Posts Tagged ‘Brain Research’

Capstone–Standard 02 Meta-Reflection: Learning Environment

Standard 02 Meta-Reflection: Learning Environment

Creates and maintains school-wide and classroom environments that are safe, stable, and empowering.

Initial reflection during C & I Orientation:

In my role as the special education curriculum leader in an inclusion setting, I must ensure that a continuum of services is available for consideration by each student’s IEP Team. I must see to it that my students are provided services in the “least restrictive environment” and that they are given the opportunity to access free and appropriate public education.

Meta-Reflection following completion of EDU 6655 Human Development and Principles of Learning:

I enjoyed the opportunity to have guidance in this course toward some of the most recent brain research relating to education. While reading the first week’s chapters and articles, 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 (a brother who is severely disabled, and my father having suffered two gunshot wounds to the head) as well as those of students within my classroom. 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 find that I experience what some might refer to as “compassion fatigue”—therefore, I am interested in the impact of stress on learning. As stated within the Jossey-Bass Reader in Chapter 4, “It is increasingly recognized that efficient learning does not take place when the learner is experiencing fear or stress…inappropriate stress has a significant effect on both physiological and cognitive functioning….stress or fear also affect social judgment, and responses to reward and risk” (p. 44).

In my first paper written for this course, Personal Background Reflection Paper (please see link to Artifact 2.1 below), I reflected on my own childhood experiences in comparison to that of many of my students, and discussed how these intertwining factors influence my teaching interactions with students. As authors Stiggins, Arter, and Chappuis (2006), have clarified, the distinction between assessment of learning vs. for learning, places the emphasis on helping students answer the three questions, “ ‘Where am I going?’; ‘Where am I now?’; and ‘How can I close the gap’?”

Within my second paper, Professional Philosophy of Education and Developmental Theory (please see link to Artifact 2.2 below), I expressed thoughts pertaining to Erik Erickson’s developmental theory. “Erikson defined eight developmental stages during which a crisis must be resolved in order for a person to develop psychosocially without carrying forward issues tied to the previous crisis…” Author, Crain, states, “The adolescent’s primary task, Erikson believed, is establishing a new sense of ego identity—a feeling for who one is and one’s place in the larger social order. The crisis is one of identity versus role confusion” (p. 291). A reflective process I use with students (described below), is one method I believe helps them engage in the development of their ego identity:

Currently in my position as a special education teacher in a largely “inclusive” high school in terms of service delivery, much of my work with students is conducted in the context of individual appointments in my office. One tool that I use regularly with my students is a self-evaluation process—involving both written and verbal responses to a weekly progress report including; detailed listings of assignments, scores, current grade-to-date, attendance, etc. for each of their six classes. An overarching purpose of the use of this tool is to assist students with developing self-advocacy skills as they strive to succeed in high school as well as prepare for post-secondary endeavors. The reflective exercise guides the students through the process of reading information pertinent to their day-to-day life as a student. The completion of the form requires analysis of their current progress as well as the development of strategies for establishing and reaching both short and long-term goals, and encourages students to take ownership, responsibility, (and credit) for their actions and efforts (James, 2012).

Ironically, just this week in April of 2013, as I am working on completing the requirements for my master’s degree by writing/rewriting reflections on my own learning as a graduate student, a dramatic event occurred within my classroom as a student was completing his own written reflection. (Note: As of result of new learning in my graduate studies, I have increased the level of expectation for student reflection to include more extended written responses. The following account of a very recent experience relates also to the use of technology in the classroom—proving that even outdated technology can be used to connect with students).

Since I don’t have enough computer access for all students in my special education Learning Strategies class, I have chosen to use small keyboards to have students write reflections on a regular basis. Although the small, “NEO” keyboards are outdated devices, they are available for my use. Each device holds 8 separate “files” which I have students use to make progress notes in response to specific prompts at various times throughout each term. Files 1-6 are reserved for periods 1-6, and file # 7 is for “other”. Usually, I encourage student to describe in File # 7–accomplishments of which they are MOST proud. I upload their responses regularly and find this process to be extremely valuable in helping me maintain a connection with students and to assist me as I endeavor to respond to their individual needs. Some students are able to express so much more in writing than they would in face-to-face conversations.

