Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Whole Brain Teaching Wednesday! Teach-Ok

     Today is our first Whole Brain Teaching Wednesday, a special post dedicated to highlighting a specific WBT strategy in more detail than I do during some of my regular posts where I discuss my education classes as well. To kick it off our first WBT-W I would like to start with "Teach-Ok".

whole brain teaching, engaging your students, bored students
"Teach-Ok" is a formative assessment tool that allows for you, as the teacher, to gauge student's comprehension on the topics you're teaching. This strategy, however, is not your average worksheet that bores your students, requires hours of marking and kills trees!

Studies have shown that when the primary cortices of the brain are engaged simultaneously, information is more easily stored in long-term memory. This strategy engages your students visually, verbally, mentally and physically! In addition, it is fun for both the students and the teacher, which engages the emotional system of the brain as well.

     Who amongst us can honestly say that they haven't had students that look like the picture above? We know that the longer we lecture in front of a class, the more students we lose to boredom. The "Teach-Ok" strategy shortens the time that you, as the teacher, spend lecturing at one time. It does not shorten how MUCH content you cover, it just changes how you DELIVER the content. The following describes the "Teach-Ok" content as it is stated by Jeff Battle on the Whole Brain Teaching website.

whole brain teaching, engaging students, fun classrooms
Teach-OK works like this: Divide your class into teams of two. One student is a One, the other member of the team is a Two.You want students to do a large amount of the teaching. Present a small amount of information, complete with gestures. (I'll discuss gestures in more detail later on) When you finish, look at the class and clap two times, say “Teach!” Your students clap twice and respond “OK!”  Look at our Power Teachers videos for examples of this approach.

Teach your students to copy your gestures (kinesthetic) and mimic the emotion in your tone of voice (limbic).  As your students teach each other, move around the room listening to what they are saying.  This is an excellent opportunity to monitor student comprehension.  Then, call them back to attention with the Class-Yes!  If you are not convinced your students have understood your lesson, repeat it.  Otherwise, go on to the next small group of points.

     Essentially, many teachers do use strategies similar to this idea. Just think of how many times you have your students discuss a topic with their partner or table group before you go on to a new idea. This strategy follows this basic idea but with a more structured and purposeful layout. Remember, you want to ensure that you are presenting information in shorter chunks and encouraging visual, verbal, mental and physical engagement!

     I used this strategy in my last student teaching placement and the students LOVED it. It was incredibly engaging and I didn't have any students zoning out because they don't have an opportunity to! One thing that I do recommend is that you chose your pairings with careful consideration to your students personalities to ensure that students will be able to concentrate on the co-teaching component (sometimes certain students can just not teach effectively to one another), but with some management it works great.
I was able to have full engagement from 30 grade 10 students, with a large distribution of abilities, at 10 in the morning!

Check out the Whole Brain Teaching website to see Jeff Battle's instructions in context or check out Chris Biffle's YouTube channel to see this strategy in action

Thanks for checking out our first Whole Brain Teaching Wednesday!


  1. Hello Miss L,
    It's fantastic that you are beginning your career with WBT, integrating technology and using VARK strategies to help learning stick. I am a learning assistant teacher in Delta BC doing my masters in technology, with a focus on UDL and building community in classrooms and schools.
    I will check out Jeff Battle's WBT website. You should check our Dr.Judy Willis, neurologist and teacher, who has created webinars based on brain research, how to make learning stick, building memory and many other topics. She also has a website with information and resources.

  2. jkwasnicki,

    Thank you for the compliment! I am really hoping that this blog will help me expand my knowledge base before I head out into the field to get a teaching position. I'm not familiar with UDL, could you suggest a website that would be good to check out? I just tried to research it and received some mixed messages from different sites.
    Thanks for the share about Dr. Willis. I saved the link and will have to spend some time familiarizing myself with her work, it seems like something I'd be interested in for sure!
    Best wishes with your masters.

  3. Love learning along with you! Your blog is great.

  4. This seems like a great idea! I can't wait to learn more about this Whole Brain Teaching idea... I don't think I know enough about it yet to try it in STUDENT teaching, but maybe by the time I get my own classroom I can start using it!

  5. Jackie, thank you so much! I will continue regularly posting as well as feature WBT Wednesdays. I look forward to your thoughts as we go through more strategies.

    Angel, WBT is a lot of fun! I only used a few strategies during my student teaching placement as there are SO many aspects of WBT that you can include. One of my reasons for starting this blog was so that I could try to learn as much as possible before getting my own classroom so we are in the same boat!

  6. Suburban Chicken Farmer23 January 2012 at 00:35

    Help please,
    You write, "Studies have shown that when the primary cortices of the brain are engaged simultaneously, information is more easily stored in long-term memory."
    I searched unsuccessfully to find any studies supporting this. Which studies are you referring to?

