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The Art of Changing the Brain: Enriching the Practice of Teaching by Exploring the Biology of Learning

4.16  ·  Rating Details ·  334 Ratings  ·  43 Reviews
Neuroscience tells us that the products of the mind -- thought, emotions, artistic creation -- are the result of the interactions of the biological brain with our senses and the physical world: in short, that thinking and learning are the products of a biological process.This realization, that learning actually alters the brain by changing the number and strength of synaps ...more
Hardcover, 263 pages
Published October 1st 2002 by Stylus Publishing (VA)
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Jun 26, 2014 Vera rated it liked it
My take-away points:

- Learning is physical: “Any change in knowledge must come from some change in neural networks” (page 92).
- Deep learning happens through the cycle of sensory experience, reflection, abstraction and action. Therefore, students need time to think about and test ideas that they are learning.
- Dwelling on students' mistakes reinforces useless neural networks.
- “To survive we must be in control, or believe that we are. Wanting survival means wanting control” (page 49). Teachers
Diana Suddreth
Mar 30, 2014 Diana Suddreth rated it really liked it
This is an easy to read layout of the brain every teacher should read. Our brains are wired to learn in certain ways and taking advantage of the knowledge of how the brain really processes information is something every teacher should know. Lectures where students watch or listen to teachers will not result in long term learning. Active engagement that connects new learning to old is the only way anyone really learns new things. As we lose dentrites over time, we make new connections, thus becom ...more
Feb 17, 2012 Melissa rated it really liked it
Definitely not a "fun" read, but really inspiring. This book made brain research accessible and applied it to teaching. Really made me question many of the common methods used in education, and I am excited to make some big changes in my classroom because of this book!
salma k
Jun 23, 2017 salma k rated it it was amazing
I suggest not only teachers but also students should read this book, because it’s very important to change and develop our teaching methods. Highly recommended!
Jun 13, 2011 Michael rated it really liked it
Dr. Zull's book on learning is an interesting one. Coming from a biological perspective, Zull focuses on reconciling teaching methodology to the biology of learning. Zull's view espouses a pedagogical approach adapted to what he terms the 'learning cycle,' which consists of four ongoing stages of learning: concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract hypotheses, and active testing. Each stage has a biological underpinning, for which Zull relates relevant studies in neuroscience, and is ...more
Judy Fishel
Sep 13, 2013 Judy Fishel rated it it was amazing
Shelves: teaching
"The Art of Changing the Brain" is a extrememly important book for those interested in teaching or learning. It begins with a fascinating comparison of brain activity and stages of learning - but if stuff about the brain isn't your thing, it is still an important book for all teachers and also very helpful for learners.

Zull begins by saying that "Teaching is the art of changing the brain." - namely the brains of your students. While this certainly should be true, a lot of professors have yet to
Wendy Samford
Feb 14, 2017 Wendy Samford rated it it was amazing
This is my favorite book about our brains. Zull is brilliant in taking a very large, hard to understand topic (the inner workings of our brains) and applying what we know to teaching children. It was a life changer when I read this book and I use it when I teach graduate classes on change.
Rebecca Reid
May 17, 2012 Rebecca Reid rated it it was amazing
The Art of Changing the Brain by James E. Zull (2002, Stylus Publishing) is subtitled “Enriching the Practice of Teaching by Exploring the Biology of the Brain” and I picked it up because of my new role as teacher to my homeschool aged son. As his primary teacher, I want insight and assistance in understanding how to teach. I was intrigued by Zull’s approach to teaching by examining how the brain works. Although The Art of Changing the Brain does get technical in places, in general, it is a fasc ...more
Paul Signorelli
James Zull takes readers deeply into the learner-centric world in this self-effacing and appealing approach to a highly technical subject, and he offers something for anyone interested in understanding how we learn. Those new to training-teaching-learning will find well written summaries of the elements of successful learning sprinkled throughout the book: knowing how to avoid overwhelming learners with too much information; understanding the importance of building on what learners already know; ...more
This book is like a basketball game. The pace picks up in the second half and things become a lot more interesting (for me, who reads six pages at at time, anyway.)

In a nutshell, the author, a college professor at Case Western in Ohio, writes clearly and convincingly the need to engage the heart and emotional centres in the brain for deep learning and thinking to occur. We learn through all five senses, we learn in flux, not when things are static, we learn when we are motivated.

