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The Teaching Brain: An Evolutionary Trait at the Heart of Education

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What is at work in the mind of a five-year-old explaining the game of tag to a new friend? What is going on in the head of a thirty-five-year-old parent showing a first-grader how to button a coat? And what exactly is happening in the brain of a sixty-five-year-old professor discussing statistics with a room full of graduate students? While research about the nature and sci What is at work in the mind of a five-year-old explaining the game of tag to a new friend? What is going on in the head of a thirty-five-year-old parent showing a first-grader how to button a coat? And what exactly is happening in the brain of a sixty-five-year-old professor discussing statistics with a room full of graduate students? While research about the nature and science of learning abounds, shockingly few insights into how and why humans teach have emerged�until now. Countering the dated yet widely held presumption that teaching is simply the transfer of knowledge from one person to another, The Teaching Brain weaves together scientific research and real-life examples to show that teaching is a dynamic interaction and an evolutionary cognitive skill that develops from birth to adulthood. With engaging, accessible prose, Harvard researcher Vanessa Rodriguez reveals what it actually takes to become an expert teacher. At a time when all sides of the teaching debate tirelessly seek to define good teaching�or even how to build a better teacher�The Teaching Brain upends the misguided premises for how we measure the success of teachers. This game-changing analysis of how the mind teaches will transform common perceptions of one of the most essential human practices (and one of the most hotly debated professions), charting a path forward for teachers, parents, and anyone seeking to better understand learning�and unlocking the teaching brain in all of us.


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What is at work in the mind of a five-year-old explaining the game of tag to a new friend? What is going on in the head of a thirty-five-year-old parent showing a first-grader how to button a coat? And what exactly is happening in the brain of a sixty-five-year-old professor discussing statistics with a room full of graduate students? While research about the nature and sci What is at work in the mind of a five-year-old explaining the game of tag to a new friend? What is going on in the head of a thirty-five-year-old parent showing a first-grader how to button a coat? And what exactly is happening in the brain of a sixty-five-year-old professor discussing statistics with a room full of graduate students? While research about the nature and science of learning abounds, shockingly few insights into how and why humans teach have emerged�until now. Countering the dated yet widely held presumption that teaching is simply the transfer of knowledge from one person to another, The Teaching Brain weaves together scientific research and real-life examples to show that teaching is a dynamic interaction and an evolutionary cognitive skill that develops from birth to adulthood. With engaging, accessible prose, Harvard researcher Vanessa Rodriguez reveals what it actually takes to become an expert teacher. At a time when all sides of the teaching debate tirelessly seek to define good teaching�or even how to build a better teacher�The Teaching Brain upends the misguided premises for how we measure the success of teachers. This game-changing analysis of how the mind teaches will transform common perceptions of one of the most essential human practices (and one of the most hotly debated professions), charting a path forward for teachers, parents, and anyone seeking to better understand learning�and unlocking the teaching brain in all of us.

30 review for The Teaching Brain: An Evolutionary Trait at the Heart of Education

  1. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    I liked the book; I disliked the book; I found it fascinating; I found it boring. I wanted to hug the author, and I wanted to scream at her. The book has an identity crisis, and I struggled with its message because of this. Rodriguez is smart, and I agree with everything she says. It's how she chooses to present this information that flabbergasts me. Sometimes the book gets lost in educational jargon and theoretical mumbo jumbo and heavy handed writing; other times I question why Rodriguez inclu I liked the book; I disliked the book; I found it fascinating; I found it boring. I wanted to hug the author, and I wanted to scream at her. The book has an identity crisis, and I struggled with its message because of this. Rodriguez is smart, and I agree with everything she says. It's how she chooses to present this information that flabbergasts me. Sometimes the book gets lost in educational jargon and theoretical mumbo jumbo and heavy handed writing; other times I question why Rodriguez included certain passages. Thankfully, Rodriguez offers many salient points. How do we learn? What happens when we learn? How can teachers learn the skills to be good teachers? I am a teacher so, of course, I found this interesting. Rodriguez references neuroscience, brain based learning, cognitive skills, and she challenges us to do better, give better, and be better. That's the heart of this book - we can improve our schools and learning for students if we look beyond standardized testing and focus on real learning. As I said, Rodriguez is smart, has experience, is credible, and she has heart. The book is worth reading, and you will be thinking about it long after you finish the final page.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Claudia

