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Marcia Tate keynote address at TAGT

December 16, 2008

Attendees at the 2008 Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented Annual Conference were fortunate to hear Marcia L. Tate, Ed. D. give the opening keynote address.  She is the former Executive Director of Professional Development for the DeKalb County School System, Decatur, Georgia.  During her 30-year career with the district, she has been a classroom teacher, reading specialist, language arts coordinator, and staff development director.  She is currently an educational consultant and has taught over 125,000 administrators, teachers, parents, and business and community leaders throughout the world.  Participants in her workshops refer to them as the best ones they have ever experienced because Dr. Tate uses the 20 strategies outlined in her books to actively engage her audiences.

“Growing Dendrites: Learning Strategies that Engage the Brain” was a fascinating view of how our brains work and learn best.  She provided the latest research in brain-based learning, differentiated instruction, and multiple intelligences.  All can provide instructional strategies that not only motivate learners, but also increase understanding and long-term retention.  During her presentation, Dr. Tate shared the 20 essential strategies that take advantage of how the brain learns best and utilized them throughout her presentation.  While these strategies can lead to successful learning in the classroom, they can also be implemented at home and at work.  Everyone agreed it was a real treat to hear her speak.

Writing – During her presentation, Dr. Tate would emphasize her key points, repeat them, and then give the audience time to write them down.  The brain can only pay attention to one action at a time.  Therefore, asking students to take notes while listening to a lecture means they aren’t doing either very well.

Storytelling – When stories are utilized in learning and discussion, we all pay better attention.  Dr. Tate recounted stories of her experience raising her children and those stories perked our ears and piqued our attention.

Mnemonic Devices – We use these all the time and so do our children to remember information, e.g. Never Eat Soggy Waffles for North, East, South, and West.

Visuals – The brain remembers what it sees.  Therefore, using any type of visual, such as a teacher solving a math problem with his/her class using a document camera or transparency, helps in the learning process.   Another example would be a parent teaching a child to cook by making the recipe with them in the kitchen using actual ingredients and cooking tools.

Movement – A person’s attention span is only equal to his/her age in minutes, e.g. a 3 year old has a 3 minute attention span.  After moving one’s body, the attention span time frame starts over so moving the body helps the brain prepare to learn and pay attention again.  Movement can also be incorporated into learning as it was during Dr. Tate’s presentation when she asked us to stand and clasp our two hands together to form the size of our brain.

Role Play – Pretending to be someone or something else engages the brain in learning about that person or object.  For example, if students are learning about famous Americans, they will retain more information about them if they dress like them and give a presentation as that person.  Many CISD elementary schools do this with students.

Visualization – Utilizing the imagination in learning can be very powerful.  Athletes do this all time; they imagine themselves crossing the finish line in first place.  We can do the same in the classroom or at home to maximize our learning.

Metaphor, Analogy, Simile – “Life is like a box of chocolates,  . . .”  Many of us can finish this line from the movie, “Forrest Gump.”  The main idea of what we learn is like a text message.  You want to keep it simple and to the point because it’s too expensive and confusing if there’s too much detail.

Reciprocal Teaching/Cooperative Learning – This is exemplified in the situation where a small group of students works on a project as a group.  The cooperative learning occurs in the group setting where they learn from each other.

Music – Music changes the state or mood of the brain.  For instance, playing classical, jazz, or Celtic music calms the brain.  Music also helps with memory which many of us can confirm from our experience with songs from Schoolhouse Rock.  The lyrics from the song, “We the People,” are the exact words from the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution, and thanks to that catchy tune, many students (and adults) know the Preamble. Another positive impact of music on the brain is the proven relationship between playing an instrument and the ability to solve problems.

Graphic Organizer – A graphic organizer forms a visual picture of information and helps the brain to see patterns and relationships.  Examples are flow charts and calendars.

Drawing – Translating what we learn into drawings is another strategy that helps the brain to learn.  An example of this would be a student illustrating his spelling words with pictures, e.g., writing the word “rainbow” and drawing a rainbow next to that word.

Humor – A good joke goes a long way during teaching as did Dr. Tate’s many jokes during her address.  A crowd favorite was, “What did zero say to 8?  Nice belt.”

Discussion – Throughout her presentation, Dr. Tate asked us to discuss certain topics pertaining to what she was speaking about with the person sitting next to us.  This allowed the audience to recall what she said and hear other ways to learn the information from their neighbor.

Games – This is a great way to teach students, and in many cases, they won’t even realize they are learning.  Take a look at the Holiday Gift Ideas in this newsletter for suggestions of games that entertain (and – shhh – educate).

Project-based Instruction – This emphasizes learning activities that are long-term, interdisciplinary, student-centered, and integrated with real world issues and practices.  With the combination of these components, the brain learns better because it is more fully engaged.

Field Trips – These provide hands on learning experiences of what the student is learning in the classroom.  Real links can be made between what is taught in the classroom and practical experience.

Work Study – On the job training is a very successful way to learn a new skill.  Student teaching and internships are examples of this strategy.

Technology – This tool can be very helpful during the learning process.  The internet is a perfect example of how learning can be more fully achieved through technology.  Through technology, students can take a virtual field trip of the ocean floor or to the earth’s core when studying science.

Manipulatives – This is another hands-on learning strategy for concepts that are often abstract, such as using coins to learn how to count money or using cubes in solving math problems.

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