BLOG from

At the Learning and the Brain Conference in November, I had the opportunity to attend a session on RAD teaching by Judy Willis. Willis, a neuroscientist and middle school math teacher, presented a very interesting model for engaging students' minds.

The R in RAD stands for Reticular Activating System (RAS). This is the fight-or-flight part of the brain. Thus, we need to create a non-threatening climate in our classrooms with low stress. We can then create activities that capture the attention of the RAS through novelty, physical activity, stimulation, attentive focus, color, surprise, etc.

The A stands for Amygdala. This is a part of the brain that acts as a switch to send information to the reactive brain (if stressed) or the reflective brain. Children's emotional states determine which path information will take. Happiness stimulates the reflective brain, so we need to make sure that our students are happy and relaxed.

The D stands for Dopamine. This is a chemical neurotransmitter that, when high, bathes the brain, meaning that it's carrying information all over the place. Dopamine is a feel-good chemical, so it is high when we are happy and engaged.

So What?

The overall message here was that, in order for students to learn, they must be engaged in a relaxed and enjoyable way. This is a very important message for me to understand as a teacher. Dr. Willis noted that fear of failure and boredom are two of the main reasons why students don't learn in the average classroom. This model shows us that we must use a variety of teaching strategies to engage students and provide an environment that is safe and supportive for our students. While good teachers already know these things, Dr. Willis' work provides the science to support the knowledge.
Now What?
To help my students become more engaged and excited about what I am teaching, I need to figure out ways to incorporate RAD teaching strategies into my lessons. I need to use things like images, color, prediction, surprise, etc. Perhaps I could pick one or two lessons this semester and explore ways to use RAD teaching in those lessons. Then I could do the same thing next semester and the semester after until all of my lessons utilize these methods. I also plan to read Dr. Willis' new book to explore this model further to make sure I fully understand it.

Thursday, December 11, 2008
Posted by Jennifer (Heckaman) Jenkins at 12:45 PM
RAD Judy Willis

Judy Willis has discovered the most radical way to teach children--by using her RAD model. RAD stands for Reticular Activating System; Amygdala; and Dopamine. By activating these three components, we can improve student learning and long term understanding radically. The Reticular Activating System is located at the brain stem and could be considered the filter of the millions of sensory input we receive every day. In order to get through the filter, the student must be paying attention. Without the attention, it doesn't get through or the student implements an automatic response. The next step for sensory input is the limbic system and the amygdala. This is where emotions thrive. You would think emotions shouldn't have to be considered when teaching a lesson, but the level of stress when learning is vital. The less stress a student feels, the more they are able to explore the material. The last component to learning is dopamine. Dopamine is released when a student is pleased by the lesson or material being presented--they have to enjoy it. Dopamine is a neuro-transmitter and assists brain cells carry information from one to the next. The more dopamine that is released, the farther into long-term memory the information goes. One example of RAD teaching is allowing students to make predictions. By making predictions, there is no right or answer, so the stress level goes down. It can be enjoyable for students to come up with events and activities, so more dopamine is released. And if we have their attention, the material taught will be remembered for a long time.


The goal of most, if not all, teachers is to have their students remember more than their name. By giving them the opportunity to achieve this long-term memory, we achieve our goal. RAD allows us to do this. And the steps are spelled out easily enough.


One of my favorite ways to teach is role-playing, which is also low stress and can be enjoyable. RAD teaching does not seem like it will be difficult for me, since I like to have enjoyable activities. However, I need to make sure that I consciously decide to have low stress activities as often as possible. I don't think it's feasible to have a RAD lesson every day. But I can try a RAD unit once a year and just build my repetoir of RAD activities.
Posted by Jennifer (Heckaman) Jenkins at 12:45 PM

Judy Willis Extra Credit
Judy Willis is a certified neurologist and a teacher at a middle school. She has come up with a teaching strategy that engages the heart and mind and helps all students to work at their highest potential. This teaching stragety is called RAD teaching.
R-Reticular activating system
So What?
RAD teaching engages the heart and mind and helps all students to work at their highest pontential. With the Reticular activating system located in the brainstem. You can control the students focus in the clasroom and what information goes through the RAS. If a child is stressed the amygdala shuts the brain down. As a result of this no information makes it to the memory. With low stress activities the amygdala can help the brain to focus. When you can incoperate plearerable learing experiences into lessons, dopamine is released and increases attention and memory.
Now What?
With Judy Willis's RAD teaching strategy we as teachers can help children to work at their highest level of potential. RAD teaching also helps students to learn in a different way and grasp concepts in a different way. Judy Willis also helps teachers and parents to undersand how children in the classroom and parent's children learn best. This will help teachers and parents to better understand their children and help them to again work at thier highest level of potential.


