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For some of us, if we were to walk into this classroom and see students gesturing wildly, standing up, walking around their chairs and mimicking the teacher, we might think there was a problem with class control. But for many classrooms, it is the exact opposite. These classrooms are following a teaching technique called “Whole Brain Teaching.”


The concept of Whole Brain Teaching (WBT), has been around for more than a decade. It is the creation of Chris Biffle, a college professor, and two other teachers—Jay Vanderfin and Chris Rekstad—all from California. In Whole Brain Teaching, students are encouraged to be actively engaged in their learning. Teachers assign physical gestures to concepts to help students remember them.


Officials at Whole Brain Teaching state the methodology is based on brain science as explained in “The Big Seven,” seven instructional techniques the teacher incorporates in their classroom teaching:[1]

  • “Class-Yes” – an attention-getter used to focus students’ attention.
  • “Classroom Rules” – Teacher goes over five classroom rules (complete with hand gestures to help students remember the rules associated with the gesture).
    • Follow directions (hands shoot forward like a fish)
    • Raise hand for permission to speak (raise hand, bring down to head and make a talking motion)
    • Raise hand to leave seat (raise hand, make walking motion with fingers)
    • Make smart choices (tap finger on temple)
    • Keep your teacher happy (hold up each thumb and index finger like an “L” framing your face, bob your head and smile)

“Teach-OK” – informative part of the lesson. Teacher divides class into groups and teaches small sections of information, while incorporating gestures, songs, movements, and chants. After the short instruction period, the teacher says to the class, “Teach,” and the class responds in unison “OK.” Then students turn to teach each other, reciting the lesson just taught by the teacher. During this time the teacher observes for student comprehension and adjusts their instruction accordingly.


  • “Scoreboard Game” – used as a feedback mechanism during the lesson Smiley and frowny face symbols are used for elementary, and a point system is usually used for intermediate and secondary students.
  • “Hands and Eyes” – this technique can be used at any point during the lesson when teacher wants students to pay extra close attention. Teacher says, “Hands and Eyes” and students respond by mimicking the words and movements of the teacher.
  • “Mirror” – like Hands and Eyes, this technique is used to get the students’ attention, but it is primarily used to reinforce a specific aspect of the lesson. Teacher says “mirror” and incorporates their own gestures, songs, or chants in the instruction, and the students mirror the teacher, repeating the teacher’s words and gestures.
  • “Switch” – this technique is used with “Teach-OK” to make sure that all students have a chance at teaching as well as being the student.


Although the seven techniques are the central focus of the Whole Brain Teaching model, it does not center solely on these steps. WBT also addresses the use of project assessments versus formative and summative formal tests, and breaks away from the standard lecture model by actively engaging students in the lesson and incorporating different teaching techniques. [2]  


Many educational experts say WBT is an extension of cooperative learning and there are surely elements of cooperative learning in the instructional techniques, such as “Teach-OK.” However, the methodology is primarily teacher driven, with commands given by the instructors and students mimicking what is being said. Proponents of WBT describe their classes as “high-energy” and “entertaining.”


Teachers from kindergarten to college have embraced WBT and are utilizing it in their classrooms. Up until recently, there has been no research-based study done on WBT. However, one college professor, David Brobeck, a graduate-level instructor at Walsh University in North Canton, Ohio, is currently working on a qualitative study interviewing teachers who have implemented WBT to find out if it has made a difference to their classes. He has been using the techniques in some of his graduate level classes and believes that WBT aligns with neuroscience. He expects to have his study completed in 2013.[3]


Not all educators are enamored with WBT. David Wees, a teacher in Vancouver, British Columbia, is one of them. He criticizes the methodology because he feels it doesn’t give students the opportunity to analyze or engage in higher level thinking. "The students never really get an opportunity to analyze anything they are learning. They are just basically memorizing stuff over and over again," he said.[4]


Whole Brain Teaching officials claim the methodology is validated by contemporary brain research. In the beginning of the “Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids” handbook, it describes how each of the Big Seven steps involves various parts of the brain. But many neuroscientists disagree saying that nothing indicates there is any neuroscientific backing for the claims.[5] Still, many teachers and students seem actively engaged in the learning process.


Whole Brain Teaching is obviously a form of Active Learning. It incorporates many of the methodologies seen in cooperative learning and interactive lectures. It seems to allow for the incorporation of other Active Learning methodologies as well. Are any of you members of Teacher’s Center familiar with Whole Brain Teaching? Have any of you implemented it in your classes? We’d like to hear your thoughts on this process.

[1] Forsythe, Jamie; “How effective is ‘whole brain teaching’? BND.com http://www.bnd.com/2013/04/06/2566812/how-effective-is-whole-brain-...

[2] Higgins, John, “Teachers learn ways to keep students’ attention, but are brain claims valid?” Akron Beacon Journal Online http://www.ohio.com/news/local-news/teachers-learn-ways-to-keep-stu...

[3] Biffle, Chris, Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids http://www.sammt.org/cms/lib03/MT15000278/Centricity/Domain/56/Whol...

[4] Blocher, Erica; “Professor Embraces ‘Whole-Brain Teaching’ Education Approach”, North Neighborhood News http://www.northneighbornews.com/carousel/x2038878956/Professor-Emb...

[5] Expertise in Practice; Whole Brain Teaching http://ashleytipton.weebly.com/whole-brain-teaching.html

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