Whole Brain Teaching: What’s it All About?

Whole Brain Teaching: What’s it All About?

The classroom is exploding with noise as children turn to each other and excitedly repeat what the teacher has just told them.  It looks like complete mayhem and a teacher’s worst nightmare.   How will things ever become calm and quiet again?   The teacher claps her hands and says, “Class. Class.”

Instantly, twenty three little bodies turn towards the front and twenty three little mouths respond with, “Yes. Yes.”

All is quiet.  All is still.  The kids are once again ready to learn.

Whole Brain Teaching

When I first stumbled upon the video posted below, I was amazed yet skeptical.

Maybe the kids were being good because they were being recorded.  Maybe the teacher was really on her game because she was being recorded.  It looked like a terrific session of learning, but was it really sustainable?

I decided to do some more digging.  I came across this video about “Who Let the Vowels Out” and decided to try it with  my own kids (ages 2-3).

The kids loved the song!  Not only were they totally engaged when I was teaching it and we were practicing it together, but I heard them singing it to themselves in the playroom and in the car.


I discovered that both of these videos were based in Whole Brain Teaching.. a new classroom method being adopted by many a teacher.

What is Whole Brain Teaching all about?

You can check out a group of adults learning the basics in this video.  As you can see, there’s a lot of repeating, call and response, and pre-programmed actions and procedures.  There isn’t a single stagnant moment. Basically, the idea is that challenging students are bored because their whole brain is not engaged.  Engage the whole brain and eliminate bad behavior.   Chris Biffle, pioneer of Whole Brain Teaching, writes, “We must involved our students’ whole brains in peaceable learning or lose them to their own dark entertainments.”

I have to admit, while it seems like a great idea in theory, the whole thing seems a bit over the top to me.  It’s almost theatrical.  Can kids really learn if we’re jumping and dancing and chanting all day long?  And is this even good for them?

When do kids learn to sit still?

Have we given that idea up?

I get that the old model of sit quiety and listen to the teacher doesn’t work anymore, but I just don’t know if I can get behind all this.   Doesn’t it seem like a little TOO much?

The Manual

I grabbed the Kindle version of Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids: (and the rest of your class, too!) on Amazon (free to read with your Prime membership) and started learning.  It’s basically the back story of the Whole Brain Teaching movement along with ways to implement the theory in your own class.

Rule #1

The First Great Law of Whole Brain Teaching is:

The longer we talk, the more students we lose.

Even adults seem to tune out after 10 minutes of lecture-style presentations. Is there a better way?

That’s exactly what the author of this book set out to find out.  Chris teamed up with a couple of other teachers and had over 80 meetings over the course of a year to pound out the core of the Whole Brain Teaching program.  Today, tens of thousands of teachers are using the program with remarkable success.

Are You Setting Yourself up for Failure?

Even though I’m not completely sold on the program, I love how Chris really cuts through the crap in chapter three of his book (Seven Common Teaching Mistakes).    He explains that disorganized teachers breed chaotic classrooms and if you want your students to engage and behave, you have to put in some serious preparation time.  He states,

“Outstanding instruction involves huge, truly mountainous amounts of labor, preparing, practicing, researching, thinking through, and refining instructional units.  If you don’t pay the price before you step into the classroom, you’ll pay the price as your fumble through shoddy lessons.”

Been there.

On both sides of the coin, actually.

There have been times I’ve flown by the seat of my pants only to see a lesson disintegrate before my very eyes.

There have been times that I’ve had a genius idea and failed to follow through on gathering supplies or preparing properly, effectively cutting out my own legs from under me.

And there have been times when I’ve spent hours studying, praying, gathering supplies, practicing and refining in order to deliver a 20 minute lesson to a bunch of kids.   Even those these nights went great, I often wonder if I’m doing things right.  Should a stellar lesson really require that much prep?

Preparing for Lesson

According to this theory, yes.

In order to be effective teachers, we have to have kids engaged.  If you’ve been in the teaching business long, you’ll know that a common complaint among coworkers and fellow volunteers is behavior and classroom management issues.  Something must be broken.

But how do we fix it?  Is totally changing the face of teaching the answer?

