EDU 6655: Human Development & Principles of Learning

EDU 6655: Module 2

Once again, I am enjoying the opportunity to have guidance
toward some of the most recent brain research relating to education. While
reading this week’s chapters and articles, I must admit that I found myself
most intrigued and inspired by the Jossey-Bass descriptions of “mirror
neurons”, and saw for myself many possible explanations of experiences encountered
within my family as well as within my classroom.

A personal experience which I believe relates the “mirror
neuron” studies described in Jossey-Bass, is the care I provide to my older
brother who has lived with a severe seizure disorder since birth. Unfortunately,
his seizures have never been under complete control—despite his having
undergone “split brain” surgery involving a partial severing of the corpus
collosum—thirty years ago in effort to decrease the frequency and severity of
the seizures. As a result of numerous falls, seizures, and even negative
effects of the surgery intended to help, he continues to experience increased
brain damage and now requires nearly 24 hour care. Currently, he lives with my
sister—yet stays with our family one weekend each month. Almost every morning
when he awakes, he states that he has had “several falls in the night”.
Although occasionally he has truly fallen (despite our best efforts to “be
right there”)—most often, we believe he has had dreams of falling. I
wonder if possibly his experience is what is described in the statement,
“Thanks to mirror neurons, we can mentally rehearse physical activities without
actually doing them….Imagination involves the activation of sensory and action
centers in the brain” (Jossey-Bass, p. 10-11).

Additionally, I wonder if the effects of post-traumatic-stress-disorder,
are due in part to this “mirror neuron” activity in the brain—causing people to
experience visceral effects in response to various “triggers”. When I was a
young child of five, my father suffered a traumatic brain injury when as a
self-employed pharmacist—he was shot in the head during a robbery in his store.
Though he nearly died, he did survive and was able to return to work within
three weeks—minus his right eye. I was too young to fully comprehend the
significance of this event but took it in stride, as I did when I was ten and
he was shot again, and once again survived.  Years later, however, when a student in my
classroom made an indirect threat to shoot me—I experienced delayed and
significant post-traumatic-stress.  With
this in mind, I found reading the article, On Empathy: the Mirror Neuron System
and Art Education, to be very informative. In settings where I hear people
(including my students) share their challenging, real-life stories—with or
without accompanying artifacts—I find that I experience what some might refer
to as “compassion fatigue”. Perhaps in such a way as noted by the author when
she states, “The elegant circuitry of the mirror neuron system made this
resonance possible, creating “magical connections” between students as they
moved from their own body states into those of the presenters and through those
body states, in the mind of the presenter….The act of presenting themselves and
their pieces, which brought students into connection with one another, promoted
empathy…”(Jeffers, 2009, p. 14).

Clearly, my relationship with my brother, as well as my
dad– played a role in my decision to become a special education teacher.
Throughout the years, I have worked with many students with
disabilities—including those with traumatic brain injuries as well as autism.  I am very interested in reading the research
as it specifically relates to autism—and believe that I have just begun to
“scratch the surface” on this issue.

As both a mother and now a grandmother, I found the
following statement to be particularly affirming: “Infants older than nine
months can learn new speech sounds to which they have never been exposed, but
only if the new sounds come from a real person. Learning the new sound doesn’t
occur at this age if the infant hears the same word on a tape recorder or
video” (Jossey-Bass, 2008, p.9). When my first child was born, I remember a
librarian who shared with a group of us young mothers, this bit of wisdom:
“Talk to your babies as if they understand everything you are saying—because
one day they will”. Later that afternoon—in our “sensory enriched”
kitchen—I  explained to my ten-month-old,
the step by step process of how to make blueberry muffins, as we together
experienced the sights, sounds, and sensations of the process. My husband and
continued to take this concept to heart in the raising of our children—talking,
explaining, and reading consistently to each of them. Today, they are all avid
readers with rich vocabularies. It is no wonder that this Saturday, our oldest
daughter, her husband, and their three children are coming to Nana and Papa’s
house for the day—and the brunch will include blueberry muffins (a special
request from our grandson)! I believe the Rushton article which notes, “a sense
of excitement and novelty…creates a feeling of well-being….If the students are
emotionally invested, they tend to stay interested and connected to the
learning process….Remember, emotions plus attention equals learning” not only
supports such practices within the classroom, but also within our homes—especially
in the context of family traditions!


Jeffers, C. S. (2009). On Empathy: The mirror neuron system
and art education. International Journal of Education & the Arts, 10(15),
Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Jossey-Bass Inc. (2008). The Jossey-Bass reader on the brain
and learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Ozonoff, S. (2010, September). Editorial: Proceeding with
caution – the importance of negative findings in the science of
psychopathology. Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry. pp. 965-966.

Rushton, S., Juola-Rushton, A., & Larkin, E. (2010).
Neuroscience, play and early childhood education: Connections, implications and
assessment. Early Childhood Education Journal, 37(5), 351-361.


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