monday, november 10, 2008
E.C. Judy Willis

In class this week I was able to learn more about Judy Willis and her RAD strategy. I read her article posted in a weekly school newspaper. Her theories and concepts of the brain are extremly deep and complicated. The part of the article that I liked most was how to use her theories in the classroom. Honestly I am never going to full understand the brain because I would rather be reading books about History. Anyway her theory was that the brain has functions that when activated and a certain hormone released called dopamine then the students will remember the concept better. She stated a number of different ways to create this RAD brain excitement, she included. Perdictions, excitment, and emotion. We learned in our class this week to relate the concept to something so you will remember it better. I related this concept to the digitial stories that I made in my technology class. We played off on the students emotions to get them thinking about a certain concept. The harder the concept hits home and releases this chemical in the brain, the more the student will remember the concept.
The other aspect of RAD I really liked way what Judy talked about with Excitement. Its funny when you think back to your Elementary schools and you remember the Halloween parties, the assemblies or the lessons that had somethignn unique, different and exciting in them. I remember the song where I learned all 50 states, because it was exciting and we were all jumping around.

Extra Credit Write Up: Judy Willis

Judy Willis is a received her PhD in neuroscience (sic: MD in Neruology) from UCLA and after practicing with adults for 15 years went back to school to get her teaching credential as well as a masters in education. She has taught at the elementary, middle school and high school level, but is now currently teaching at the middle school level. She has written very impactful books for parents on how to help children learn better, as well as educate parents on what their students learning style might be and how to use that for their benefit. She gives numerous amounts of conferences to help other teachers around the world understand their students better, and become more productive teachers. She believes that there all children have a specific way that they learn the best, and that by teaching them new information in that way they will be more likely to take interest in it as well as remember the information given to them. According to Dr. Willis there are two main types of learners visual-spatial-kinesthetic and auditory sequential.
To decide what type of learner you have there is a simple idea that she gives that is to just observe your student or child and see which ways they prefer to learn. What activities do they enjoy doing? What lessons do the get the most out of? The example she gave was if you take a child to the zoo does the child just run straight for the cage of their favorite animal, if so they are a visual-spatial-kinesthetic learner. Or does your child want to start at the beginning and work their way around, if so than they are a auditory-sequential learner. Once you get home from the zoo does your child line all of their toys up as if creating a zoo, if so than they are visual-spatial-kinesthetic learner. If they come home from the zoo and want to create a map of the lay of of the zoo then they are a auditory-spatial learner.

After deciding what type of learner you have it then becomes your responsibility to understand what that means as far as the teaching style that will reach them the most. For visual-spatial-kinesthetic learners their strengths often lye in dealing with things hands on. They often have good fine and gross motor skills, and would handle recreating things in their head. They often excel at puzzles and putting objects that have been broken back together. Challenges for these types of learners comes when they are not being actively engaged in their learning. They often struggle with directions or long lectures. The will most likely have a difficult time prioritizing their time or writing down all of the steps when their brain has already completed the problem. Some ways to help teach these students is to allow them to teach themselves so things, don't just give them all of the answers. Also, help the student relate what they are learning to their real life. Analogies are a great way to show relationship between what they are learning and something that is important to them. Using a lot of diagrams, pictures, and graphs is a great way for this type of learner to create a visual image of something to keep them engaged and make it important to them.

