“How We Learn” Book Review and Mindfulness

This week has already started off to be very full in terms of personal and professional development.  This morning, during a trip to gentle yoga class at my local health center, an elderly gentleman informed the class of his exploration into the “new” topic of mindfulness.  This led me to further explore how brain-based learning and mindfulness can coexist and beneficially impact one another.

First, though, I wanted to update you with a review of the nonfiction book, “How We Learn:  The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens,” by Benedict Carey.  Carey offers several insights on the process of learning that is specifically brain-based.  Interesting information that I found in his book included how memories are stored and retrieved by the brain, the ideas behind the beneficial practice of pre-testing and immediate review, brain breaks for a “bob and weave” style of lecturing, and the importance of exploring a topic in-depth.  In addition, this title explores the history of learning in the brain-based learning community, and, rather than date it back twenty-or-so years, makes a convincing argument that the field does, in fact, date back more than 100 years.  Altogether an interesting read heavily laced with medical studies information, Carey’s book is food for thought for a brain-based learning practitioner.

how we learn

Next, I want to further highlight the synergistic relationship between the benefits of brain-based learning through the lenses of mindfulness.  Mindfulness, a practice of being totally mentally aware of the presence through breathing, meditation, and thought exercises, relates to brain-based learning, because brain-based learning primarily focuses on the how and why of learning.  How is our attention focused so that we may be more present in our studies, which in turn help us build better neural connections in our brains?  Mindfulness can be taught through the practices of yoga, meditative breathing, and other silent, calm activities such as meditation rocks in the classroom.  Rather than silence for silence purpose, or relaxing background music, mindfulness would call into practice a calm time of respecting space and stillness and using one’s mind to focus on the immediate awareness, not response to, emotions and thoughts the student is currently experiencing.  As I begin to read Daniel J. Siegel’s book, “The Mindful Brain,” I hope to be able to bring more expert strategies into my own research and practices.

file0001052648856

For a brief, approachable look at the topic of mindfulness, please view an informative glimpse into Anderson Cooper’s piece for “60 Minutes:”  http://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-newly-mindful-anderson-cooper/

Library Events and Adventures in Grant Writing

Today I have decided to deviate a bit from the brain-based education research, and keep you updated about the changes I am making to our school library program.  This school year, I have switched from the elementary library environment to the secondary-level library setting.  I am loving every minute of it!

Some changes and events that I have implemented thus far:

  1. School library needs assessments:  I have designed an assessment for both the faculty/staff member and the student to assess their needs and interests.  This was a good way for me to quickly gather information about student interests, as well as what the primary purpose of the library has been before my arrival.  I’ve been able to gather information about where I need to immediately allocate some of my budget, including periodicals of interest to the vocational and technical education programs at my school.  To download a copy of both the student and teacher library needs assessments, please click here: Faculty library survey Student Library Survey
  2. An urban fiction book club: While my students come from a variety of racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, it was important to find a common ground that most of them share when reading for pleasure.  Time and time again, I noticed that many of the books that students choose to check out and read are in the recently dubbed “urban fiction” genre that is currently experiencing somewhat of a renaissance period in the world book market right now.  African American and Latino writers are bringing their works of urban teenage life to the forefront of American thought, and my students couldn’t be happier about it.  When we return from school, our urban fiction book club will be tackling “Lost & Found,” the first novel in the Bluford High series of books.  Next, my students have expressed interest in several Sharon Draper titles, so we will soon see who has written the next selection for our club.Green Apple on Books
  3. Breakfast & Books: “Breakfast & Books,” is an event that I started hosting when I first started my career as a school librarian.  No matter how big or how small your budget may be, you will most likely always be purchasing books in some format for your library.  When these books come in, prior to placing them in a display or on the shelves, invite your faculty for bagels, donuts, and coffee in the library to preview the books.  Stand each book up on the table and set an index card next to it with a brief summary or review.  Also be sure to include what ages/grades, school subjects, and genres can be associated with each title.  This lets your faculty know what’s new and available to both them and the students, as well as continues to foster positive school-wide library experiences.

