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Book review: The Art of Changing the Brain

Edam 736: Instructional Leadership and Learning Strategies


Fall 2014
Dr. Sam Crowell
Kathy Tiras
Book review
The Art Of Changing The Brain:
By James E. Zull

Book review: The Art of Changing the Brain

The author states that this book will include that learning is about biology and that
we know how the brain works but we do not know how to use this knowledge to teach.
That this book was written to help fill the gap between science and education and that
using the understanding of how the brain works will enrich what good teachers are
already doing. Learning begins in the brain and in the body. That learning is actually
about making a change in how the brain interprets and reflects on ideas by both the
teacher and the student. Learning is about life and we must first solve our own problems
of what we think learning is before we can actually help our students learn.
This book is divided into three sections: section one is the foundations of
learning, section two is how neuronal networks are formed and section three is how
teachers can learn to help knowledge attainment of their students by knowing how the
biology of the brain works to enhance how we guide students to learn.
Section One
The author uses the natural relationship of the brain structure and leaning
as describe by David Kolbs book experimental leaning. The brain is divided into
sections that use data received from either the outside of the body or other parts of the
brain in order to make sense of the world. Different parts of the brain function
differently, some using motor input and other sensory input. That the cortex of the brain
is responsible for our thinking and that the cortex coats our brain and is more for
protection. That the brain senses things in the environment, adds up what this means and
then creates a response. This response may be physical or mental. Physical response
may be running away from danger or mental response is figuring out a solution to a

Book review: The Art of Changing the Brain

problem. In chapter two and three in order for true learning to take place it is important
that all parts of the brain are being used .The learner needs to use all of the senses:
seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling etc. and reflections to truly understand concepts not
just memorize facts. New knowledge cannot be learned if there is no point of reference
to the learner. New knowledge is built on previous knowledge, we as learners be able to
understand new concepts in relationship to already know concepts.

It is very important

to the brain to gain knowledge from itself not just from others. The brain works from
front to back, it gathers information in the back of the cortex but it gets new ideas or
interpretations from the front of the cortex. The brain is looking toward the future and
away from the past. In order for students to actually learn their brains must be changed
from just receiving information to actually producing new information. This can only be
made possible by learning who the students are and what they care about. It is also very
important for the brain to survive by avoiding danger and being happy. This is
important in that the learning environment plays a difference in how information is
received and processed. A stressful environment in which the student feels is negative
will decrease learning due to chemicals that are release by the brain and a positive
environment helps the brain release chemicals that will increase learning.
Section Two
This section takes brain function and learning down to a more cellular level. It
talks about neuronal networks and how they must be change in order for learning to
occur. That the brain is not fixed after adulthood and that learning can occur at any age.
That these neuronal networks begin with prior knowledge we have learned previously.
This knowledge may be wrong but we cannot as teachers just change how the brain

Book review: The Art of Changing the Brain

works by saying something is wrong. We must help students learn how to change how
these neuronal networks work in order to actually produce learning. Those neuronal
pathways can be made to fire more often, less often or rarely. To change wrong ideas we
need to make new networks that fire more often and neuronal networks with the wrong
information become weaker or silent. This is not something that happens quickly but
over time. It is also important to teach students at their level and use example that they
are familiar with and not from the level of where the teacher is. It is important to
remember that everyone has had different experiences but to try and find an explanation
that is common to the majority of the students and then build on that experience. Need to
build abstraction upon a concrete experience.
Section Three
A teachers responsibility is to always put student learning first. That quickness
in remembering a subject does not necessarily equate with learning. Quickness is usually
just memorization and true learning takes time. It takes more of the brain to think then it
does to memorize. We must engage students in order for them to learn.
Critique of Book
The strengths of the book were that by showing how the brain works and
process information can help us understand how actual learning can take place. Is show
how the neuronal networks can grow and change throughout our lifetime? How past
experience change how we learn and what we learn. That we as teachers can guide
students on the journey of learning but that it is a journey that only they can truly
experience.

Book review: The Art of Changing the Brain

Weaknesses were some parts of the book were hard to grasp even though I
have a background in science. I do not agree that during a class period that notes can be
written in a students own words. This takes reflection and that takes time, time that is
not available for the student during a lecture it is hard enough to keep up with the lecture.