Monday, October 21, 2013

Brain Gym Claims of Academic Improvement: Neuro-myth not Neuroscience

Introduction to Brain Gym

The founders of Brain Gym set forth a plethora of wide reaching aims that their exercise-focused therapy will allow children—and adults—to accomplish once they have used the program. According to the program, Brain Gym is a set of exercises designed to open the awareness channels of the brain allowing the areas of the brain devoted to knowledge attainment to freely focus on academic learning presented after their use (Dennison and Dennison 2010).

Misconceptions of teachers

Brain Gym creators Paul and Gail Dennison (2010) state several benefits to using this curriculum bought by educators around the world. It reduces stress and performance anxiety; it develops key sensorimotor abilities or readiness skills to make learning easier and more pleasurable; it encourages flexibility, eye teaming, and hand eye coordination allowing learners to thrive in the classroom, and live happily and creatively. Ultimately the movements, “make all endeavors easier, and are especially effective for academic subjects” (p.xv).

Assumptions about the source of language ability

According to Keith Hyatt, a professor of special education and educational researcher from Washington, Brain Gym assumes that the brain develops academic skills only when the sensorimotor is fully developed. Following this school of thought, students who didn’t crawl surely must not fully grasp the walking they do and can’t access grade level academics because of this. “The child would be taught to crawl, with the idea that this would repattern the neurons, leaving the child neurologically intact and ready to acquire academic skills” (p. 118). Further, Brain Gym assumes language skills can be acquired by integrating perceptual motor training into the academic day in order to allow the student to overcome learning problems.

Sam Corner: proof positive

Many of these beliefs come from testing on students who exhibit delays based on Western Cognitive Psychology. Because the assessments are based on current educational thinking, the therapies are based on this same bias.

Academic claims of Brain Gym and a neuroscience refute

The allure of Brain Gym’s focus on modality instruction as a form of intervention is due to the claims of brain based research they make. However, the reality is that the idea of whole brain learning through Brain Gym exercises—purportedly improving cerebral dominance, neurological repatterning and perceptual motor training—has not been shown to have basis in neuroscience.

Bristol University cites lack of evidence in neuroscience research

If these kids are learning, why are they using their teacher's language?

If kids truly "know" something, they will put it into their own language. Mirroring the adult language around them merely points out the lack of true understanding. This teacher's assumption of her students' ability is based on her belief that if they use her language they have language.

Brain Gym claims vs. neuroscience research

We should all be weary of using something that we don't understand—or worse that we question in good faith. Blindly following "proven highly effective teaching methods" is not teaching. Using our own knowledge of learning combined with the tools presented to us leads to thoughtful, effective teaching and ultimately true learning on our students' part.

Friday, October 4, 2013

It was the Cookies that did it

And we are off and running.  A much calmer run than the past two years, but the heart rate is up, the endorphins flow and ebb, the end is far and the starting line is beginning to fade into hindsight.  The class this year is 10 students smaller and exponentially sweeter, gentler, and kinder than the past class. On day two I realized they may become one of my favorite classes ever, the one that I remember in the future as being a time of joy of being together and loving learning together, and standing up against the bad times together.

It all seems sappy, I know.  But it was the cookies that did it.  I got cookies today--a month into the school year.  An entire tube of girl scout peanut butter sandwich cookies.  They were on my desk when I returned from the morning rush of high fives and I forgot my homeworks and it's Friday Ms. Mitchell! and, and, and...there were cookies.  I asked who gave them to me as we lined up later and no one took credit.  Well, one kid did but he was teasing.  Then a shy little hand went up and the girl attached to it said it was her.  I thanked her and quickly calculated if I could split 10 prepackaged cookies into 29 parts to share as a whole community...still working that calculation out 2 hours later as tears welled up in my eyes.

The cookies, it's the cookies making me cry. The sweetness of the gesture is touching, but the tears are because the cookies mean more than 10 carb laden treats given from an average student to an average teacher. They represent a beyond average little girl.  She is a bright, amazingly respectful, caring child who comes from extreme poverty--she takes a school provided food box home with her every weekend.  Her family receives help from the community resource office at their low income apartment complex to provide enough staples to nourish them.  There are no cookies or sweet treats in those food boxes or community room food pantries.  And this child got some cookies from somewhere.  And this caring child wanted to share her fortune of sweet treats with me, her teacher, on a sunny Friday after a week of rain. 

So, I sit here eating my leftover mac and cheese staring at the cookies and thinking how to share my good fortune with all of my students. So, today's math lesson is going to be how to divide 10 cookies into 29 parts--cause the best fortune (and sweetest treat) I have to share with this class is learning and this little girl and her classmates are going to get their fair share.