Tuesday, as I was uploading and reading student reflections, I noticed the reflection of one very quiet and studious student was prefaced with the comment: “Mrs. James, be sure to read paragraph # 7″. As I continued to upload his work, I found a most heart-wrenching, yet beautifully written expression from this student who had recently been placed on probation. It was evident that he was experiencing a downward spiral toward severe depression. His cry for help included the words, “I can’t go out and make friends or give a shout out to others about my emotions. I get it out in writing or typing now. I stay silent and lonely to rot away…” Thankfully, I was able to talk with him after class and set up an appointment for him to meet with the counselor. The student and I have agreed that he will continue to use writing as a way to help him process his intense emotions.

An example of how research validates the threatened needs of this young man to be connected with his friends and to know that someone cares is referenced in my third paper, Professional Analysis of Developmental Appropriateness (please see links to artifacts 2.3.1, 2.3.2, and 2.3.3 below). As I discuss the Individual Transition form of the Individual Education Plan (IEP), I make the suggestion that work habits and interpersonal skills should be addressed on this form for secondary students because these skills relate to Kohlberg’s Level II Conventional Morality. Crain refers to Kohlberg’s Level II Conventional Morality—Stage 3. Good Interpersonal Relationships. “At this stage children, are by now usually entering their teens—see morality as more than simple deals. They believe people should live up to the expectations of the family and community and behave in “good” ways. Good behavior means having good motives and interpersonal feelings such as love, empathy, trust, and concern for others” (p. 161).

In my Week 4 Blog for this course, EDU 6655: Mind and Brain….Techniques–backed by research? (James, 2012), I expressed my conflicting thoughts about controversial brain research. I conveyed my tendency to agree with author, Hyatt, who suggests “that much of the rush by educators to provide ‘brain-based’ learning opportunities for children is based on information that is selective, oversimplified, or incorrectly interpreted, and he strongly urged that educators and the public exercise great caution when trying to apply findings from brain science to educational interventions” (Hyatt, 2007, p. 120).

Based on my informal, anecdotal research gleaned as an educator in the classroom from 1980 to the present, high school students generally experience a relatively high degree of stress–which I maintain to be a contributing factor to some of the struggles I observe in their lives. My goal is to continue in my endeavor to use any means available to meet the needs of my students as I address Standard 2: Create and maintain school-wide and classroom environments that are safe, stable, and empowering. In the process of completing the requirements for this course (see links to artifacts below), I appreciated the opportunity to reflect with a fresh and guided focus on my years in the classroom and I intend to continue to view new research as it becomes available. I believe new insights will continue to come, along with validation for long-held convictions.

References

Arter, J., Chappuis J., S.,  Stiggins, R. (2006). Classroom assessment for students learning. Doing it right, using it well. Boston, MA. Pearson Education, Inc.

Crain, W. C. (2011). Theories of development: Concepts and applications. Boston, MA: Prentice Hall.

Hyatt, K. J. (2007). Brain gym[R]: Building stronger brains or wishful thinking?. Remedial and Special Education, 28(2), 117-124.

James, L. (2012). Professional philosophy of education and developmental theory, Seattle Pacific University.

James, L. (2012). EDU 6655: Mind and Brain….Techniques—backed by research?, WordPress  blog, Seattle Pacific University. Retrieved from https://lpettengilljames.wordpress.com/2011/10/23/edu-6655-mind-and-brain-techniques-backed-by-research/

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

Links to artifacts for Standard 2:

EDU 6655-ARTIFACT 2.1 Personal Background Reflection Paper

EDU 6655-ARTIFACT 2.2 Final Professional Philosophy Paper

EDU 6655-ARTIFACT 2.3.1 Final Paper SECONDARY TRANSITION Form Analysis

EDU 6655-ARTIFACT 2.3.2 TRANSITION Form Analysis.list

 EDU 6655-ARTIFACT SECONDARY TRANSITION pp

EDU 6655: Mind and Brain….Techniques–backed by research?

