Three years ago, I attended an inservice session on quantum
learning presented by John Parks Le Tellier, the author of
Quantum Learning and Instructional Leadership in Practice.
Le Tellier’s book details the inner workings of the brain,
its synapses, the cycles of brain activity and periods of
dormancy, the way information is coded into long- and
short-term memory, and other aspects of the brain and its
His research helped me better appreciate that students
do learn differently. And as educators, we must learn and
apply the techniques that will lead each student toward
Le Tellier describes an instruction model that includes
four essential elements for motivating students to learn
and ensuring that what they learn is encoded in long-term
memory. This model involves the teacher’s ability to engage,
chunk, diversify, and reinforce.
To engage students, according to Le Tellier, is to capture and
hold their attention. The key elements of this strategy are:
Knowing the Why: Help students maintain their focus
and increase their motivation by helping them understand
the purpose and advantages of learning the content.
“Because it is on the state test” is not a suitable reason.
Teaching with Enthusiasm: Pay attention to your verbal
and nonverbal expressions. Students are more likely to learn
from educators who are excited about their topic.
Using Example and Actual Experience: Bring the
learning to life by using visual aids. Tilt a table to teach
about slope, for example, and let the students actually climb
the table, learning by experience how the change in height
affects their ability to climb.
Keeping Engagement Alive: Ask students to share an
experience related to the content. Going back to slope, students love to tell stories about sledding accidents and
cars stuck in muddy ravines. These discussions allow the
students to make a connection beyond the classroom.
Teaching the Mundane: Be creative. Le Tellier recalls an
English teacher who brought a large cardboard box into the
classroom to teach about prepositions. The teacher climbed
into the box, crawled under the box, sat beside the box, and
positioned himself near the box and helped the students
To chunk information is to break the content into smaller
segments. Chunking information allows students to digest
the information without becoming overwhelmed and
Why teach Pythagoras’s Theorem, the 45-45-90 rule,
and the 30-60-90 rule in the same day? Students should
first learn Pythagoras’s Theorem by talking about it,
taking some actual measurements around the school,
familiarizing themselves with the computations involved,
and then practicing during “Homefun,” not “Homework.”
After students understand this concept, you can segue to a
deeper level of instruction.
To diversify is to understand that the hemispheres of the brain
work independently. An effective lesson incorporates visual
stimulation, auditory stimulation, and kinesthetic activity, which
LeTellier refers to as VAK teaching. Students who are visual learners will not excel in classrooms where instruction is based
solely on lecture; they will fair better with colorful PowerPoints
and colorful graphs rather than an overhead projector and the
ever-present black marker. Students who learn by doing will
thrive when engaged in an activity that sends them outside the
classroom on a content-related scavenger hunt.
To reinforce is to emphasize a segment of learning until it
is encoded in long-term memory. The Quantum Learning
for Teachers programs suggest the 10–24–7 approach. A
teacher introduces a concept, restates it within 10 minutes,
re-teaches it 24 hours later, and reviews it seven days later.
For example, a teacher introduces the formula for
determining the area of a triangle. She asks the students
to draw triangles of different shapes and sizes and then
guess each triangle’s area. She restates the formula and
asks students to find each triangle’s true area. The next day,
the students enter the room to find a large paper triangle
suspended from the ceiling. A repeat of yesterday’s activity
utilizes the first 10 minutes of the lesson as students predict
and then solve for the triangle’s area.
The following week, the teacher cuts a parallelogram in
half, revealing two triangles. After she reviews the formula
for finding the area of each triangle, she demonstrates how
to determine the area of a parallelogram.
Le Tellier offers 20 effective reinforcement activities that
incorporate these kinds of strategies. Here is a brief synopsis
of my favorites:
Partner Recaps: Students quickly recap the topics with a
partner or within their assigned groups.
Random Recaps: A student is randomly selected to
summarize an essential idea for the entire class.
Fast Forward: This is recapping on steroids. The students
must recap the information as quickly as possible.
Turn to Your Neighbor: Students quickly turn to their
neighbor and repeat what the teacher just said.
See-Say-Do Reviews: For example, students study a
chart or a diagram that has a strong graphic component
and state what the graphic communicates. Then they point
to and explain the key elements of the graphic.
Circuit Learning: This is similar to the educational
concept of spiraling, where new topics are added only after
the former ones are re-taught. Chunking these into smaller
units increases the likelihood of long-term memory storage.
Content Map Reviews: Students evaluate and add
flourish or other ideas to a partner’s content map. This peer
review activity offers the students an opportunity to play
the role of evaluator.
Students learn better in a classroom that is fresh and
engaging. A little more effort in planning may provide the
necessary boost to revive a dying lesson.
Joel E. Rowlett is assistant principal at Rock Springs Middle School in Smyrna, Tennessee. E-mail: Rowlettj@rcschools.net