Education on the Edge of Possibility - Caine and Caine (1997)

PMI response

Every minute I spend reading these books by Caine and Caine (1997) about brain based teaching and learning is completely well worth the time. Never before have I been able to justify or explain my theory of learning in such terms as brain based. I never totally felt I was a whole language teacher, although I believe in the theory behind whole language. I didn’t fall into the explicit teaching camp either, although I believe that explicit teaching is valuable as well. I "bought into" the Multiple Intelligences theory, however I don’t outrightly teach everything using Multiple Intelligences. I simply believe that every child should have the right to learn in ways that best suit them, that builds their self esteem and teaches them how to learn so that they can access the information and knowledge that the world provides and want to do so throughout their life. I want my students to get hooked onto learning. Fortunately, I think this is the objective that Caine and Caine (1997) hold to as well.

Chapter 12 generally falls into line with my feeling towards my teaching:

"At the other end of the continuum is the type of teaching we had envisioned as brain based. . . . more fluid and open. . . included elements of self-organizational . . . gathered individually or as a unit around critical ideas, meaningful questions and purposeful projects. Instructional Approach 3 is much more learner centred because genuine student interest is at its core. . . . experiences that approach the complexity of real life. . . often felt to be suspect and nontraditional by others. . . students as active meaning makers who are trying to make sense of their world." p 219

Their discussion about whole language and phonics echoes debates I have had with other staff members (p. 237).

Caine and Caine (1997) categorises teachers according to their perception orientation and instructional approaches; I could easily identify with the teachers they described. In fact, I found myself laughing out loud over the close resemblances that Caine and Caine (1997) make to those teachers I deal with (p.235). Unfortunately, I have had what the authors called "clash(es) of perception orientation and instructional approaches" with other teachers over the years. I was enlightened to realise what was actually at the core of the problem; sometimes I take these debates as a personal attack whereas I guess it’s more of a problem in communicating and respecting each other’s mental models. Their definition of dialogue identified one element that seems to be missing from much of the discussion found in our meetings with staff.

I found that Caine and Caine (1997) were very open and honest with respect to the frustration and modifications that were needed when implementing their theory. I found their own self-reflection of their work to be quite valuable and strikes reality.

Much of what Caine and Caine (1997) believe to be brain-based teaching and learning supports my own approach to teaching. In fact I felt justified by reading their books and it gave me a license to try new things in my own classroom despite what the norm is for my school and despite what other teachers think I am trying to accomplish.

Caine and Caine (1997) value teachers as learners. I really believe that we have to become learners ourselves and keep our learning skills tuned. My students all know that I am taking a course and they see the importance of continuing to learn even after graduation. They can see a role model who is taking responsibility for her learning. Caine and Caine (1997) go as far as to say that all people in the school (including the custodian) can model learning by participating in process groups. This echoes much reading I have done about the learning community and the value of learning beyond the field of education. Caine and Caine (1997) opens up the creativity of teaching for me; I feel that I am no longer forced to teach in the same way as I was taught to years ago. I wished that I was introduced to this way of thinking in teachers’ college.

Caine and Caine (1997) describes this learning process not as training but as transformation. Their terms and definitions are very clear and their use of metaphor and examples provided help readers to identify the relativity with their own schools. Dry Creek and Park View schools, although different, appear in parts in my own school as well. I found that Caine and Caine (1997) wrote the book very openly, almost like what I would expect an "I-Search" paper would be like. I felt I needed to share many parts of this books with my husband and I am encouraging my principal to read Making Connections as well.

I want to expand my teaching to more global themes (Instructional Approach 3). I am already encouraging my students to make many connections to the information discussed and I am teaching using themes and Multiple Intelligences but I think I can do more to integrate subjects beyond my class in English at the secondary level. I think that this will be a challenge because it involves getting other teachers thinking on a similar line but I know that it will be worth it for the student learning. I would like to shift more of the control of learning from the teacher to the student. I liked Caine and Caine’s (1997) statement: "Brain based teachers use anything and everything to help a child learn." (p. 238). I think we can do more to help students see the orderliness or patterns between the subject areas. I would like to explore more of how to facilitate the layers of experiences. Teachers are very encouraged to use northern and Inuit themes in our teaching. I try to make my themes relate very closely to what the teens are being faced with outside of the school and within their culture.

I was interested in the connection made between Instructional Approach and discipline. I have had very little discipline problems over the last two years since I have starting using more learning theory ideas and concepts in my teaching. I remember when I first started teaching, I was mainly a Perception Orientation 1 teacher and I had many behavioural problems. I think I was trying to control the learning far too much instead of giving up the responsibility to the students. I see this in other teachers as well. Perhaps, there are changes that happen just through experience. I liked their diagram on page 225 which showed the comparison of perceptual orientations and instructional approaches; I believe that with experience and learning I have almost transformed into perceptual orientation 3 teacher. A lot has to do with self reflection and active processing of my own teaching and learning.

I liked that Caine and Caine (1997) initially wanted to transform teacher thought and that teachers could go and experiment with their new understandings in their classrooms. I know that I am doing just that. I am glad that I have been given license to do this "playing around" with brain based learning. I am not worried about this being negative for the students because I have already had so many "a-ha" moments even now. I feel that it can only get better. Hopefully, I will continue to have support from my principal to try these new ideas. Caine and Caine (1997) discuss how important this need is for teachers to counter the downshifting and stress involved.


Unfortunately, Caine and Caine’s (1997) implementation of Brain Based teaching with the two school was still ongoing when this book was published. Although they describe the levelling off effect that occurred within the schools and the factors that were involved, they might not fully convince a skeptical reader that the process is valid.

Caine and Caine (1997) seemed to run into many problems in this process and they did not fully discuss why some teachers wanted not to participate. I have trouble understanding why some teachers refuse to learn new things; perhaps knowing these factors what might help me better visualise the problems. Caine and Caine (1997) do not discuss how one might go about approaching these teachers; they simply left those teachers out. When we have such a small staff (15), one negative teacher can really influence others and the whole process and the process groups falls apart.

We also have a very high turnover with many new-to-the-north and first year teachers. Caine and Caine (1997) do not mention what might happen if they lost large numbers of teachers year by year. Even the transfer of the principal affected their work and they had to refocus.

I wonder. . . if it as hard as Caine and Caine (1997) describe to restructure these school, when you have these two highly influential people involved, how difficult will it be to restructure a school like mine which is very isolated and different than the norm? How can the external factors like the post secondary institutions, parents, business companies etc become believers of the value of brain-based learning? Why was brain based learning not taught and used to transform teachers in my teacher’s college? Are teacher colleges changing their philosophies? How easy is using the Brain based theory of learning in other subject areas? (The author described mainly language arts learning activities and activities in the elementary domain.) How important is it to have process groups? Can just a couple of teachers who are committed make valuable changes? What can I do now?

Caine and Caine (1997) have a great deal to teach us. I hope that all teachers take some serious thought to what they have to say. Their book was a reaffirmation of many personal ideas and thoughts that I have for me. I know that the implementation of new issues are always individual from school to school and not everyone wants to be empowered. Nevertheless, I can see that change is going to happen and starting small and thinking long term is important. I plan to pass Caine and Caine (1997)’s books to other interested teachers willing to make a change or mindshift.


Caine, R.N. & Caine, G. (1997). Education on the Edge of Possibility. Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Caine, R.N. & Caine, G. (1994). Making Connections: Teaching and the Human Brain. California, Addison- Wesley