Is scripted, animated, interaction saturated teaching the answer?

I’m not sure, but I’m willing to take a closer look.

What About You?

If you’re a teacher, do you think Whole Brain Teaching would work in your class?

If you’re a parent, would you want your child using Whole Brain Learning?

What about in Children’s Ministry?  Do you think it would work?

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this or other classroom management strategies you love!

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  1. This is interesting. I’m not sure how I feel about this. I know my son loves music. I sing to him a lot. I “sing” talk to him and he responds back. not sure if it the same thing. we dont do it all day everyday, but if I want to get his attention I sing.

    We Three Crabs
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  2. I taught upper level math for two years, and my only complaint was classroom discipline. I’m not sure if this technique would work for high schoolers, and I felt like it was a bit drawn out to teach a math concept. Ideally, children would only be in school for a few hours a day, leaving plenty of time for recreation. I feel like a long school day has a lot of wasted time to fill out the hours.
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  3. I love the idea of whole brain teaching. My daughter is one of those challenging kids and it seems like this is something she would respond to. Will check out the book and the resources, I need to find out more about whole brain teaching.
    Sarah Arrow recently posted..Content Marketing: 50 Creative Video Marketing Ideas

  4. Hey Gina,
    Thanks for your input — I agree. I feel like it is kind of drawn out. I have seen a few videos with whole brain teaching and high school kids. Maybe with more engagement in the younger years, kids wouldn’t be so burned out on school by the time they get to high school. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. I can totally understand the need to good prep time with lessons. Prep times means you need to be prepared with all your supplies and everything. 🙂

    I’d have to do more research on Whole Brain learning to really give an opinion. 🙂
    annette @ A Net In Time recently posted..Streusel Blueberry Muffins

  6. That’s about where I am too Annette — I love that he really puts the responsibilities back in the hands of the teachers concerning being prepared, but I’m not sold on the entire approach yet.

  7. As a parent, I find this very interesting! And would definitely want to research it to learn more about it for sure!

  8. I’d be really interested in learning more about this teaching method and how i could practically apply to every day situations as well. I mean, my daughter has a hard enough time listening to me on a day to day basis, it would be nice to figure out how to communicate a bit better.
    Margarita @ West Coast Mama recently posted..Is Naptime Officially OVER?

  9. “The longer you talk, the more kids tune-out” is true at any age. Especially with teenagers. Wish this theory would’ve been around when Rosie was little. Thanks for sharing.
    Deb recently posted..Throwback Thursday! The dirty book that perplexed my Hubby (and possibly pleased my Father-in-law?)

  10. This is definitely an interesting theory. Even as an adult, it is easier to remember things when there are actions or a song involved, but I’m not sure if a child can remember everything they learn in a day, simply because they are moving the whole time. It would be an interesting idea to test out. I think this would work well in children’t ministry. Often, teachers already put actions with bible verses to help the kids remember them. But I don’t know if moving for the entire time there would have the same effect. I’m skeptical, but willing to look more into it, I guess.
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  11. As a teacher, I have heard about whole brain theory, but I haven’t studied it in depth. I do think that learning should be engaging if we want our kids to be engaged, but they DO need to learn to sit still sometimes too. That’s part of preparing them for life. It won’t always be fun. Anyways, I’m going to pin this so I can look into it more later.
    Brittany recently posted..February Challenge: Speak Words of Love

  12. Thanks for stopping by, Brittany. I agree — I haven’t done a ton of research, so maybe there is some down time built into this theory as well. Not only does quiet time prepare them for life, but some kids might actually get too stimulated in an environment like this. I know we sometimes have kids at church that spin out of control when the noise level escalates. Thanks for your thoughts!

  13. Hey Becky,
    I think you and I are in the same boat. I too remember things better when I am moving, but is that because it’s such a rare thing? I like adding motions to certain things like Bible verses and we have started to use the “Hands and Eyes” in our program with success, but I’m not ready to embrace the entire program yet. Of course, I should probably finish reading the book too!

