Friday, July 10, 2009

Brain Rules by John J. Medina

Blog by Gloria Goldsmith

I was tickled pink when I stumbled across Medina’s website. I bought the book the very next morning. I was delighted by the 12 brain rules he has come up with though his scientific inquiry. Mind you, he is a developmental molecular biologist focused on the genes involved in the human brain development. He insists on his research being published in a peer-review journal and successfully replicated before he included the study in the Brain Rules book. That means the information he shares with us isn’t just theories that he has invented, it is real science, and I am delighted to say, presented in a meaningful and extremely readable manner. Plus, the biggest clincher for me was the fact that it parallels all the methods of teaching that we, at the AVKO Foundation, have been encouraging parents and teachers to use, recognize, and perform for over 35 years. It is great to see it confirmed in another form of scientific tests.

Attention | Rule #4: We don’t pay attention to boring things. What we pay attention to is profoundly influenced by memory.

One method AVKO advocates which helps a student concentrate is ten to fifteen minute lessons. AVKO even encourages the use of a timer when doing lessons. Medina goes on and on about how humans need something to grab our attention about every 10 minutes in order to keep us interested. AVKO promotes that after any academic lesson students need some form of physical release. Exercise!

Exercise | Rule #1: Exercise boosts brain power. The greatest predictor of successful aging is the presence or absence of a sedentary lifestyle.

AVKO encourages exercise of some kind, many times during the school day, especially for ADHD kids. We think a 15 -20 minute break helps to drop the anxiety levels some humans feel when attempting to learn something difficult. Coming back to a lesson after a refreshing energy boost pause, makes it easier to tackle. According to John Medina, ALL humans perform better with some form of daily exercise. Our memory is better with cardiovascular fitness.

Survival | Rule #2: The human brain evolved, too. There is no greater anti-brain environment than the classroom and cubicle

Homeschoolers, you may well have a deeper connection to the truth of this rule than most parents whose children are in public school. It wasn’t just our bodies that adopted from swinging in the trees to walking on the savannahs, our brain also had to evolve to survive, solve new problems, learn from mistakes, and create alliances with other peoples in order to survive. Humans now rule the world because we learned to cooperate and formed teams with our neighbors. Yet if we do not feel safe with our neighbor, boss or teacher, we may not perform as well under their leadership. Isolation in learning does not create an open learning environment in which questions are welcomed.

Short-Term memory is Rule #5: Repeat to remember. The human brain can hold about seven pieces of information for less than 30 seconds!

If you want to prolong the 30 seconds a few minutes or a few hours, you will need to re-expose yourself to the information again and again. Memories are so volatile that you have to repeat to remember. This fact has long been a staple in AVKO’s Sequential Spelling program. The presentation of word families (same sound/same spelling) teaches the student to recall using the logic of spelling patterns (in, pin, sin, spin), as well as the repetition of sequentially spelling the base word plus a different tense each day (pin, pins, pinned, pinning). AVKO also encourages parents to revisit the target word in The Patterns of English Spelling, Word Families in Sentence Context, and use the patterned approach of Let’s Write Right, or Individualized Typing. We encourage parents to let the student practice their spelling words in word games by going to where the student can type in current spelling words and Spelling City forms them into several different word games. Fun and repetition! AVKO supports all of these review methods which re-exposes the student to the target word repeatedly, just as Medina advocates for short-term and long-term memory to take place.

There are 12 brain rules. I won’t go over all of them here, but I do encourage you to get the book, and read this fascinating subject for yourself. I know it will create a clearer understanding of how people learn and what you can do to effect faster learning and how to avoid things that impair learning. John Medina also has a web site ( that explains a lot about his book. It is deliberately done in a very amusing style, because as he said, we recall things better when they have made an impression.

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