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Building Brain Literacy in Elementary Students

Practice Makes Perfect

For many students, the brain isn't a hot topic of conversation. This is especially true for younger students who are still trying to understand the world around them, and are still far from developing physiological self-awareness of the very thing that gives them that self-awareness.

But helping students develop "brain literacy" doesn't have to be a matter of dry science pumped full of confusing jargon. Understanding the brain can be empowering for students as they recognize their ability to strengthen it each time they use it. As a teacher, you can emphasize how using the executive functions, both in the classroom and outside of school, increases their strength for academic success. Practice makes perfect!

To reduce anxiety about new "stuff" in the classroom -- whether related to Common Core State Standards, struggles with reading, or something else entirely -- you can find opportunities to emphasize students' ability to literally build the brains they want. Remind them that, when they turn in a story, demonstrate a science principle in a skit, or even raise their hand to respond to a question, they grow more dendrites and add new layers of myelin to their axons. To them this may sound gross, but it's actually good news. By activating these brain networks, they continuously use their executive functions as they apply new learning. Like a muscle, the brain responds to interaction and activity.

Much of this kind of thinking starts with an awareness of the brain itself, and how it functions.

Helping Students Understand Their Brains

One way to help students begin to understand their brains is by explaining specific types of executive functions -- or "brain actions."

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