  14. As a former teacher, homeschooler and children’s ministry leader I agree on several points made here. Teachers must be prepared and even the most veteran of us can’t fly by the seat of our pants on a regular basis. I agree that movement is important but so is stillness and focus. I’ve never heard of this approach before but it has piqued my interest.
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  15. I am really interested in this! I think it may be a good thing to implement in my homeschooling. Thanks for the great post! You’ve got me thinking…
    andrea k recently posted..Chicken Pot, Chicken Pot, Chicken Pot Pie!

  16. I have never heard about this theory before. But it sounds interesting and it is good to see that things change at school, not like in my times, class, homework, test, class, homework, test and and of course please behave yourself and be quiet ha ha ha Never managed that task ha ha
    Marysia @ My Travel Affairs recently posted..Turkey – Endless reasons why I love it so much!

  17. Hey Andrea — thanks for stopping by! I agree, it would be a great thing to use in homeschool because sometimes our own kid are the craziest!!

  18. Thanks for stopping by, Cindy! Yes — there certainly needs to be a time of stillness and focus, especially in Children’s Ministry. I like how some of these techniques help get kids refocused quickly. I know that’s what I struggle with the most in kidmin — regaining focus. Thanks for your input!

  19. Hey Marysia,
    I hear you — I’m glad that teachers are really trying to reach their kids. It’s refreshing to see people who are so invested in the success of their students!

  20. This is an interesting technique and seems to engage the kids.
    Diana Marie recently posted..SPRING/SUMMER’14 TRENDS

  21. I am a homeschool mom and I agree some with the idea of whole brain teaching.
    I have a child that would respond well to it, but my others would not. A child’s learning style would need to be taken into account.
    Tanya @ sevenspringshomestead.com recently posted..One Dish Dinner: Smoked Sausage Scramble

  22. I love seeing when teachers do things out of the ordinary to help students learn easier. My second grader’s teacher has exercise balls for students to sit on while working at their tables. The theory is the kinetic energy used to balance your body on a ball helps kids focus better on learning. It’s similar to how recess and PE are necessary for kids to release energy and get moving.
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  23. Man oh man, I couldnt agree more with the statement: “The longer you talk, the more kids tune-out”
    I feel like when I try to over explain things to my little guy he gives me a glazed over look;)

  24. Yep — I hear you.. even adults are that way! Thanks for stopping by!

  25. Hey Dawn, Thanks for commenting. I’ve heard of things like that — does it work in her class? I’m always afraid kids will go crazy and balls will be rolling everywhere. I do think some movement is needed to help kids really learn. Thanks for your input!

  26. Hey Tanya,

    I agree — I mentioned in another comment that I know some kids would get really overstimulated by this approach and some kids really prefer to sit and learn quietly, so I wonder how this would be adapted to suit those needs. Thanks for stopping by!

  27. I agree that disorganization breeds chaos in a classroom, but I’ve also found that if I spend too much time preparing I burn out. There has to be a line.
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  28. Hey Jessica!
    True true.. boundaries before burnout is always better. Sometimes you can get a little too investing. I think this is something you really learn with experience.. finding a balance. Thanks for stopping by!

  29. I am really intrigued by this. My son is five and in kindergarten, and although he does well and gets good reports from his teacher, I know he often gets bored. He loves to sing and repeat things, so I think this method of teaching could be very effective with him. I’d love to learn more about it so thank you for sharing your resource!

  30. How interesting!!! I don’t know what to really think, but I think the whole brain teaching concept could certainly work with certain teachers and certain age levels, but I don’t know about it being a fool-proof way of teaching all kids. I do know that I start tuning out when loved ones are speaking and telling a really long story, so I can imagine how it is for a child – especially those that are highly stimulated by today’s advancements in technology (video games, computers and iPads) – how can a teacher compete in this day and age?

  31. This is an interesting concept. I think it would have some merit with a couple of my boys. I find my kindergarten son does better if I get him up and moving after sitting for a while. I’m not sure I could sustain a school day like this while homeschooling, but I think there are definitely things I could learn that would help our day go better.
    Jennifer S. recently posted..Is My Baby Malnourished?

  32. I love this – excellent idea! I’ve homeschooled my kids for *many* years 🙂 and have always found music/singing a excellent attention holder and great for memorization.
    Lisa D.B. Taylor recently posted..Finding Your Niche

  33. Lisa, I agree. We often play learning CD throughout the day and it is amazing what the kids pick up on and remember! Thanks for stopping by!