The different c
Mar 02, 2009 Susan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Biology professor at Case Western took a sabbatical to study at the Harvard Mind, Brain, and Education Program and then wrote this for teachers across all education levels. As parents, a large part of what we do is teaching, so I'm trying to understand it better... Zull's approach is based on the ideas of David Kolb, in a book called Experiential Learning. Kolb describes learning as a four-phase cycle of experience, reflection, abstraction, and active testing. Zull connects discoveries in neuros ...more
Jul 29, 2008 Julie rated it it was ok
This is a book I am reading as an assignment for school. (Yes, teachers have summer reading, too!). I have to admit, I am kind of fighting my way through it. I think when I get to Part II, which will talk about how to teach more effectively knowing how the brain works and learns, I will get more into this book. Right now, he's still talking about HOW the brain works, which is not only a little over my head at times, but kind of hard emotionally since my husband died of brain cancer. But I'm plow ...more
May 06, 2016 Michelle rated it it was ok
I've been reading a lot of books about the cognitive science of learning. This was far from the best one. I found the neuroscience bits extremely hand-wavy and I didn't care too much for the writing style. On the plus side, a lot of the conclusions wind up being similar to other books on learning, which means it's not wrong, just stylistically not my thing. Instead of this, I recommend these books, which are practical and more readable by far:

* Make it stick: the science of successful learning /
Aug 23, 2009 Deb rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Start with where students are, use concrete examples and metaphors -- preferable ones that they construct -- and respect their own construction of knowledge, since that's how learning takes place. These suggestions aren't necessarily new -- I've heard them before -- but Zull ties them to recent research on the brain which provides an overall narrative of how learning physically takes place, which provides encouragement and a rationale for doing these practices. Very simply written, for a wide au ...more
Mar 20, 2008 Clara rated it it was ok
I am currently reading this book for school and I have to say that it is simply not that good. It's an interesting premise - how the brain changes with learning - but the author is too friendly with his readers and, quite frankly, over-simplifies his research and addresses his readers as if they are morons. I gave it two stars because of the topic, but he deserves 0 stars for his writing.

Update - I just realized that I never updated my review after I finished the book, but upon reading what I wr
Jan 25, 2010 Wayne rated it it was amazing
This book gives us so much more than the fact that the brain makes new neural connections when we learn. It is a great insight into understanding why different methods of teaching do or do not work based on the way our brain works. His use of stories are engaging as it brings a personal touch to his writing.
Beth Wheeler
Jun 01, 2013 Beth Wheeler rated it it was amazing
This is a great book for helping teachers understand what happens in the brain when human beings learn. I am rereading it (yep second read--it's that good) for a project, and even though this book is eight years old, it still offers superior insight into a subject that I knew little about prior to reading Zull's expert explication.
Oct 16, 2011 Kelly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: seattle, class, 2011
Zull does an excellent job making the biology of learning accessible to those without a strong science background. He explains how our brains are wired to learn, why teachers must teach to all parts of the learning cycle, and the role that emotion plays in motivation and learning. The book is well-written and full of great stories and ideas for classroom teachers. Highly recommended.
Mar 28, 2009 Charles rated it it was amazing
I discovered this book randomly at the Association of American Geographers conference exhibition in Las Vegas last week.

The author is a biologist at Case Western Reserve, and he talks about some of the basic neurobiological principles behind learning. He says that for those of us who teach, we can teach better by knowing something about how the brain works.
Jun 20, 2010 Anna rated it it was amazing
This book gives a whole to light to how we should think about learning. His down-to-earth approach certainly helps with understanding how the brain is important for learning. From personal experience, I have found these techniques to work. Applied correctly, it can certainly change a classroom for the better.
Apr 19, 2016 Pratyasha is currently reading it
The main message is that "learning is change". It is change in ourselves, because it is change in the brain. Thus the art of teaching must be the art of changing the brain. At least this much should be up front.
Paul Martin
Dec 04, 2012 Paul Martin rated it really liked it
Well worth reading if you are a teacher or student. We read it as part of our Faculty Development Program's book club. It led to lots of interesting discussion and plans to change some of the ways we teach.
Jun 24, 2008 brittan rated it did not like it
Shelves: nonfiction
As a person who knows where the temporal sulcus is located and why it's important, this book sucks. It's grossly oversimplified and delivers the take home message: "learning happens in the brain and the brain is physically changed when learning occurs". No kidding.
Dec 22, 2008 Elizabeth rated it liked it
A former professor recommended I read this book after a personal rant about how I was hard-wired for right-brained thinking. It was an interesting peek into the structural functions of the brain, how they differ amongst people and why.
Jan 15, 2011 Nicole rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great resource for anyone involved in education. I enjoyed Zull's use of examples from his own students and colleagues. A useful read that reminds us of what it means to learn at the biological level.
Aug 13, 2014 Joan rated it liked it
I find the book useful and supportive of what we are working on in our school. Yet, it's still ongoing research and it's worth revisiting.
Diana Pettis
Jan 06, 2016 Diana Pettis rated it really liked it
Loved this book. Highly recommend for teachers and parents
Jun 28, 2014 Rebecca rated it it was amazing
An informative book that provides evidence supportive of theories of experiential learning (Boud, Keough & Walker, Peter Heron).
Aug 03, 2009 Karen rated it really liked it
Very interesting- nothing that I didn't know but this book is making me take a closer look at how I teach and how to help students improve understanding.
Katie O'bryan
Jun 05, 2015 Katie O'bryan rated it it was amazing
This is the book that caused me to read all the other "Change the brain" books. This one is the real deal.
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