On the flip side is the auditory-sequential learner. According to Dr. Willis, the strengths of these learners is their ability to recognize or develop patterns, and find logic. The are usually more than proficient in storing things in their memory through auditory stimulation, evaluating and making connections with new information, and are more capable of learning vocabulary and a foreign language. These students weaknesses however are understanding ideas without verbal direction, understanding the big idea without first knowing all of the little steps building up to it, and memorizing facts without first understanding connecting ideas. The ways that were given to help these learners was to first clearly state rules or directions for self teaching activities, this will help the students to be able to learn on their own without feeling lost. Using deduction and or categorizing of big ideas to help them break something over whelming to them down into bites they can handle. Another strong idea is to teach through song, this help them students make auditory connections to new information.
So What?
Dr. Judy Willis' ideas are extremely important to not only the parents that she tends to write her books towards, but also to her colleges. The research that she has conducted is very important to all educators at any grade level, because not all of our students learn in the same manner. This method of identify the student first and then using their strengths to help them learn to the best of their ability could revolutionize the way America teaches. The main reason this book is written is to help all students succeed not just in areas that they happen to achieve more highly in butter in all areas of learning. If you could use the strategies given in this book you could have a visual-sequential learner who thinks they are no good at math find themselves at the top of the class. A visual-spatial-kinesthetic learner who always hated expressive writing could suddenly find it as a great way to express themselves in a healthy manner. This study and research that Dr. Willis has done is important on so many levels that it is hard to limit it to just on field.

Now What?
After reading the summary of Dr. Judy Willis' work I am completely intrigued. I think that it is so important for me as a future educator to realize now how different all of my students will be, and learn as much now as I can on ways to better reach them. Right now I can start trying to identify different learning types in the classrooms I observe, as well as take note of the teaching styles that help reach them the best. two ideas that were really interesting to me were making analogies and using music. I think that both types of learners would benefit from both methods, and if I start now developing different analogies or rhymes for ideas that i know are particularly difficult I will be a step ahead of the game. I think that preparing for teaching is one of the hardest things because every year it will change and you will never know 100% of what you are getting yourself into until you are in it. With that said I do know for sure that I will have a variety of different learners with a variation of styles, so learning as much as I can about that will help me for years to come.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Judy Willis originally studied medicine and went into neurology. She practiced neurology for fifteen years and then returned to school to get a Masters of Education. She has taught elementary school, middle school, and graduate schools. Her background in neurology has influenced her teaching practices and how she does things in the classroom. She has come up with different classroom strategies based one her brain research. This woman's research and different classroom strategies can be very helpful to teachers out in the field because she has many years of experience with the brain and combining that knowledge with teaching. Now that I know about this women it would be helpful to read her research and see what she has found to be helpful in the classroom.
Posted by Stephanie Hintze-ED PSYCH at 7:05 PM


Dr. Judy Willis is a neurologist and a middle school teacher in California. She put her experience into helping her create the R.A.D. method. She came up with this method that basically says you have three things you need to activate for student learning. They are Reticular Activating System, Amygdala, and Dopamine. Through stimulated learning students will retain more information and will be greatly benefited. You have to get through the R.A.D. in order to get this type of learning, but one you get through the reticular activating system and amygdala, the dopamine will kick in and give a pleasurable learning experience. You can do this in a number of ways such as, playing certain music, engaging the students, certain smells, having a variety, and asking questions. If you get into a child's mind and get them interested, you will have better luck teaching and they will be able to retain the information a lot better.

So What?
The R.A.D. method is a great thing to include in your teaching because it engages the student and creates a healthy learning environment. You get past their mind block and you get them active. It is a great way to teach students decision making, inference, predictions, and critical thinking. It gets them outside the box and opens them up to learning.

Now What?
I am going to remember this method and keep it for future reference. I feel that it is a great way for students to get involved and actually see the meaning in their education. I also think that they will get a lot more out of a lesson than just the basic information. It teaches them skills they will use in the 'real world'. Children will have a fun time learning this method.

tuesday, october 21, 2008
Judy Willis
When Judy Willis first went to college she received her medical degree in neurology. She practiced this for fifteen years and then decided she wanted to become an school teacher. She then then went back to college and received her teaching and masters degrees. She now teaches middle school in Santa Barbara, California. She uses the things she learned about the brain to know how the students learn. She has written many books about students brains and one especially for parents. I think it is important for us as teachers to know how the brain works and develops with age. We might not need to become doctors, but to have a general understanding can really help us to know what to teach at what ages, and how the students might be thinking. I have always found this aspect of psychology particularly interesting. I love knowing what's going on behind the scenes. When I become a teacher, I plan on continuing my learning of the mind so that my teaching will be most successful.