    "We don’t expect learners to be expert learners right away; we know that becoming a resourceful, self-regulated, persistent learner happens over time. Learners develop. The same is true of teachers." At once fascinating, boring, heavy, entertaining, challenging, affirming. Sometimes there was too much information, not tied closely enough for me to the point, and other times the stories seemed like filler. But at the heart is the truth about teaching: it is a relationship. It only exists within the "We don’t expect learners to be expert learners right away; we know that becoming a resourceful, self-regulated, persistent learner happens over time. Learners develop. The same is true of teachers." At once fascinating, boring, heavy, entertaining, challenging, affirming. Sometimes there was too much information, not tied closely enough for me to the point, and other times the stories seemed like filler. But at the heart is the truth about teaching: it is a relationship. It only exists within the framework of a social interaction. It is a learned skill. Studies with children show everyone has the rudimentary skill, and that as we mature, so does our teaching ability. Rodriguez went through the behaviorist theories which drive today's reform...where teaching is ramming facts into heads so students can pass tests. She makes the point that to truly improve learning and teaching, we must take the time to understand why and how we teach. And what the heck happens as we teach. She discusses theories of cognition, emotion, the learner's brain, memory and mind. These all need to develop in order to become an expert teacher...either knowingly, or through practice. Then there are the awarenesses...that 'withitness' we hear so much about. Rodriguez explains to my satisfaction what's going on in the brain of a 'withit' teacher without ever using that term...she also does not use the National Board term of 'accomplished teacher,' but I see connections there too. "Expert teachers … recognize there are multiple systems in play all at once, and they have the ability to decode those that are directly and indirectly affecting the learner. Expert teachers think, behave, and change in response to the various needs of their students, the classroom environment, and their own personal contexts. Expert teachers recognize the variables that contribute to the learner’s system of understanding and then manage the patterns they create. They keep these patterns in mind in order to make key teaching decisions and in order to adjust their interactions with the learner in a way that will help the student learn more effectively. ...expert teachers recognize the learner as one system, themselves as another, and their interaction with the learner as a third system, which we’ll call the teacher-learner system. Expert teachers are able to do this at both micro and macro levels, constructing theories of the learning system for each individual student and for the class as a whole. Teachers who are aware and motivated to fully develop as systems thinkers also understand the level to which their own personal context affects how they interact with individual students and the classroom culture as a whole." She uses terms I will need to look up and study later...they make sense to her, but I didn't entirely catch on: Theory of Mind, Dynamic Skill Theory, system thinkers... Anytime a teacher is teaching, he or she could be in control of several different 'awarenesses' -- to different degrees. Awareness of the learner (or learners), of the interaction, of the teacher him or herself, of the teaching practice, and of the context...All this is bubbling in the mind of that accomplished teacher as she scans the room using feedback kids knowingly and unknowingly give her, watching the success or lack of success of the interaction...does she need to adjust? of the teacher herself...does she feel successful? Is the lesson working? Does she have the skills to adjust and rework the lesson? What is she really doing and why? All those questions that become part of reflective practice. What about the context? The setting? The school? The support or lack of support? Her freedom to work from all those awarenesses. As I read, I would stumble across perfect descriptions of that flow that can happen in a successful lesson, and the true power of what an accomplished teacher is capable of. Is it juggling? Walking a tightrope without a net? Is it conducting an orchestra? I will go over my quotes again and add them to this review. But then...right in the middle of my own 'flow' of reading, she would hit passages with 'too many words' that all needed deep analysis...passages that made sense to her, but did not work for me. This book is part of a study she did, interviewing teachers others had identified as 'expert'. The interview excerpts were strangly interspersed, and they did not work. What did work was the idea of teaching as a social act, of the ability of a teacher to improve, of the theories we have of our own teaching, and the awarenesses that are tools for us to deepen our teaching within that social setting...of our obligation to use every tool to be the best teacher we can be. Fascinating and frustrating... Why is teaching hard, sometimes impossible? "Teaching is not a linear process of inputting knowledge into the learner. Teaching consists of at least two variables, the learner and the teacher, and each of these variables is in turn defined by a practically infinite number of variables."