  34. Jennifer,
    I’m with you– this seems a bit exhausting if it’s done all day, but maybe as part of a routine? Seems like a good idea to shake things up. Thanks for stopping by!!

  35. Who let the vowels out? Now that’s a clever way to teach kids! Mine are all older now, but these would have been great tips.
    Stacie recently posted..Too Faced Chocolate Bar Palette

  36. I would have to do more research, but it sounds like a pretty clever idea. I know my son is more engaged in our tot school (toddler homeschool) when we do some of the similar things described here.
    Stephanie @ CrayonMarks&TigerStripes recently posted..Who is at the center of your resolutions?

  37. Amazing how kids are more attentive with songs and participation. The whole brain concept makes sense for adults too. Even we are more attentive when all our senses are challenged.
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  38. As a parent, I prefer that a variety of learning techniques be used in the classroom. I think too much of of thing is not effective no matter which style it is. The whole brain teaching style is interesting but I would not want it to be the only style used…too much of a good thing can be too much!

  39. This is interesting. I love learning about different teaching methods, as both a parent and home educator. I definitely want to read more about this.
    Charity recently posted..Unschooling Works, But How Do We Know It’s Working?

  40. First time I am hearing of this technique. Does seem a little theatrical, but definitely agree that the more we talk the more we lose kids…I would have to do more research as well, but I think a combination would probably work best for most kids, depending on their unique learning styles.

  41. Very interesting. No kids here yet but something to think about.
    Emily recently posted..25 Crock Pot Dinners

  42. What a great summary of the whole brain teaching. As a teacher and an instructional coach, I always recommend that teachers seek out best practices for instruction and to always differentiate their instruction for the learning needs of the students.
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  43. This does sound very interesting. I too will be looking into this, I know some kids that might really be able to benefit from this type of learning!

  44. I think this sounds amazing! I have two elementary-aged kids with learning disabilities, and this sounds like a method that would keep them engaged! Definitely going to check this out and pass on to their special ed teachers.

  45. I can see where in this era of technology this mode of teaching would be effective. Our attention spans have gotten shorter in all ages groups. (adults too). So, if a group of children is fully implementing all parts of their brains, there is little room to drift from the activity. In this era, sitting quietly isn’t as sustainable.
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  46. My own children are not old enough for school yet, but I totally understand about short-style lessons. Even us adults tune out after 10 minutes!

    I do teach the 14 and 15-year olds in my Sunday School class. This year the teaching manual changed, and it now boils down to this: the teacher over prepares with the materials, and then relies on the guidance of the Spirit to direct the lesson and discussion within the topic. This wouldn’t work in secular learning, but for spiritual learning, it makes much more sense to be able to answer the questions your student have that day, not just pound your pre-determined lesson into them. I’ll have to look into this book though!
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  47. Whole Brain learning makes sense. I used to teach after-school science programs and very quickly found that unless we did something physical to start the class (like run around the schoolyard playing “molecule tag”) and took movement breaks, I would lose my kids’ attention and my patience. That works for 7 and younger. But there does come a point in time when people should learn how to sit and concentrate in class. And molecule tag in a college classroom would just be ridiculous.

    I did find that putting French verb tenses into a song helped me remember them better. So there are merits to the idea… but no theory is ever the whole enchilada.
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  48. I am a public high school teacher, a parent (planning to home school) and a Sunday school teacher. I am looking forward to reading more about this topic. T!hanks for sharing
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  49. I love this! My son constantly talks about how his mind wanders away during school. How fantastic would it be to have a learning environment that engages his whole brain, making learning easier and more comprehensive for him? I will have to get the book and share with his teacher. Thanks for sharing, Bobbi

  50. This is fascinating – and makes so much sense. My boys often get bored at school – yet they seem so eager to learn new things.
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  51. Thanks for stopping by, Donna. I agree– I think we do need to keep things fresh in the classroom. Without fun, learning often becomes such drudgery!

  52. It sounds like too much for me. I am not sure I would try it.
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