Tag Archives: special education

Special Education: Redesigned and Redefined

BFyjIO4CMAAXatbWhen a bright eyed and idealistic teacher walks into the classroom, she does not have any pre-conceived notions that the mission statement of the school will be vaguely if at all reflected in the daily battle called teaching. The act of teaching is a juggernaut of sorts: between the principals, the administrators, the board members, and/or the politics — that it may feel like a fluke if the teacher maintains sight of the student, or if the student can honestly say that the teacher is, well, teaching.

Now, add a dash of one, or maybe three of the 13 special education classifications in the mix of students in a classroom of 28 to 30 students. This teacher may or may not have any background knowledge on educational disabilities, best practices for children classified with these disabilities; however it is a safe assumption that within this classroom of students, those who are not or cannot conform will stand out. And by the year’s end, the previously idealistic teacher may be anything but. Additionally, she may have fallen into damaging stereotypical thinking and labeling because she was never given the opportunity or education to think differently.

Most education professionals are aware of the studies that reveal teachers’ negative bias toward students labeled as having a learning disability. These studies have concluded that teacher’s rate behaviors more negatively, put less effort into educating these students and recommend them less for gifted education, even when given evidence of giftedness. Unfortunately, the why behind this occurrence is relatively easy to answer. Despite the progress at the federal level for children with disabilities since the 1970s, the stereotypes associated with the Special Ed label remains engrained in the general public as well as general ed mindset. Gaining access to a free and appropriate public education has done only that. The doors have been opened and the children welcomed in. Yet, the question begs to be asked: “are these students being taught?” Perhaps it is not the students we should be labeling as disabled or unable to learn, but rather the schools and the education system as a whole.

L30009e5et’s take a snapshot of the current system: schools invest thousands of dollars in curriculums that align to the common core standards, which tout an increase reading and math proficiency. Yet these curriculums are changed yearly because student scores do not increase at the expected rate. Some schools banned use of textbooks and teachers, who have been supposedly taught how to teach are also now expected to create curriculums or piece together a decade worth of rejected curriculums oftentimes for either multiple grades or multiple subjects. And within this disorganized system, children who struggle to learn within a traditional classroom, for reasons neuropsychologists are still trying to determine, are expected to adapt and learn in the same way, at the same rate with the same retention as their typically developing peers. Administrators and teachers alike, are allowed to overlook this since their academic background never afforded them an opportunity to learn nor required it of them. Yet the perfectly typical students with atypical brains become the ones punished for this oversight. Not only do teachers have decreased expectations, which leads to decreased effort; being labeled as special ed is shown to have a negative impact on self-esteem.

Taylor et. al found that students with generic special education labels had significantly lower self esteem compared to children with specific labels such as dyslexia. Furthermore, there was no difference in self-esteem between those identified and labeled as dyslexic to those without a special education and/or disability label. The authors concluded that children with a general label “offers very little in the way of an explanation for the child’s academic difficulties and because targeted interventions are not as available for those with a less specific label” This shows that it is the lack of transparency, discussion, effective interventions given to children with non-specific learning disabilities that play a major role in decreased self-esteem. Additionally, it was noted that there was stigma from peers more often associated with classroom labels of resource room and special class than the label of a generic or specific disability.  These conclusions indicate that environment, misconception, lack of discussion, transparency, and inclusion building measures within a community are to blame for decreased self-esteem, ridicule and teasing among students with disabilities, not the disability itself.

This reinforces the notion that schools and the education system are disabled and disabling those students who learn differently. Ideally, teachers and students alike would be equipped and well versed in what ilabeling-kidst means to have a disability, the strengths and weaknesses associated with that disability and strategies in which that student can overcome barriers within academic institutions in order to find success. However, this is next to impossible when teachers are not required to learn more than simple terminology associated with educational disabilities such as IEP, learning disability, and maybe related services. In 2013, 13% of school-aged students in public school were classified as having a learning disability. That means 4 students in a class of 30 will have an IEP and receive special education services of some sort. However, there are typically students who have not been identified or whose parents do not want them classified and receiving services specifically because of the stigma associated with it; therefore, it is safe to assume that approximately 1out of every 5 within a class of 30 students will have some form of a a disability. Yet, the teacher in the general education classroom is not required to have any prior knowledge about the disability, how to teach effectively to students with that given disability or even what supports that child might need; those responsible fall to the special education teacher of the Special Education Support Services Teacher who is typically with the student for about 5 hours a week. The additional 25 -30 hours, the student is left to his or her own devices in how to mange.