100_0411a

4.  Grants, grants, and more grants: There are a plethora of grant opportunities out there for the eager educator.  In terms of this holiday season, I will be working on two YALSA grants that involve the utilization of graphic novels, as well as the possibility of increasing student engagement with technology-based activities both during and after school.  While grant writing offers no certain guarantee that you will receive said grant funding, getting your organization’s name out there will only help to draw possible positive connections to you for your future goals.

DSC05168-B

5.  A library planning committee: Now that we are off and running, we need to secure a vision for our school library program that will help guide us to make our planning decisions over the next several years.  I have invited all members of our community to take part in our planning committee, including, but not limited to: administrators, faculty members, staff members, students, public librarians from the community (opportunities for collaboration), and elementary/primary school librarians (creating less of a vertical organization and more of a lateral organization).  When meeting with your planning committee, always keep in mind the key tenet, “Our library is what we make it to be.”  Your vision should assess your library at multiple planning stages, including:  “What does our library look and function like now?  What would we like it to look and function like in one year?  Five years?  What are the biggest unmet library needs of our community?”  By keeping these thoughts in mind, you’ll be able to help drive the committee to make collaborative, decisive goals that clearly delineate where to go and what path to follow for the positive development of your library program.

file000946262802

So those are my “Big 5” for right at this moment.  That is, of course, in addition to the brain-based learning research that is currently taking over our living room and kitchen tables.  Stay posted for an upcoming book review of Benedict Carey’s new book, “How We Learn:  The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens.”

Changes, Health, and Education: An Update

Many changes have occurred since my last blog post.  The biggest of these, of course, has been the brilliant, wonderful, awe-inspiring addition of our baby boy to the mix.  Throughout a difficult high-risk pregnancy (complete with cholestasis of the liver, daily blood thinner injections, and trips to the perinatologist), my husband and I were blessed to witness the miracle of life.  These welcome distractions brought about a multitude of changes, not being limited to:

1.

A complete change of perspective about the importance, and, often unexpected, circumstances that can complicate one’s own health.  I always preach the importance of safety, be it classroom or family, but, this time, the tables had turned.  I was the one who was not well, and, in turn, was worried constantly about the health of my unborn child.  Take care of your body.  Eat clean foods with low sugar and salt, as well as decreasing or altogether eliminating additives/artificial coloring and preservatives.  Your health depends on it, and, you, my friend, depend on your health.

Fun Medical MGD©

2.

Free time? What is this free time you speak of?  While the addition of a baby will not leave you with any extra minutes to your day, it is still important to try and find tiny slivers of the day where you can sit, breathe, and reflect.  My scrapbooking table runeth-over with projects left over from my pregnancy days.  However, I have found that coloring is my newest “make-due-with-the-few-minutes-you-have” meditation activity.  com has a plethora of adult coloring books like mandalas, stained-glass patterns, etc.  Time to bust out the Crayola products!

file000605645869

3.

 My research interests. Professionally, this should be number two on the list.  I say number two, because, without number one, your health, not much is going to happen for you on the professional level. While my presentations on Common Core exemplar text utilization have been a great success, I have extensively exploring the classroom potential of discoveries in the field of brain-based education.  I am currently developing a marketable teacher inservice presentation, as well as distilling the essence of the presentation for a one hour presentation for this upcoming January’s “Lifelines” professional development day at Union University.

brain

4.

I’ve put my doctoral education plans on hold for the immediate moment. I have every intention of potentially revisiting these dreams in the future, but, for now, the focus is on health, family, and growing as professional teacher and librarian.  With that being said, I’m leaning strongly towards brain-based education doctoral programs.  God bless the fluidity of the internet and the potential for distance-learning courses.

file000894312228

Check out my blog over these next few months for posts about brain-based learning, including book reviews, teacher and student handouts, article links, blogs to follow, and much more!

Miles to go, and forever grateful for this life!

Cheers!

Meg