinkers is the key to modern education. It is impossible to teach all information in all subject areas, so as teachers we need to form students who know how to come up with their own questions and find their own answers. One of the well-established concepts in Mind, Brain, and Education Science is that all new learning is influenced by past knowledge. As teachers we need to find the best methods possible of triggering past knowledge as we deliver new concepts.

QUESTION 3: “As leading actors in the teaching-learning process in today’s age of information, we need teachers, or rather still, scientist-teachers of minds, who know how to unite specific territories for teaching. We know that this new teacher is illequipped to be the leading actor of this process alone, thus, what is the role of the students, of families and the administrative team of this new school, which needs to educate people that think and that raise their own questions?

Andréa Denise Ceni - Pedagogue/Special Teacher - URI Basic Education School - Erechim Campus”

ANSWER (TRACEY): The student himself, his family and the administrative team of his school – as well as society as a whole – need to help develop “habits of mind” in order to form better citizens for tomorrow. These are potentially people who know how to think critically and to be leaders in society. Sixteen habits of mind suggested by Arthur Costa are the following: 1) persistence; 2) the management of impulsivity; 3) the ability to listen to others and show empathy; 4) the ability to think flexibly; 5) metacognition; 6) the ability to strive for accuracy and precision; 7) knowing how to question and pose problems; 8) the ability to apply past knowledge to new situations; 9) the ability to think and communicate with clarity and precision; 10) knowing how to gather data through all the senses; 11) the ability to create, imagine, and innovate; 12) knowing how to respond with wonderment and awe; 13) the ability to take responsible risks; 14) finding humor; 15) thinking independently; 16) learning continuously. All actors (student, parent, teachers, school officials) need to work towards developing these habits in all of society’s citizens.

QUESTION 4: “Today, we are aware that learning is the result of a complex process and, at the same time, natural to human beings. Its process is pertinent to the individual, while experienced collectively (family, social group, classroom). Inserted within it (in learning) are the emotions that the individual experiences in relation to the person that educates, to what will be learned (content) and in relation to the group in which the person is inserted. Within this context, how do you perceive the formation of new teachers by universities? Have they adapted their curriculums in view of this new age we are living, or do they continue repeating a segmented formation, based on “molding students for…”?

Jerry Barth, Vice-Director of Marista Santo Ângelo School”

ANSWER (TRACEY): I think that universities have varied results in initial teacher formation. In the best-case scenario they are up-to-date and manage to expose new teachers to the best information available, but in the worst cases they are unaware of good information, or in some cases, teach with out-of-date tools. The best curriculum structures in teacher training programs should include guidelines such as those proposed by the Delphi panel, which helped form Mind, Brain, and Education Science. Some of these guidelines are listed below (from Tokuhama-Espinosa, 2010). Good teacher training programs should instruct about the importance of

  • Instructional Guideline 1: Good Learning Environments
  • Instructional Guideline 2: Sense, Meaning, and Transfer
  • Instructional Guideline 3: Different Types of Memory Pathways
  • Instructional Guideline 4: Attention Spans
  • Instructional Guideline 5: The Social Nature of Learning
  • Instructional Guideline 6: the Mind-Body Connection
  • Instructional Guideline 7: Orchestrating and “Midwifing”
  • Instructional Guideline 8: Active Processes
  • Instructional Guideline 9: Metacognitive and Self-Reflection
  • Instructional Guideline 10: Learning Throughout the Lifespan

If universities can include these basics in their curriculum, they would be more successful.

QUESTION 5: “Do music and theater increase concentration capacity and generate such significant gains for the memory that there is a way to extrapolate and improve other areas? Can those who learn to play an instrument develop a greater ability in geometry and understand a text with more facility? Basically, do those who do theater develop a better memory?

Monica Chaves, Pedagogical Director, Romano Santa Marta School of Porto Alegre”

ANSWER (TRACEY): There are three questions here. First, there are certain characteristics of activities that stimulate better recall and attentional networks (Best Practice By Steven Zemelman, Harvey Daniels, y Arthur Hyde (1998/2005):

  1. Student-centered
  2. Active
  3. Holistic
  4. Authentic
  5. Expressive
  6. Reflexive
  7. Social
  8. Collaborative
  9. Democratic
  10. Cognitive
  11. Developmental
  12. Constructivist
  13. Challenging

With this in mind, it is easy to see that activities involving music and theater share many of these characteristics, making them either easier to remember or which grab a student’s attention.

Second, there are studies that show that early music exposure leads to better mathematical abilities (Johnson, C.M., & Memmott, J.E. (2006). Examination of relationships between participation in school music programs of differing quality and standardized test results. Journal of Research in Music Education, 54(4), 293)

Third, the simple act of rehearsal (as in memorizing lines in a play), forces the brain to memorize with more ease. Due to plasticity of the brain, the more you do something, the easier it becomes. That is, if someone practices something with frequency (as in line memorization) he will become better at it. This means that if a student participates in theater with frequency he with most likely become skilled at memorizing.

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Tracey is a globally recognized educational leader who professes the philosophy that change starts with one: one student, one teacher.


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