In no other profession, would a business that provided an qualified employee on average 13 – 17% of the time be considered “appropriate” to meeting the needs of the business or consumers. Yet, under the current law, for students with disabilities placed in inclusion classrooms, this is considered just that. Perhaps it is time to stop dis-abelling students and start enabling our education system by educating educators to actually teach to the brains, the bodies and the minds of the learners in their classrooms. This would of course require general education teachers to take courses about educational classifications, differentiation, and special education law, but all teachers to demonstrate proficient knowledge in the developing brain, body and mind including neuroanatomy, neuropsychology and cognitive psychology to name just a few. It is time to enable not only students, but teachers and administrators, by un-labeling teachers as general or special education and in turn removing the stigmatizing labels from students. No education should just be general; in order for all students to achieve their true potential, all education should be special and built on a scientific and wholistic foundation of knowledge. 

So until the time schools either have an alleviated pressure to pack classrooms to the maximum capacity, and/or the testing rigor is substituted with individual performance aptitude (similar to portfolio based measurements), the sting of bias and the risk of a child’s learning falling through the juggernaut remains at large.

The Article as seen in Brainblogger.com: The Fundamentals of Neuropedagogy

Thanks to our friends at Brainblogger, here you can read the complete article. Happy reading!


Over the past decade, we have learned that for every student who is simple to understand or figure out, there are one or two who are a conundrum. Over this same decade we as separate and collaborative professionals have also discovered that the answer to these students’ needs being met is two-fold: 1. Education looks only at symptomology not etiology 2. Education fails to integrate disciplines effectively. Special education needs to stop being about labels and start being about the whole child.

Enter the practice of Execu-Sensory and Neuropedagogy. When we look at the child as a whole: brain, body and mind, we begin to understand that more than what teachers are taught in school is at play. Take child development, for example, this class may or may not be required to earn a Masters in Educations, especially if the focus is middle childhood rather than early or elementary.  Yet, the brain is not done growing, literally, until the age of 19 or 20 and the prefrontal cortex continues to develop until the age of 25. Not to mention, the developmental surge that takes places during adolescence is akin to the one which occurs during early childhood. How then are teachers prepared to teach the ever evolving whole child if they lack the basic knowledge of brain development.  The simple answer is they most likely cannot. The brain is a vastly complex system of electrical wiring and firing that is critical to understanding, given the goal is not only to teach, but teach effectively.

However for the purposes of this blogpost, we shall focus the discussion on the fundamentals of Neuropedagogy in practice with some aspects of Execu-Sensory components.

Structure of Neuropedagogy

Neuropedagogy in its most basic state begins with the executive function skills and the developing Pre-Frontal cortex. However when we attempt discussion with other educators, the typical response is,  “Executive what in the where? Neuro?”

Understandable response, seeing as this predominantly European concept is commonly referred in the United States as Educational Neuroscience or Neuroeducation--or perhaps more commonly not discussed among educators at all. It was introduced during an educational summit in 2009 at Johns Hopkins University simultaneously with a “Learning and the Brain” wherein organizers and educators alike agreed there needed to be an interdisciplinary field that combines neuroscience, psychology and education to create improved teaching methods and curricula. It was bringing into focus new links between arts education and general learning, how learning physically alters the brain, and what goes wrong in students with learning disabilities.

Neuropedagogy however went further than Neuroeducation. The European definition of Neuropedagogy is when science and education meet and whose scientific aims are to learn how to stimulate new zones of the brain and create connections. It is targeted at stimulating the brains of all types of learners, not only those with students who have learning disabilities. Dr. Judy Willis a practicing neurologist made a conscious transition to the classroom as an educator feels that there needs be research about the brain’s neuroplasticity and the opportunities we have as educators to help students literally change their brains — and intelligence. To become a teacher without understanding the implications of brain-changing neuroplasticity is a great loss to teachers and their future students.