  7. Suburban Chicken Farmer,
    Some great books that I would recommend that speak about this learning and the brain are:
    - How the Brain Learns, David Sousa
    - Learning in the Emotional Rooms, John Joseph
    - Teaching with the Brain in Mind, Eric Jensen
    - Mind, Brain and Education, ed. by David Sousa
    I'm not sure if you saw the comment above, but there is a neurologist who became a teacher that actually has completed comprehensive research on the subject as well. Her name is Judy Willis and I've recently found some of her work, as well, to support the theory behind the WBT concept.
    My generalization of "studies have shown..." is based off of information from all of these sources. Being seven in the morning, I do not have a full reference list of page numbers from these articles but I am more than welcome to provide them if you would like to narrow down your search!

  8. Suburban Chicken Farmer23 January 2012 at 20:23

    Okay, so to the extent I've read Sousa and Willis- I've yet to find anything that even remotely resembles, "Studies have shown that when the primary cortices of the brain are engaged simultaneously, information is more easily stored in long-term memory."

    The only place I've seen something truly akin to it is from Whole Brain Teaching's website. Here's what Core Knowledge blogger Diana Senechal ( had to say concerning the claim back in September 2010, responding to an article by Daniel Willingham,
    "People are shameless in their claims that "research has shown" this or that. The "Whole Brain Teaching" website states, "Twenty years of education research tells us that the most effective learning takes place when a student engages the brain's primary cortices- visual, auditory, language production and motor-at the same time." Really? What is that "research?"

    I went to their research page, and they cite only one specific study, which turns out to be a paper for an education course. The teacher used Whole Brain Teaching for one week and reported a 50 percent decrease in "negative behaviors."

    I still haven't found any research supporting the idea that "the most effective learning takes place when a student engages the brain's primary cortices-visual, auditory, language production and motor-at the same time." Nor does such an assertion make sense. It might be true for certain situations, but there are plenty of others where a certain stillness is much more conducive to learning.

    But when will schools get beyond the nonsense about "passive" learning? you point out, workshops are not suited to all topics; when misapplied, it can result in a great deal of passivity. Moreover, "participation" takes many forms, one of which is attentive listening and thinking."

  9. Suburban Chicken Farmer,
    As I have mentioned in the "Whole Brain Teaching" page of my blog, I am by no means an expert on Whole Brain Teaching, or on education. I use this blog to learn and develop as an education student in general. The wonderful thing about science is that different people can interpret findings in different ways and there are countless journal articles that peer-review findings of studies.
    I admit that, being an education student and focusing on my classes, I am unable to devote the time to debate some of these topics to the extent that you are asking. I apologize for a lack of information that I am able to provide to you (I am still learning!)
    In order to learn more and get your questions answered fully and professionally, I would suggest that you set up a conference with a school administrator in your area as they may be able to provide you with more in depth knowledge on different educational practices. I welcome you, however, to continue keeping up with my site and learn with me as I go through this process. :)
    Best wishes, from Miss L

  10. "This is an excellent oppurtunity to monitor student comprehension?" I don't think so. All the students are doing is repeating what you just said. That doesn't mean they comprehend it.

  11. I guess this is the blog entry you were talking about on the message board! I think what may happen sometimes is people Google a certain phrase and your blog comes up, and they show up ready to debate about it. I have a feeling many of your critics are not teachers, or bloggers, or even parents. WBT is just another debatable issue to argue about! So... I wouldn't worry about it. Use this blog to express YOUR thoughts, opinions and experiences, and let negative words roll off your back. If your cooperating teacher is happy with your work, and your professors are happy with your work, all is good in the world!

  12. Thank you for the kind comments Angel, I appreciate your support as I use this blog to learn and develop myself as an educator :)

    FedUpMom, I respectfully disagree. Neither myself, nor the quote I provided, require that students repeat exactly what is said by the teacher. When I use this strategy students are encouraged to review the material by "teaching" it to their partner. Their review of the material may be in whatever choice of words they want and they can discuss the concept back and forth with their partner. To gauge comprehension I listen to how in depth they are able to explain the material and ask detailed questions to determine how well they understand the concepts. With that said, I do agree that exact repetition would not be a good gauge of comprehension, it would only be a good gauge of memorization.

  13. Every WBT video I've ever seen shows the kids repeating exactly what the teacher said in "teach/OK". Often, they barely have enough time to even do that before they're told to switch (have the other kid talk.)

    I think you're not really doing WBT, which is very good news.

  14. Oh, and @Angel Read, I am a mother, and most of the people who comment on my blog are parents. We have more skin in this game than you do. You have no idea how horrifying it is to send your child off to school and have her come home anxious, depressed, and miserable, day after day. There's a reason we parents are passionate about school issues.

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