EDU 6655: Human Development: Week  4 Blog

I found this week’s, Mind and Brain: Chapter 7 in the Jossey-Bass reader, to be clarifying and enlightening—not only with regard to my role as an educator, but also as a parent and grandparent. Highlighting research findings from both neuroscience and cognitive science, authors, Bransford, Brown and Cocking discuss three main points: (1) Learning changes the physical structure of the brain. (2) …learning organizes and reorganizes the brain. (3) Different parts of the brain may be ready to learn at different times (Jossey-Bass, 2008, p. 90). Many intriguing studies were described. Of particular note was the finding that, “People “remember” words that are implied but not stated with the same probability as learned  words” (p.100) Additionally, “…neuroscience research confirms the important role that experience plays in building the structure of the mind by modifying the structures of the brain…”(p.100).

While reading the article entitled, Brain gym ®: Building stronger brains or wishful thinking? I found myself reflecting on a variety of situations I have encountered throughout the years—many of which involved a rather remote perspective with very little direct personal experience. In each situation, the person promoting what I now understand to be related to the Brain Gym ® activities spoke of the techniques with conviction—and yet at the time, I personally felt an underlying sense of skepticism.

In my undergraduate work in special education in the late 1970’s, I recall references to perceptual-motor exercises and neurological repatterning, etc., however, my training did not involve the use of these techniques—nor has my work in the field.  Within the past decade, I have attended a number of workshops which included references to brain based activities. I often thought to myself that I should investigate the research and theories behind the suggestions, however, time and energy were limiting.

I have often felt “out of the loop” regarding my knowledge of brain research and appreciate the opportunity in this course to read of the ongoing debates in this field of study. I tend to agree with the author, Hyatt, who suggests “that much of the rush by educators to provide “brain-based” learning opportunities for children is based on information that is selective, oversimplified, or incorrectly interpreted, and he strongly urged that educators and the public exercise great caution when trying to apply findings from brain science to educational interventions” (Hyatt, 2007, p. 120).

Throughout the article, numerous references were made to studies which refuted statements made by proponents of the Brain Gym ® principles. It would seem that these views can be summed up by the following statement: “In essence, this study contained so many methodological problems that the results cannot be interpreted with any level of certainty” (Hyatt, p. 122).

As suggested within both the Hyatt and Spaulding articles, I agree that as educators we should exercise caution when considering techniques for student use and should implement best practices backed by research. However, as with so many situations, I think moderation is the key.  Although I tend to like and appreciate consistency–I think a “steady diet” of even the most strongly research-based (curriculum, food, etc.) without a spontaneous and beneficial “change of pace” can become monotonous.

I certainly am interested in learning more–and often wonder what the research of the future might say regarding some of these “effective” practices not currently substantiated. In the meantime, however, I will most likely rely primarily on “tried and true” methods.

References

Brain Gym ® http://www.braingym.org/index

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

Hyatt, K. J. (2007). Brain gym[R]: Building stronger brains or wishful thinking?. Remedial and Special Education, 28(2), 117-124.

Spaulding, L. S., Mostert, M. P., & Beam, A. P. (2010). Is brain gym[R] an effective educational intervention?. Exceptionality, 18(1), 18-30.

EDU 6655: Human Development & Principles of Learning Week 3

Human Development–Week 3: Brain Debates
I found this week’s readings in Chapters, 4, 5, and 6 from the Jossey-Bass Reader to be at once enlightening and surprising. Over the years, I have taken many classes and workshops I have been especially intrigued with the topic of of learning styles as it relates to differences in individuals of all ages—both in and out of the classroom. In the process, I have naturally come across materials addressing the idea of “right hemisphere vs. left hemisphere brain functioning” as well as “global vs. analytic” thinking, etc. Additionally, having earned each of my undergraduate degrees in special education and psychology thirty years ago, having two family members who have sustained traumatic brain injuries, and a variety of extended family members being diagnosed with ADD and “spectrum” disorders—I have been eager to take a course addressing some of the latest “brain research” ideas. I couldn’t wait to read Chapter 5, In Search of Brain Based Education by John T. Bruer, however, I was somewhat disheartened to learn that many of my previous understandings are now being referred to as “folk theories”.