Based on the experience and the research we have done on current classroom structures in New York City, we have found that the most effective use of Neuropedagogy was in three sections: Brain Element Neuropedagogy, Body Element Neuropedagogy, and Mind Element Neuropedagogy. The hierarchy of training is dependent on the prior knowledge of brain function, thus beginning the discussion with the brain was the most functional and useful approach. The body then and it’s organic processes were the next step in the training and understanding connections between innervation and control, and lastly the mind which not all fields of classroom instruction fully develop or are able to reach without the clear understanding of how the brain and the body encompass the physics of the mind.

To say the least, one would need basic brain to facilitate the body and change the mind.

The Brain Element Neuropedagogy

The most obvious reason to share information is for learning, and learning can only be achieved if there is sufficient brain function. In our practice, we lay the foundation for understanding the Central Nervous System (CNS) neurotransmission, the utilization of approximate brain mapping of the cerebral hemispheres, and raise awareness of the unmistakable impact of the digital society on the organic brain.

By organizing the hierarchy of understanding based on the processes involved from brain neurotransmission in each section of the cerebrum at any given time, we shed more light into the powerful effects of neuroplasticity, the endless ability for the brain to change itself. There are four that have been identified for learning: Acetylcholine (ACH), Serotonin, GABA, and Dopamine. Ultimately these are the communicators responsible in delivering the information to all the lobes, including the Pre-Frontal Cortex. The PFC is not currently recognized as a lobe; however, the role that it plays in learning and behavior have been measured via Executive Function Skills.

Many definitions for executive function skills exist and they all essentially make the same point. The National Center for Learning Disabilities defines executive function skills as,” mental skills that help the brain organize and act on information… [it is the ability to use] information and experiences from the past to solve current problems.” These skills are critical to understand because when they are weak or delayed in developing, they can mask themselves as an educational disability which may lay the groundwork for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) as determined by a mutlidisciplinary team.  For example, let’s say a child is referred for an evaluation for special education services because he is showing consistent negative behavior, such as being unable to focus for more than a few minutes at a time, constantly calling out, and failing to complete homework, all of which lead to decreased academic gains.  The child will most likely be mis-classified as having ADHD or a learning disability, which ultimately leads to inefficient or worse ineffective solutions. If the interventionists applied an interdisciplinary Neuropedagogical Approach, a different and more effective outcome may have played out.

Now, let’s add a layer of dynamic complexity to Neuropedagogy. Neuroscience has looked at the brains, personalities, strengths and weaknesses of people born after 1986 and compared them with brains, personalities, strengths and weaknesses of people born before 1986. The studies show a significant difference between the two. The over-arching difference: access to the digital world.  The first group is digital natives; the second digital immigrants. Digital natives have brains that have weakened pathways for interaction, decreased activity in anterior cingulate gyrus and medial orbital frontal cortex, increased isolation, aggression, passivity, loneliness, etc, increase in cortisol due to excessive brain fatigue, decreased hippocampal size. Digital immigrants, the ones who have the capacity to hand down life experiences effectively via examples and who can communicate thoughts personally are ones who are usually comfortable with familiar technology and shy away from change in that department. They have been found to have faster PFC circuitry as they have had abilities to strengthen neuronal circuits with numerous life experiences, including delaying gratification.

WIth all of the Brain Element Neuropedagogy, one can proceed to appreciate understanding the Body and it’s unique processes.

The Body Element Neuropedagogy

In our modern society, people are perceived initially from the way they present themselves. Usually what is displayed from the external body is what immediately connects one person to the next. The body’s senses take in the physical and external world, neuronally process the input and in the cortex it’s given meaning.

From a learner’s perspective, the body is both intake and output. As interdisciplinary brain-based practitioners, we shed light into the Sensory Processing Systems, the limitless potential of a person’s Multiple Intelligences and Emotional Quotient (EQ), culminating on the influence of what we have managed to call the 3 External E’s (Ergonomics, Economics, and Environment).  The body by itself is a complete sensory organ, however it has been proven by evidence-based practice that the seven (7) senses are the checkpoints of the body: sight, sound, smell, touch, taste, movement and position in space. Research in this area was pioneered by Dr. A. Jean Ayres and current practitioners include Dr. Lucy Jane Miller and Carol Kranowitz all of who have contributed to the education and learning landscape. One simply cannot function by brain alone!

