I am greatly saddened to report that my good friend, long time
professional colleague, and IAE
Newsletter co-editor died on August 5, 2016. Bob Sylwester and I
began to work together in the mid 1980s. He taught me about brain
science and I taught him about computers. We later combined our talents
and knowledge in two jointly-presented workshops.
Bob became co-editor of the IAE
Newsletter beginning in December, 2009, with the 31st issue. He
suggested the idea that we develop single-topic sequences of
newsletters and then publish books based on the newsletter series.
Thus, we jointly published six books, and a seventh on Joy of Learning
will be coming out in a few months.
We are particularly interested in one of more volunteers to become
co-editors of the IAE Newsletter.
We are looking for people with qualifications such as:
A deep interest in working to improve education at all levels and
throughout the world.
Ability to work with authors—specially, those early in their
writing careers—to help them become more skilled in communicating with
preservice and inservice teachers and other educators, and with parents.
Interest in writing for IAE and in helping to shape its future.
IAE’s current plans are that, after the Joy of Learning series is
completed, the newsletter will continue following two paths:
Publish newsletters that are not part of a series. Here, we are
particularly interested in research and implementation-based articles
targeting preservice and inservice teachers, particularly at the
preK-12 levels. The focus is on research and practice-based topics that
a preservice or inservice teacher can learn about in a relatively short
time and can then effectively implement in classrooms teaching. In
other words, focus on what actually works to significantly improve
Continue to develop and publish newsletter series that lend
themselves to being collected into a book. Tentatively, we had planned
that the next series will focus on educational research and practice,
with knowledge and skills that can transfer to education between
countries and regions of the world. Here, we are particularly
interested in research and practice that can be implemented in schools
that have not greatly benefited from recent advances in research,
practices, and technology that have been proven effective.
This free Information Age Education
Newsletter is edited by Dave Moursund and Bob Sylwester, and
produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is one component of the Information Age Education (IAE) publications.
All back issues of the newsletter and subscription information are
available online. In addition, six free books based on the newsletters are
available: Validity and Credibility
of Information; Education for
Students’ Futures; Understanding
and Mastering Complexity; Consciousness
and Morality: Recent Research Developments; Creating an Appropriate 21st Century
Education; and Common Core
State Standards for Education in America.
The Role of
Student Questioning in Joyful Learning
Adjunct Faculty: Cal Poly Pomona; University of Riverside; Brandman University
Consultant on Learning and the Brain
Teachable Moments Anytime
Student questioning is perhaps one of the most under-utilized teaching
strategies. Its use can enhance all the appropriate neural pathways and
draw visions and connections that can ultimately lead to some new and
original thinking. A teacher who is gifted at posing the right
questions can create a whirlwind of excitement, but what does student
questioning accomplish? How many opportunities do we adults give young
people to inquire within "teachable moments"? Can we afford to miss
Here is a personal example of a teachable moment. I was recently
reading the story of A Baby
Sister for Frances by Russell Hoban to Abby, my
five-year-old granddaughter. We observed that Francis is a girl, but an
animal girl. "What kind of animal?" Abby asked. I responded, "She is a
raccoon." Abbey asked, "What is a raccoon?" I responded as best as I
could. I added that her grandpa once had a raccoon for a pet but that
it did not turn out well. Raccoons have sharp claws and they scratch.
Abby pressed on. "What do they really look like?" I was momentarily at
a loss, thinking of encyclopedias that might have a picture.
"Ask your cell phone," Abby said. So I Googled the word raccoon and found pictures and
information, but that was not enough. "I want to see a video." My phone
had access to YouTube. Needless to say we had a delightful time
learning about raccoons, seeing them in action, and hearing accounts of
other people who had worked with raccoons as a pet. Abby's questioning
determined the search for information. I can only imagine the
conversation around the dinner table at my granddaughter's home that
Catching a teachable moment took an even more significant turn on
another day. I was playing some music from a compact disc in the car.
Abby and I usually try to identify the instruments that we hear, and
this time the sound was unusual. Abby asked, "What makes that sound? It
is a bagpipe?" We stopped and accessed a YouTube video that featured a
Scottish man in a full kilt uniform playing a bagpipe song with no
accompaniment. After that I was often asked when driving, “To play the
CD with the bagpipe music." Abby's two-year-old sister was also struck
by these strange sounds and melody. I again had to produce the video on
It seems that after that, every time I came to their home, my younger
grandchild wanted to go into my car to hear the bagpipe music. This
story took an interesting twist, because their mother was drawn into
the joy of the girls' learning. She bought an entire disc of bagpipe
music and encouraged the girls to dance with the music. The ultimate
experience for these children is that their mom read of a bagpipe
festival in a nearby city, and took them. And all because we responded
to their questions.
