Neurocinematics in Education

So, if you’ve read any of my blogs or tweets, by now you should know that I’m a teacher. Like most high school educators in the US, I enjoy my summers unwinding from the hectic fray of the school year and prepping for the next.  Once upon a time (in my youth) I helped work on professional seasonal “Haunted Houses.” As I began to understand how the designs worked, I realized that they mimicked horror films.

Now that I’m an educator with a few more years behind me and advanced degrees in instruction, I wonder about films.  You see, I enjoy getting caught up on all those great movies I missed out on during the year, and the summer movie madness that envelopes Hollywood.  However, I had an epiphany the other day. What if all across the US, we were being psychologically developed to expect a balanced form of narrative like in the movies.  What if the reasons that we find some movies/TV episodes boring is for the same reasons we find some classes boring? This lead me to do research. Did you know that there is an actual study now called Neurocinematics?  It’s the study of how audiences brains perceive cinematic scenes.

This brings me to a better understanding of how lessons should be structured in classrooms across the nation.  If we transfer the information from Neurocinematics to Educational reform, we can see that each class period should have a set number of actionable activities at timed intervals with specific build ups.  So, for example, let’s take a look at a typical formula-driven TV episode of an action-mystery show, like Castle.


  1. Introductory exposition – the characters introduce what is happening that leads to an inciting incident.
  2. Rising anticipatory action – the characters are exploring their initial understanding about some new information.
  3. Actionable point – the characters go through the exercises of using their understanding about the new information
  4. Falling reflectory action – the characters confirm or re-adjust what they know about this information
  5. Wrap up – the characters wrap up any misunderstandings and re-affirm what they know about the whole plot-line narrative of the new case/information.

So, if students are neurologically wired to follow this formula for narrative consumption, why can’t we mirror it in education?  Take the same plot line and substitute in learning. The exposition/introduction would be the same. The (rising) anticipatory action would be crucial to hook interest into creating an actionable point.  This actionable point might look like a Cooperative-Learning structure. The crucial point would be the quick (falling) reflectory action and subsequent new anticipatory hook for new exploration. Everything could be wrapped up at the end with a true exit ticket of some sort of self-reflection.  The key would be the number. Notice how a 1-hour show (35-40 min of story) has four (4) actionable points?

I believe that where we as educators sometimes misjudge a lesson is two-fold.  First, we don’t have enough actionable points in a given class period. Second, we forget to have that quick (falling) reflectory action.  We can see similarities in the film industry. Ever watch an action or horror film and afterwards realize that after the first scene it wasn’t scary or excitable anymore?  It was because our amygdala didn’t have time to relax and reset for any new anticipation of the next scene. So, maybe there is a connection between Neurocinematics and Brain-based Education.


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