  3. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Maurer

    Finally a book about education that places an emphasis on the importance of teachers in the equation of learning in school. This book explores the issues in education reform today and provides some answers to how we can improve our classrooms right now. I found this book to be a really powerful read. It is not a long read(200 pages), but I did find the material at times a bit above my head. However, I took down many notes and really want to grapple with the issues discussed in the book. What I fou Finally a book about education that places an emphasis on the importance of teachers in the equation of learning in school. This book explores the issues in education reform today and provides some answers to how we can improve our classrooms right now. I found this book to be a really powerful read. It is not a long read(200 pages), but I did find the material at times a bit above my head. However, I took down many notes and really want to grapple with the issues discussed in the book. What I found so interesting is how the author broke down all the different theories of learning from behaviorists, theories of mind, cognitive and more. I found this part quite interesting and made me think about which strand I fell in. I had to do some additional research. If you are an educator you should read this book because it will fuel your brain with why we are a vital ingredient in the education system and development of learning. You should read the book just to gain a glimpse into how educational reform is based on these theories and the flaws in them all as well as the key ideas to work with. With this review I am trying something different. Instead of writing paragraphs of my thoughts from my notes and sketches I thought I would just share the actual notes with you instead. Here are my notes, sketches, and key takeaways from the book. Maybe you find this helpful or perhaps not, but I thought I would share a bit into how I read through this review. Go read this book, work through the jargon, and reach out to me when you want to discuss the contents as I think it would allow for some powerful conversation.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Annah

    Sadly, this didn't grab me the way I thought it would. The book focuses on the interaction of teaching, and emphasizes that teachers' development as teachers is as important as students' development as learners. While the brain-based research behind it is likely underappreciated, it's hard for me to argue that it represents a huge breakthrough, since I'm left more confused about what "successful" teaching might look like. Admittedly, I personally disagreed with some of the comments and suggestio Sadly, this didn't grab me the way I thought it would. The book focuses on the interaction of teaching, and emphasizes that teachers' development as teachers is as important as students' development as learners. While the brain-based research behind it is likely underappreciated, it's hard for me to argue that it represents a huge breakthrough, since I'm left more confused about what "successful" teaching might look like. Admittedly, I personally disagreed with some of the comments and suggestions made earlier on in the book, which made me read the rest of it with an undue dose of skepticism.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Marcie

    too repetitive lots of common sense

  6. 4 out of 5

    Marybeth McCarrick

    Teaching is interactive! Great messages contained in this book. Good teachers self reflect and realize that teaching is dynamic. It is so important to understand what makes our students tick. Even though teaching is natural and innate, master teachers develop over time. There are no short cuts. The hard work of changing your practices to reach your students pays off. I really enjoyed how the technical parts of the book were balanced by real life examples of teachers and students working together Teaching is interactive! Great messages contained in this book. Good teachers self reflect and realize that teaching is dynamic. It is so important to understand what makes our students tick. Even though teaching is natural and innate, master teachers develop over time. There are no short cuts. The hard work of changing your practices to reach your students pays off. I really enjoyed how the technical parts of the book were balanced by real life examples of teachers and students working together to ensure that good learning was happening. This book encourages teachers to step outside of their comfort zone to really engage students in their learning. I really enjoyed the book!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Julianne

