Teaching to the Whole Brain


Perhaps you’ve heard people in and outside of education refer to teaching to the “left brain” or the “right brain”. In reality, we need to teach to the whole brain of the whole child! The 5 Stage Learning Cycle does precisely that. In this article, you will learn how to facilitate the concept-based 5 Stage Learning Cycle”, as formulated by world-renown education expert Anne Green Gilbert.

The concept-based 5 Stage Learning Cycle is designed to take learners through the entire learning cycle involving all parts of the brain. This translates to ALL parts of the brain being stimulated through the course of a lesson –frontal lobe to occipital lobe, left hemisphere to right hemisphere, brainstem to cortex and all areas in between! All of these areas MUST be engaged for meaningful learning to take place! Balanced learning results in information coming in AND being applied in the generation of new ideas, applications and situations. Without meaningful application, incoming information is quickly forgotten. For generations, artists, composers and inventors have created works of art and scientific inventions as a result of the largely intuitive application of the 5 Stage Learning Cycle. This fully integrated process cultivates thinking that is flexible, inspired and entrepreneurial – critical skills for success in the 21st century! In addition, when teachers integrate instrumental music and movement into this 5 Stage, concept-based teaching model, even deeper whole-brain connections are produced translating into much quicker “results” and even further innovative thinking. Furthermore, choosing music that inspires joy and playfulness in students will deepen learning and self-motivation. Research firmly indicates that ALL significant learning has a strong emotional component. Music and movement integrated into the 5 Stage Learning Cycle is a highly effective approach to engage and motivate all learners of all ages.

The Concept-Based 5 Stage Learning Cycle

Choose 1 core teaching concept and apply it to each of the following areas:

The Warm-Up. This is a teacher-led, student-centered introduction to the core concept using a multi-sensory “hear, see, say, do” approach.

Here are some examples:

Hear/Say: Call out the name of the concept in a rhythmic fashion. Students echo back.

See: Share a visual of the concept in the form of a picture or symbol (Note: the brain processes pictures/symbols 50,000 times faster then text!)

Do: Students move their bodies while saying the concept aloud, thus demonstrating their current understanding of the concept. This will serve as a general assessment tool for the teacher. For successful learning, it is important that the teaching stem from the students’ current level of understanding.

Exploration. This phase is teacher-facilitated, student-led. In small groups, students explore the core concept using a problem solving approach. Students experiment, share ideas, delegate and work together to explore the various solutions to a question /problem with the concept as the core mode of exploration. For example, what are the various ways we could express the concept of “space” both individually and as a group? It is important for students to engage in physical movement as they “think through” this problem solving/divergent -thinking phase. Playing jazz, world or symphonic “program” music softly in the background during this stage will support this type of creative thinking.

Skill Development. This phase is teacher-led, student-centered. In this stage, students apply the core concept in the learning of a specific skill set. The purpose of this stage is to “hard-wire” specific skills. This teacher-led phase involves more repetition experienced in novel ways. The novelty element expedites and deepens the hard-wiring process. It also is particularly supportive of students who struggle with focus and attention. Students in general will quickly tune-out if novelty is not integrated into the repetition required for skill building. Chanting aloud, singing, variety of body percussion (making sounds on the body through tapping, clapping, patting, etc.) anticipatory “stops and starts,” dramatic vocalization, rhyming, humor and mind-mapping are a few examples of novel approaches to skill building across all curricular areas.

Application. This phase is teacher-facilitated, student-led. Once students have learned specific skills related to the core concept, they are now ready to apply all the experiences from the previous steps in the creation of a student-centered project. The creation of a project is satisfying for students because it synthesizes the learning into a “gestalt” or whole piece of their OWN making. This is an opportunity for students to apply the core concept and related skills into the creation of something new, meaningful and personal. This is the essence of 21st thinking and the goal of concept-based teaching. Creative application can be facilitated through speaking through, acting-out, and drawing their vision of creative application. Baroque music, minuets, marches or simple drum music played softly in the background can support the organizational thinking required during this stage.

Assessment and Reflection. This is a teacher-facilitated, student-led evaluation of the lesson. Students are asked to assess specifically what they learned, in what areas they felt successful and why. This can be done simply, through small group discussion. Assessing aloud with peers is a more brain-compatible approach to organizing and prioritizing one’s thoughts and feelings during this reflection process. Written evaluation follows this oral assessment phase. Written reflection is not to substitute or be used in exclusion of the oral phase because the brain processes “thinking aloud” much more effectively. Writing is simply “thoughts on paper” and therefore, should not be a substitute to oral evaluation. Students can and should also supplement their oral and written evaluations with drawings/symbols of what they learned. Further exploration and areas for improvement derived from the reflection, can serve as the basis for subsequent lessons. Learner-centered assessment teaches ALL students that they are truly in control of their own learning. They will discover that they are, by virtue of having moved through the 5 Stage Learning Cycle, successful learners.

Teaching to the whole brain through the 5 Stage Learning Cycle supports the learning of all children for both their current and future success. Such success depends on divergent, flexible thinking exercised in a rich learner-based environment that is built in relationship with others. This type of learning develops not only the intellect of a child but matures them to be individuals who are socially and emotionally healthy, compassionate and visionary.

Maria Simeone © 2017. For reprint permission please contact Maria Simeone at info@musicmovesthebrain.com