At the Learning and the Brain Conference in November, I had the opportunity to attend a session on RAD teaching by Judy Willis. Willis, a neuroscientist and middle school math teacher, presented a very interesting model for engaging students' minds.
The R in RAD stands for Reticular Activating System (RAS). This is the fight-or-flight part of the brain. Thus, we need to create a non-threatening climate in our classrooms with low stress. We can then create activities that capture the attention of the RAS through novelty, physical activity, stimulation, attentive focus, color, surprise, etc.
The A stands for Amygdala. This is a part of the brain that acts as a switch to send information to the reactive brain (if stressed) or the reflective brain. Children's emotional states determine which path information will take. Happiness stimulates the reflective brain, so we need to make sure that our students are happy and relaxed.
The D stands for Dopamine. This is a chemical neurotransmitter that, when high, bathes the brain, meaning that it's carrying information all over the place. Dopamine is a feel-good chemical, so it is high when we are happy and engaged.
The overall message here was that, in order for students to learn, they must be engaged in a relaxed and enjoyable way. This is a very important message for me to understand as a teacher. Dr. Willis noted that fear of failure and boredom are two of the main reasons why students don't learn in the average classroom. This model shows us that we must use a variety of teaching strategies to engage students and provide an environment that is safe and supportive for our students. While good teachers already know these things, Dr. Willis' work provides the science to support the knowledge.
To help my students become more engaged and excited about what I am teaching, I need to figure out ways to incorporate RAD teaching strategies into my lessons. I need to use things like images, color, prediction, surprise, etc. Perhaps I could pick one or two lessons this semester and explore ways to use RAD teaching in those lessons. Then I could do the same thing next semester and the semester after until all of my lessons utilize these methods. I also plan to read Dr. Willis' new book to explore this model further to make sure I fully understand it.