    One of the most interesting tensions this book explores is the common misconception of "those who can't do, teach" fighting against the idea that the human brain has evolved in order to do just that. Rodriquez makes the argument that even toddlers can teach each other using basic demonstration methods, but it takes an expert teacher to awaken the cognitive nuances and challenges that come from creating the environmental conditions and establishing foundational relationships that spark the intere One of the most interesting tensions this book explores is the common misconception of "those who can't do, teach" fighting against the idea that the human brain has evolved in order to do just that. Rodriquez makes the argument that even toddlers can teach each other using basic demonstration methods, but it takes an expert teacher to awaken the cognitive nuances and challenges that come from creating the environmental conditions and establishing foundational relationships that spark the interest and daily reciprocity of a successful multilateral learning process. It is this reciprocity that spawns the synergy (or, to be less obnoxiously buzzword-y), the "lightning in a bottle") of a classroom where the interactions and attitudes reflect a teacher and individual learners who have become far greater than the sum of their supposed parts. By framing the classroom as containing its own distinct systems while simultaneously nested within several larger systems, Rodriquez makes the argument that teaching is a process anyone has the capacity to engage in at some level while accurately explaining the inherent complexities of daily interactions between student and teacher as well as societal paradigms and assumptions governing many education initiatives, reform or otherwise. Personally, I found the best part of this book to be the unapologetic assertion that teaching is not an act of pure altruism. While caring about students' welfare is an indisputable and essential aspect of teaching, unlimited caring without intellectual and deliberate teaching practice lowers the ceiling of student and societal potential. In fact, this belief in "teacher superheroes" (see: any movie about a white, female teacher who relocates to a tough neighborhood and reaches her class of 12 students via a heartwarming montage) who pour all their energy into creating student-centered everything and facilitating themselves out of every classroom interaction damages the potential of the profession and contributes to the astronomically high burnout rate for teachers (see: every news article about public education, low salary, and teacher shortages in the last 15 years). On a more technical note, the alignment of certain behaviors and measures into 5 categories of what Rodriguez articulates as teaching awarenesses definitely helps organize teacher reflection in a purposeful and productive way rather than the vague "the best educators reflect on their practices regularly" that is often handed down as educational wisdom. Rather than heaping all responsibility on a singular entity--namely, the teacher--this mindset of focusing on the interaction between student and teacher as the best catalyst for ensuring success in the learning process helps elevate the process of teaching while illuminating all of the behind-the-scenes cognitive work that goes into it.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Fernando Pérez Pérez

    It's a "good" book to get the knack of some trends in the neuroscientific yoga-techie perspective on culture and, particularly, education, highlighting some crazy traits like that of talking of awareness all the time (Now Age ridiculousness). Great for critical analysis and grasping their language, not in itself, although the twist on "student-center learning" is nice: Take teachers into account! But then, if education is a business, we could say as well: take employees into account! In order to It's a "good" book to get the knack of some trends in the neuroscientific yoga-techie perspective on culture and, particularly, education, highlighting some crazy traits like that of talking of awareness all the time (Now Age ridiculousness). Great for critical analysis and grasping their language, not in itself, although the twist on "student-center learning" is nice: Take teachers into account! But then, if education is a business, we could say as well: take employees into account! In order to improve restaurants and shops, have cashiers, cleaners, etc. in mind, care for them! The client is not the only goal, you must be aware of your staff! Again, that awareness can be frightening. And the book talks little about the sociological and economic circumstances of the classroom, no mention of unions etc. So its not even ok. It's science trying to completely replace politics again. Disgusting.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Shauna Tharp

    I found parts of this book really important in synthesizing important information that much of education academia isn't considering. We cannot forget the importance of teachers as individuals - just as we consider students to be. "Only if we support and encourage teachers to recognize themselves as an independent part within the larger teacher-learner interaction will the understand how their lens and intentions affect that system."

  10. 5 out of 5

    Shannon

    A fantastic introduction to an important concept - teaching as relationship. Seeing the teacher in the classroom as human seems so obvious and yet so necessary. I particularly liked the emphasis on awareness and the connections to biology and the brain. It seems like Vanessa Rodriguez has a lot more to explore and I'd be interested in learning more from her!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Debbie De steno

    I thought this was well written and concise. The Teaching Brain is a book that everyone could read not just teachers in the classroom, because as the author points out, we are all teachers helping each other.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Milton Alan

    A must-read For too long, we have have ignored the importance of context and interaction in teaching or focused exclusively on the learner side of the interaction.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Helen Moses

    Puts together many theories and application for teaching.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Matt Neely

    Really hard to follow where she was going as she careened between high theory and long explanations of her nephews and a clever assignment of speed dating books.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Brian Cleary

    The most original thoughts I have read on "Brain based teaching" I wont say I agree with all that she proposes, but I will say that I plan to follow her closely and I will buy her next book.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Adna

    Great book for educators working in all types of fields.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kevin McShane

    Easily the best way of considering what effective teaching looks like. "We should strive to follow best processes, not best practices."

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jenny Cho

  19. 5 out of 5

    Melora Mennesson

  20. 4 out of 5

    Trynia Kaufman

  21. 4 out of 5

    Susan Wood

  22. 5 out of 5

    Michele

  23. 4 out of 5

    Astrida Kaugars

  24. 4 out of 5

    Derek

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Fagan

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jesus

  27. 5 out of 5

    Chris

  28. 5 out of 5

    Pruthvi S

  29. 5 out of 5

    Better is Possible

  30. 5 out of 5

    Grecia

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