Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Brain Torque

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Brain Torque

Article excerpt

Many of the problems we're trying to solve in education can be addressed in a single but substantial effort. That effort applies whether the desire is to boost the rigor required in coursework or to move students from memorization to thinking.

For the sake of understanding the effort required, let's compare a student's mind to the engine of an automobile. We can then express different forms of brain activity in terms usually reserved for engines. This is useful because many education problems arise from confusing Brain RPM and Brain Torque.

We need less emphasis on Brain RPM and more focus on Brain Torque. High-quality rigor requires a great deal of Brain Torque. Low-quality rigor requires a great deal of time and repetition, which is Brain RPM.

Torque is not how many turns of a wheel an engine can produce, but how much force it can apply to turning that wheel. When a teacher increases homework from 10 math problems to 50 math problems, or increases a research paper assignment from three pages to 10 pages, or increases reading load from six books per year to eight books per year, those are increases in Brain RPM, not Brain Torque.

Some might see value in such "practice," but it is Brain Torque that allows students to succeed in college. Brain RPM is about increasing the speed at which repetitive acts can be accomplished. Brain Torque is about the brain doing heavy work, deep and complex thinking. Brain Torque enables adapting preexisting knowledge to new contexts.

The first step is the toughest: Educators must relinquish total control. Keep in mind, this is different from totally relinquishing control. Teachers spend too much of their time trying to control kids and outcomes. As Frank Smith once said, "The teachers who get 'burned out' are not the ones who are constantly learning, which can be exhilarating, but those who feel they must stay in control and ahead of the students at all times." Often, even grades are not about feedback, but instead are about controlling kids. …

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