It took me more than a few minutes to reframe my thinking and to realize the truth of the not-so-surprising statement later in chapter 5:
The fundamental problem with the right-brain versus left brain claims that one finds in the education literature is that they rely on our intuitions and folk theories about the brain, rather than on what brain science is actually able to tell us. Our folk theories are too crude and imprecise to have any scientific, predictive, or instructional value. What modern science is telling us—and what brain-based educators fail to appreciate—is that it makes no scientific sense to map gross, unanalyzed behaviors and skills—reading, arithmetic, spatial reasoning—onto one brain hemisphere or the other (Jossey-Bass, p. 61).
Truly, as the Psalmist says, “We are fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14)

Currently, in my position as a special education teacher in a high school that is largely “inclusive” in terms of service delivery, much of my work with students is conducted in the context of individual appointments in my office. One of the tools that I regularly use with my students is a self-evaluation process—involving both written and verbal responses to a weekly progress report which includes detailed listings of assignments, scores, current grade-to-date, attendance, etc. for each of their six classes. An overarching purpose of the use of this tool is to assist students with developing self-advocacy skills as they strive to succeed in high school as well as prepare for post-secondary endeavors. The exercise guides the students through the process of reading information that is pertinent to their day-to-day life as a student, requires analysis of their current progress as well as the development of strategies for establishing and reaching both short and long-term goals, and encourages students to take ownership, responsibility, (and credit) for their actions and efforts.

If I were to build a bridge of “connection” to a “brain research bandwagon trail master”—I would begin with the concept that many teenagers (in my experience) are self-absorbed and live with an on-going, high degree of stress surrounding issues pertaining to their grades, performance in school, and interactions with teachers. Undoubtedly, he/she would agree. As stated within the Jossey-Bass Reader in Chapter 4, “It is increasingly recognized that efficient learning does not take place when the learner is experiencing fear or stress….inappropriate stress has a significant effect on both physiological and cognitive functioning….stress or fear also affect social judgment, and responses to reward and risk (p. 44).
(At least this is what I would have emphasized—before reading on within the same paragraph where the authors state, “To date, however, neuroimaging studies of the developmental effects of stress on cognitive function are sparse or non-existent”.)

Still, however– based on my informal, anecdotal research, I would maintain that in my weekly appointments with students, I am often able to establish a connection with my students where we can together examine their academic progress, problem-solve as needed, and create plans for success. In my office (which is specifically set with incandescent lamps rather than harsh fluorescent lighting) I offer a calm setting in which students can “desensitize” so to speak, with regard to their grades. I discover that this is often a very different approach what many of them experience at home.

Not always, but often, these fifteen, sixteen, seventeen-year-olds are motivated to improve and are surprisingly “teachable” in this context. As cited in the Jossey-Bass reader, “As the developmental neurobiologist Patricia Goldman-Rakic told educators, ‘While children’s brains acquire a tremendous amount of information during the early years, most learning takes place after synaptic formation stabilizes.’ That is, a great deal, if not most learning takes place after age 10…(p. 68).

I believe a discussion along these lines would open the door to further discussion and investigation for myself and my principal as we together find the balance between “what the research supports” and “what works” to improve student motivation and performance. “Call this …’Brain based’ if you like; the key factor is motivation”…While the activities in my office may not be “fun, interesting, (or) even exciting to a child (student)”, they do “provide challenge and stimulation while requiring active involvement (Jossey-Bass, p. 87).

I would additionally note that, “The CRISS training introduces teachers to the CRISS Strategic Learning Plan, which is intended to guide selection of content, setting of learning goals and objectives, assessment of student learning, and planning of instruction….The training also addresses ways teachers can help students become more reflective (metacognitive) about their learning processes” p. 2-3.

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

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!

References:

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.
doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2010.02297.x.

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.