When the fun stops, learning often stops too
Judy Willis wrote an article on “The Neuroscience of Joyful Education” that begins with this quote:
Brain research tells us that when the fun stops, learning often stops too.
This should be posted in every classroom. She goes on to say that “A common theme in brain research is that superior cognitive inpiut to the executive function networks is more likely when stress is low and learning experiences are relevant to students.” Now I have to ask how stress free are our classrooms in which count downs to testing and focus on testing is the top priority - the end all, be all? Judy Willis points out that classrooms need to promote novelty, eliminate stress, and build pleasurable associations linked with learning. She says plan for the ideal emotional atmosphere by making it relevant, giving them a break, creating positive associations, and guiding students to learn how to prioritize information, and allow independent discovery learning.
All this got me thinking about joy in the classroom and how much joy I have seen blogging in the classroom with kids. I’m thinking in particular of the J. H. House kids as I have spent most of my time blogging with them. My next post is going to feature one of my favorite bloggers who has put a lot of joy in a few classrooms over the past few days.
This entry was posted on Friday, March 21st, 2008 at 10:03 am and is filed under About Weblogs, Learning. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

12 Responses to “When the fun stops, learning often stops too”

Mark Monaghan Says:
March 23rd, 2008 at 3:30 pm
eLearning certain allows us access to introduce novelty in our classroom more. Our brains actively seek out novelty. If you think about it what do we remember from the same mundane processes but what happens when we do something different we remember it!
However, novelty needs to be carefully planned. The challenge is to make novelty structured and managed so that it does not turn into a circus of choas. This can be seen from many NQTs I have seen over the year who are great and have so many great ideas but sometimes the execution is not very well thought out.

evslink Says:
March 23rd, 2008 at 8:46 pm
We are always learning as we encounter new things in our everyday lives. Be it a new word that we hear from a person we came across, or a formula we had to learn for school works. But I think if we had fun when we had that “new learning”, I mean when we found it interesting and fun, our brain tend to remember it more. So somehow I agree with the phrase that was stated above –”Brain research tells us that when the fun stops, learning often stops too”.
And as for children, I do believe they should be educated in a way where they won’t find learning stressful and boring. Their young minds are just thinking of playing and fun, so educators should incorporate education with what children have in their minds for effective learning.
^_^ Thank you for giving the link for “The Neuroscience of Joyful Education”.

Pam Hansen Says:
March 24th, 2008 at 11:21 pm
Personally, I learn better when there is fun and humor involved so this must be especially true of our students. I have thought for years that “Time-Life” should write all the textbooks and we should use the History and Discovery channels for inspiration as to make our lessons more lively and show some of the experiments and activities that we can’t do in the classroom. Since we also have to teach our students that everyday life is not always stress free and fun which mandates some routine lecturing etc., if we seek to interject fun and creativity into each grouping of lessons then we may find that learning increases at a rate that will be noticeable on our “testing” and prove that creative teaching is better than rote learning at meeting national standards.
Melanie Griswold Says:

March 25th, 2008 at 5:57 pm
Dear Anne, As a current Teacher Education student, this quote from Judy Willis is very aspiring. It is a goal of mine to relate my course content to the daily lives of my students so that they can create use of the information presented to them. Of course people like to know that what they are learning can be useful in their lives but it is also important for a teacher to remember that relating content to someone’s life is a way to increase a person’s attention and comprehension of the material as well. This quote from Judy Willis also inspired my brainstorming as to what other methods of assessment I could use in a classroom that would allow all of my students the opportunity to demonstrate their capabilities regarding their different learning strategies. This has started me thinking as to what kinds of projects and activities that I could integrate along with exams into my curriculum to do this. I am printing this quote to place into my resource file and hope that throughout my next few years as a Teacher Ed student and as a beginning teacher, that I will keep this in the back of my mind and plan my lessons with consideration for this idea.
Sincerely, Melanie Griswold
Shannon Griffin Says:

March 27th, 2008 at 8:21 pm
I have attended conferences on Brain Based Research. I have found that the strategies used with this research definitely makes a difference in my classroom. Especially, when using them combined with Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence strategies.

Lance Williams Says:
March 30th, 2008 at 6:20 pm
This is a very big and interesting topic to blog about. As a student myself I have found that over the years I have become less and less engaged in learning and the entire school thing. Nothing throughout my grade school/high school career made learning fun and interesting to me and all I saw it as was a teachers opportunity to make or break a kids spirits with exams. Now that I am in college I can tell that I am not interested in learning because of the pressures that come after that with exams. As a teacher I will hopefully be able to show my students a good time and make learning a fun thing. Different teaching styles and projects can be a starting point.

