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An Interview with Dr. Patricia Wolfe, Author of Brain Matters



In this webinar, we engage with Dr. Pat Wolfe in a fascinating discussion of the nature of the learning process, how to enhance learning and teaching by incorporating brain-compatible strategies in the classroom, and the implications of technology, gender differences, brain development at various stages and ages, and brain matters research.

Pat Wolfe is one of the pioneers of applying neuroscience research to classroom practice.  In addition to authoring Brain Matters:  Translating Research into Classroom Practice, she has trained thousand of administrators, school board members, parents and teachers across the United States and around the world.  She has taught at all levels from Kindergarten through college and served as the Director of Instruction for the Napa County Office of Instruction (Napa, CA) and was the lead trainer for the International Principal Training Center in Rome and London.  As a consultant and trainer, she has focused on the educational implications of neuroscience, cognitive science, and educational research for learning and teaching. She also conducts workshops on the brain and addiction, reading and the brain, early brain development, and the aging brain.

Here’s just a taste of what we learned in this webinar:

Pat’s early career sounds like many others.  She was a classroom teacher finding that most of what she learned in her teacher education courses was not very useful, especially when it came to classroom management problems.  Things started to change when she studied with Dr. Madeline Hunter at UCLA and realized that there is a a science to teaching as well as an art.

As she became more proficient and trained others in Hunter’s Elements of Effective Instruction, she realized, “We’re teaching brains and we don’t know how they work.”  Early on, most of the research was written by neuroscientists for neuroscientists so the task of translation was paramount.

We asked her about the things teachers find the most fascinating or that have the biggest impact.  Pat talked about two.

  1. People are fascinated with the idea of plasticity.  The brain you’re born with is not the brain you’re stuck with.  She talked about how many teachers believe that there is nothing they can do.  If you have students from low socioeconomic status, who haven’t been to preschool and how have low IQs, the belief was that there wasn’t much the teacher could do.  What the neuroscience research makes clear is that our brains develop in interaction with the environment; it’s not just about our genes.  “You’re not just teaching,” Pat says, “you’re physiologically shaping brains.”   We can change even brains that have glitches.
  2. The fact there are two different types of memory.  Procedural memory is what we use when we learn to drive a car, decode a written text or play the piano.  These are things that we do over and over again until they become automatic.  The kinds of practice activities you use for skills embedded in procedural memory are different from what you use for declarative memory, declarative memory being information we can declare — facts, knowledge and experiences.   The type of rehearsal needs to match the type of memory we’re teaching.  Memorizing vocabulary definitions is not the best way to expand vocabulary.

These insights are just the tip of the iceberg.  Listen in for more!


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