Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Whole Brain Teaching - Guff or Great?

In my constant quest for classroom management techniques, I stumbled across Whole Brain Teaching. WBT is a structured classroom management approach which has had great results.

Immediate pros of WBT:
  • Structured - The drilling of routines and commands is hugely helpful to students, particularly those in my area of specialisation (pre-school to Grade 3).
  • Energetic - the gestures and sillyness of it keep students engaged, which is very difficult to do
  • Free - The materials (videos, articles and ebooks) are all free. They aren't trying to make money from educators. I was able to legally read their primary manual this weekend.
  • Easy to understand - By this, I mean that the many Youtube videos demonstrating WBT in the classroom are hugely helpful in seeing the techniques work in practice. Their techniques are not complicated and I feel any class I go to could use them.
  • Flexible - WBT seems as if it could work on students of many age groups, the founder of WBT uses his techniques on college-age students.
Immediate cons of WBT:
  • Their explanations of 'why' their techniques work feel very pseudo-sciency. The fact that it is named Whole Brain Teaching, to start with, makes many student teachers I talk to skeptical. I don't need to buy into their 'reason' for why tightly-executed, entertaining classroom management works, but still. I don't feel completely comfortable with using a system that may be based on pseudoscience- see Brain Gym.
  • By watching all of those WBT videos, I saw that often the students seem robotic/hypnotised. The Youtube comments tend to agree with me, though they are definitely not a source of real insight. You see students who are watching the teacher, following and matching her actions and even voice patterns correctly. It looks eerie, at times, from the outside. 

I've thought a lot about using WBT as the method of improving my classroom management during my next placement at a school, which is happening in about a month or so.

Obstacles to using WBT in my placement

The biggest one would be my host teacher. They might be fine with the idea of me using WBT, but not willing to use it themselves. The inconsistency might not let WBT work, it needs to be used daily. Alternatively, they might hate the idea entirely and not let me use it- which is totally their right as the head honcho.

Another is that I wanted to incorporate WBT into my research project, which I have to frame around, "How can I...?". My idea was to phrase it as, "How can I use WBT techniques to improve my classroom management". The concern is, though, that is WBT hasn't got many specific academic studies which were done on it (I've found one so far, and it was published in a WBT manual so might not even count). If it fails I may not have much of a research project. On the upside, perhaps it could make it a very interesting topic to present!

A great video of WBT, there are piles of them on Youtube (search "Whole Brain Teaching", add grade level if desired):


  1. I have used the WBT for the last two years and love it. I went to the WBT conference in Pineville, LA last year, and you would be amazed at the excitement that WBT teachers have. It does help kids to learn and really is not robotic. I teach Kindergarten and it definitely helps with classroom management, and my students really work hard to get stars on the super improver board. I use the format of mirror words for retelling a story, and my students love doing the words and motions after me. Then they retell the story with words and motions in their own words afterwards on their own. Although they are retelling the story after I have, they are learning how to properly retell a story in detail. Usually in kindergarten retellings are very vague and lack detail. Even though a lot of the WBT teaching requires students copying teacher's words and gestures, they do end up generating their own understandings with examples afterwards. Any time that students are using multiple modalities, they are more engaged. Also, with WBT, when students are not following rules, they are not singled out. The teacher says the rule number a child is not following, the class repeats the rule. The bulk of the time, any student not following that rule immediately stops and corrects himself/herself. That helps keep discipline on more of a positive note. I love WBT and definitely plan on continuing to use it.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Diane.

      This blog post is from 2012 when I was still in teacher training and discussing the various teaching techniques I had discovered while learning.

      I appreciate your positive comments on WBT methods, and I am so glad that it works for you in your class. I think that if I was a classroom teacher I would adopt more of the WBT techniques, as a specialist I see larger numbers of children and could find the methodology trickier to follow through with.

  2. Though the general idea of WBT is great (my school has adopted it also), I have some of the same reservations. By having students repeat things so readily, are we really encouraging them to make smart choices and think for themselves? Or are they simply becoming better at imitating others? Another question I ask myself, and tend to answer with a "no" is, Do I have the energy to maintain a WBT classroom all day?km Maybe with practice it becomes second nature, but for myself and my equally introverted students, it is exhausting. Best wishes in the endeavor to take the positives of this program and make them work for you!

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Jenny.

      This blog post is from 2012 when I was still in teacher training. In my current school WBT techniques are seen as a bit inauthentic and 'cheesy'. We use clear instructions that WBT encourages, but without the rigmarole of repeats and actions. As a fellow introvert your point about finding WBT exhausting resonates with me too!