Anne Camilotes Says:
March 31st, 2008 at 7:15 pm
Researchers are just starting to figure this out now?!?! As a student I feel that this topic has always been around and that it is interesting to reflect on my own academic career and see how closely related the relationship is between fun and learning. As the article, “The Neuroscience of Joyful Education”, stated kids look forward to entering kindergarten and first grade. Most students 3rd grade and up wish to be back in kindergarten and first grade. Why? Because that was when school was the most fun, or teachers made an effort to make school fun. No wonder drop out rates are higher in high school then they are in kindergarten! You rarely here of a kindergarten student saying they don’t want to go back to school, they actually enjoy it. But once a student gets older I feel some educators (especially in middle and high school) associate “fun” with chaos or immaturity. They are too busy trying to prepare students for the “real world” they lose sight of trying to inspire students by incorporating new ways of learning. As a future English teacher, I feel that I have my work cut out for me in trying to keep English fun. Most students find most of their English classes boring. For a starting point, to stimulate students, I could even add a variety to a monotonous schedule. I could try to do just more then have students read and then discuss the next day in class. I can try incorporating such things as blogging. Students could blog about what they read and then I can have them comment on others students blogs. This ensures me that they are doing their daily reading and it also opens the doors to have the students help each other. I believe little steps like this can still make a big difference in the everyday monotonous world students go through.

Robert Hoewing Says:
April 16th, 2008 at 11:40 pm
As a middle school teacher, I continually observe the principle that when the fun of learning stops, then learning stops. In today’s social culture, our students are often fully engaged in learning only when the classroom environment reflects in some way an aspect of their out of school experiences to which they can relate. One way to retain some of that enthusiasm is to include aspects of that familiar environment such as blogging and computer games within the structure of the educational experience. When these familiar activities become part of the learning experience, students retain that experience of the joy of learning.

elena Says:
June 11th, 2008 at 1:09 pm
It seems like such a simple concept, but it is something that is often ignored in classrooms that work to “teach to the test.” If students can have fun in your classroom while learning, they are apt to dismiss their prior notions that all learning must be dry and boring. For learning to take place, instruction must be relevant and engaging. Teachers must change their lessons as the years pass and their students change. What worked for students in the past might not work now, and it is the teacher’s responsibility to adapt to the changes that occur. If the classroom is not interesting, engaging, and fun, students will dread every minute they spend there. This is something that I will undoubtedly keep in mind as I begin my first year of teaching in September. I am going to print this quote and hang it somewhere inside my classroom as a daily reminder to make learning fun!

Mary Kay Morrison Says:
July 31st, 2008 at 7:37 pm
Thank you for an awesome quote! My book, “Using Humor to Maximize Learning, the Links between Positive Emotions and Education” was published in January 2008. It reinforces the concepts of joyful education found in the article by Judy Willis. Please feel free to check out my web site with numerous links to articles and research on this topic at

Dr. Judy Willis Says:
September 10th, 2008 at 10:46 pm
Greetings From Judy Willis, I was sent this connection by a friend and what FUN it was for me to see the ripples go out from Sara and you other responders. What you are doing is so important and so vital in the current state of education. It is exciting to me that the United Arab Emirates (Dubai, Abu Dabi) has requested ASCD to translate my first book into Arabic and invited me to build a team with the help of ASCD to train all of the country’s K-12 teachers in my strategies to teach neuro-LOGICALLY by lowering stress and increasing joy, engagement, and motivation. Such a simple concept, but it helps that as a neurologist and a classroom teacher I can report on the brain scan studies that connect the science with the art of teaching. Now if only the United States would be as enlightened as the UAE we’d sure have some happy and successful teachers and students. I invite you to visit my website for free links to many of my other articles and free chapter downloads, courtesy of the publisher, ASCD, of my 3 books for educators. Thank you for what you do! Judy Judy Willis, M.D., M.Ed.

Lerrin Currie Says:
October 15th, 2008 at 4:34 pm
I agree very much with this phrase, and also feel that it ties together with the “power of enthusiasm, as it can also be helpful for a teacher to show when they are wanting to promote a fun and inviting atmosphere for their students. By having these two things present, the process of learning seems to go a lot smoother as one can really tell that the students want to be there. I myself would say that if I am enrolled in a class that is no fun, and the teacher is not thrilled about what they are doing, my train of thought usually is headed somewhere else. It is easier to pay attention when the information is being presented in a different and interesting way, and better yet when the teacher is really knowledgeable and passionate about the topic being taught.