I am not certain how important it is for these young learners to be
familiar with raccoons and bagpipe music. But, the experiences left
them with some impressionable realizations. They were listened to. What
was interesting to the children became a focus for the adult. They had
conversations about their curiosity. Useful information is now
available through hand-held devices that they need to master. They were
challenged to fit this new information into previously developed or
newly formed neural pathways in various parts of their brains.
Why Outside the Classroom?
School is our society's most significant learning place. But,
the average classroom includes one adult with up to 30 (sometimes
fewer, but nowadays, oftentimes more) students. Much of the school
curriculum is required core content. Tests are used to measure the
basic, foundational, and expected general knowledge students are
School should also be the place where students are encouraged to be
curious, to question, and to resolve problems. As students gain in
cognitive maturity, school should thus help students to develop
critical thinking. In summary, during the most important hours of the
day and for most of the calendar year, students should be enrolled in
classes to attain what society dictates that they learn. This creates a
situation in which the teachers tend to ask the questions and the
students answer, rather than the other way around. Teachers are often
pressured to cover the prescribed materials and to make certain
students test well. The excitement of learning is overshadowed by the
dictates of societal expectations.
Where is the joy of learning in this scenario? Gifted teachers are able
to sustain a "joy of learning" environment for most, if not all, of
their students. Their requirements for learning are encased into
stimulating joyful practices. Good teachers consciously plan engaging
activities, but they must also pursue skill development through
repetitive practice. Each of thirty students needs unique experiences
to stimulate their individual brain.
A unique part of very child’s education can be what they do with an
adult individually or in very small groups outside the school walls.
Parents, grandparents, and other adults must also notice that when a
child wonders about a raccoon or bagpipe music they are unlikely to
have their curiosity satisfied in school. Such inquisitiveness offers
stimulating experiences that, when satisfied, can bring joy to learning.
What Is Needed?
Here is my advice to teachers, parents, and others who have the
opportunity to follow it:
Realize that you do not
have to have all the answers. I appreciate this condition only
too often with my eighteen-year-old grandson, who possesses an
exceptional storehouse of knowledge that he has learned through
extensive Internet activity. I often have no understanding of his
explanations. I start by establishing an initial base so I am able to
understand the subject. Then I become the student as he explains the
issue. We switch roles, because he has the knowledge and I need to be a
good questioner and summarizer. He has an opportunity to deepen his
knowledge base and communication skills as he searches for and uses
information in his brain or on his phone or computer.
Practice the art of
asking questions. Develop questions that have many right
answers. Become a good listener. Realize that answers can lead to
another question. Perhaps respond with what the answer meant to you, to
ascertain that you heard correctly.
Pay attention to
what students are saying to discover what interests them.
We often lose opportunities because we are also actively caring for
their physical needs of safety, eating, or cleanliness. We thus ignore
the opportunity to nourish the curiously developing brains of students
Be aware of opportunities.
Events, museums, points of interest exist within the community and also
on your cell phone. Think about the extension of learning opportunities
through the arts and project development.
Know when to stop. If
you are pushing too hard to learn more about the topic a student
introduced and note that interest has waned, let it drop. A student was
supposed to choose one book to read for 20 minutes for a sustained
reading activity. After 10 minutes he went to the teacher and asked for
another book. "This book is telling me more about penguins than I care
to know," he pleaded.
The Human Brain Is Wired to Learn
To conclude, let us take a basic look at what actually is
happening when a young person or child experiences the "joy of
learning." Realize that we have an insatiable, living, changing brain
designed to determine who we are and how we respond to the world around
us. The innermost parts of the brain contain structures that are more
primitive than the outer parts. Buried deep within our brain is a
structure called the thalamus.
It is connected to all other areas of the brain as a type of
switchboard. It receives information from the senses of hearing,
seeing, smelling, tasting, and touching. It sends information back to
the areas of the brain that are adept at interpreting the sensory
signals. Furthermore, the thalamus is located near the amygdala, which is our emotional
center. Chemicals are released when exciting sensory stimuli are
received and interpreted. The chemical interactions create feelings of
joy, excitement, and accomplishment. These explainable and highly
desirable times of joy for children and learners of all ages happen as
adults grasp the occasion to satisfy a young person's constant need to
References and Resources
Nevills, P. (2011). Build the brain for reading, grades 4-12.
Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Nevills, P. (2014). Build the brain the common core way.
Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Pamela Nevills is first and foremost a teacher, working with
learners from preschool through postgraduate programs. Pamela's
expertise as a staff developer began with a county-level position and
management of a curriculum and instruction office. Subsequent
activities included state-level leadership for teachers' professional
development and student-to-work programs. She was a collaborator and
data collection manager for a mathematics research project spanning
four states. Recently Pamela supervised student teachers/interns
and taught methods classes at California State Polytechnic
University and the University of California, Riverside.
Dr. Nevills studies neurology, mind imaging, and research for
education, organizational change, and neurology. By combining
information about how the brain functions for child and adult learning,
she provides innovative insights for educators and other professionals.
Her present position with Brandman University expands her expertise in
transformational change into many aspects of society.
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