Brain-Targeted Teaching

Science teaches in so many ways. Research informs. With the findings provided by neuroscience research, the question is how to apply these studies to improve learning. Dr. Mariale Hardiman, co-founder and director of the Johns Hopkins University School of Education's Neuro-Education Initiative, has been working over the past decade to connect brain research with effective teaching. Her model is called "Brain-Targeted Teaching:®  A Comprehensive Model for Classroom Instruction and School Reform", illustrated in the following figure:

Above figure downloaded from
To help explain the above six targets, several examples of lessons have been provided by Hardiman on the BrainTargetedTeaching website. One example is for first grade students, submitted by Alysson Eno, "Where We Are in Place and Time". 

Lesson: Different Landforms

Figure downloaded from Where We Are in Place and Time Presentation

The first brain target, emotional climate, requires helping the students establish ownership of the material that they are learning. This begins, however, with clear instructions or procedures. Students are given choices to develop a sense of ownership, but the choices are well-defined. Students are not finding their way in the dark. As seen in the background information provided by the above figure, there are various landforms and a student can choose from these for further exploration. This establishes ownership.

The second brain target, physical environment, deals with what a teacher must do to keep the lesson alive and interesting to the students. Watching a video or listening to music, which in some way is related to the lesson, helps. Eno does both with the following video:

The third target, learning design, ensures that students are aware of the "big idea" behind the lesson. It involves recognizing what the students already know after each day and constantly asking what students want to find out more. This part requires first of all that the teacher finds out where the students currently are. The following is an example of a drawing that a first grade student made, which helps inform the teacher of what the student currently knows regarding this lesson:

Figure downloaded from Where We Are in Place and Time Presentation
Each student also diligently writes down every new piece of information he or she has learned throughout the lesson.

The fourth target, teaching for mastery, requires exploration or deeper inquiry into the subject matter. In this particular lesson, students browse through the internet, looking for various landforms from various places around the world:

Figure downloaded from Where We Are in Place and Time Presentation
With GoogleMap, one can indeed browse through different places, with different pictures. Eno even found a song that matches this lesson from the web (
And there is a site that provides videos that are appropriate for this lesson:
The fifth target, application, allows students to extend what they have just learned. The learning activity suitable for this particular lesson is students creating models to represent what they have just learned. Children can easily make models of volcanoes, mountains, hills, desert and other landforms.

Figure downloaded from Where We Are in Place and Time Presentation
The last target, assessment, allows for students to see how much they have learned. This can happen by simply allowing each student to see each other's work, notes, models. One important note is that such evaluation must be done regularly and frequently. Feedback received after a substantial amount of time has passed is similar to reprimanding a toddler for something he or she has done several days ago. This delayed feedback does not help.

Thus, the question, does this strategy work? Peter J Bertucci of Johnson & Wales University did his dissertation on evaluating this teaching model. The following is the abstract of his thesis:

A mixed-method study of a brain-compatible education program of grades K--5 in a Mid-Atlantic inner-city public elementary/middle school


Interdisciplinary research advances have fostered theoretical conceptualizations of brain-compatible practice that promotes neurological changes. As unaligned practices are questioned, skeptics warn brain research is being misinterpreted. Valid brain and learning data are needed. The primary research question of this study was: How can best educational practices supported by neuroscientific research be separated from overstatement of educational applicability?A mixed method research design qualitatively prioritized an explanatory critical case study of the phenomenon, brain-compatible education. A single case type II design with embedded analytical units was employed (Yin, 2002). A brain-compatible program at a Mid-Atlantic inner-city elementary/middle school was studied. The embedded units were staff perceptions of the program and associated student outcomes. The theoretical proposition was the program was implemented to improve teaching and learning by taking advantage of how the brain learns. Data collection included document analysis, observation, interviewing, and surveying. The Stufflebeam program evaluation assessment model was used to evaluate the program (Madaus, Scriven, & Stufflebeam, 1983). Participating teachers were purposefully selected program practitioners from grades K-5. Five of those participants were randomly selected for observation. The principal, arts integration specialist, curriculum specialist, and observed teachers were interviewed and fifteen remaining program practitioners self-administered surveys. Qualitative data were analyzed utilizing content analysis, pattern matching, and thematic coding. The quantitative ex post facto component descriptively compared 2003 through 2005 grade 5 study site state assessments, advanced aggregate and subgroup performance, in reading and mathematics to a similar in-district school and the state respectively. No causal representations were offered.  The findings suggest innovation requires integrative research utility. Further, it was found that, combining charismatic leadership, voluntary staff participation, a shared vision, adequate resources, and community involvement fosters educational change. Moreover, brain-compatibility requires a positive emotional climate and interactive teaching to engage students and promote deeper learning. Positive state assessment trends were described in mathematics and reading. This research assists educators in refining practice through brain-compatible alignment, presents conditions for innovation, provides a case for multiple-analysis, and adds to the extant data base. Recommendations from this study propose brain-compatibility advocacy and enhanced educator training around research, the brain and learning, and cognition. Future research should investigate other variables within the program, additional in context brain-compatible programs, emotional learning climates, and early brain-compatible intervention.

Dr. Mariale Hardiman nicely summarizes Bertucci's findings through the following graphs:

Maryland School Assessment Scores for Advanced Level of Reading: Comparison of Aggregate Scores for State, Control School, and Study Site

Maryland School Assessment Scores for Advanced Level of Reading for Students Receiving Free and Reduced Meals: Scores for State, Control School, and Study Site