Multiple Intelligences Theory was pioneered by Howard Gardner, a developmental neuropsychologist,who played the violin well, wondered if a tool, aside from the Intelligence Quotient (IQ test), could be developed to measure additional attributes to determine a person’s complete intelligence. Another factor we considered was Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Quotient (EQ) as this too plays an important factor externally; even as the limbic system is brain centric in it’s processing of emotions, the manifestation on the outside is clearly body centric.

Education in the twentieth and now twenty first century tends to teach to two types of learners: visual and auditory. Yet, research has shown that multiple types of learners exist, not just two. Teaching methodologies need to start designing lessons, activities and classrooms not only for the typically forgotten or ever present kinesthetic learners, but for the quiet introvert and the shy extrovert and multiple combinations of them.

Simple modifications such as state changes, strategically planned brain gym breaks or yoga ball chairs have shown to improve the executive functioning skills of sustained attention and task persistence. Additionally, when inserting brief yet planned breaks of any type, students are given an opportunity to work on set-shifiting a skill in high demand in the modern digital-world.  Modifications for the introvert include quiet spaces in the classroom or projects with an option to work alone.  The shy extrovert, may benefit from group projects with assigned jobs. However, this type of differentiated instruction is believed to be fitting only to the special education population. The rest of these students, rather than adopting a label that may or may not fit, they are instructed to adapt their bodies to fit because that is what the ‘real world’ will expect of them. Meanwhile, that potential intelligence lays mostly dormant because teachers are not teaching to them, and were probably never taught how. Neuropedagogy recognizes the learning process that processes from a brain and proceeds into the body offers perspective and solutions to teaching with the body in mind.

The Mind Element Neuropedagogy

Of all of the Elements that we train, it is the Mind Element that is the most challenging to explore.The brain and the mind are used interchangeably in the realm of education; however, scientists have discovered that although they do seem to be influential of the other, the brain and mind affect each other in very different but significant ways. The psyche in psychology practice have also been associated with the mind, and pop culture usually uses the word mind loosely as choice or state of one’s mental being.

In referencing the brain, it  is the material organic matter that has the physical manifestation of the neuronal processes while the mind is where consciousness and active thinking occur. However a thought may occur from consciousness which may alter the neuronal process that was intended to happen and vice versa. The mind discussion includes: theory of mind, the belief-desire reasoning in learners, and neuroplasticity in the habit loop, Behavior Modification and Habit Routine change that can have both positive and negative effects.

Neuropedagogy of the mind starts with the premise that the mind of a child is complex. The Belief-Desire Reasoning from H.M. Wellman’s The Child’s Theory of Mind Mechanism shows just that.  Thinking, perception, sensations, beliefs, cognitive emotions, physiology, basic emotions are all interconnected and simultaneously interacting to produce desires, intentions, actions and inevitably reactions. Actions are merely the tip of the iceberg to the ongoings of a child’s, and ultimately a learner’s mind. Educators who understand and teach with Executive Function Skills such as Metacognition, Emotional Control and Response Inhibition in mind, essentially have x-ray vision, which provides them the insight to ask the questions that will reveal the iceberg. Intention is marked by a WHOLE person, a product of perception, inception and conclusions.

Conclusion: The Neuropedagogy Synthesis

ESNP's Unique Neuropedagogy Synthesis
ESNP’s Unique Neuropedagogy Synthesis

When science and education meet it is called Neuropedagogy, whose scientific aims are to learn how to stimulate new zones of the brain and create connections. The information that is presented here may appear overwhelming and less comprehensive in practice however it the changing the lens and perspective that allow best practices to occur, to remind those involved in direct service that people are not formulaic in their learning.

The Neuropedagogy synthesis demonstrates just that. One of our current partnerships, The Teaching Firms of America Professional Charter School in Brooklyn, New York applies these principles by tying choice and action to their basis in the brain, Theory of Mind, and most importantly, the brain has the ability to change.  They empower their scholars to be thinkers and owners of their actions and choices by giving them knowledge from the world of neuroscience.  Finally, the utilize the principles of Neuropedagogy to guide and inform their instruction, interactions and interventions. It is a common occurrence to hear students say, “I can change my brain.” From initial classroom set-up to end of day classroom clean up, they created and continue an atmosphere of curiosity and intellect, which always seems to start and end with the brain.

The Rollercoaster Ride That is Tolerance (Including Frustration)

The act of being able to tolerate, or imbibe tolerance historically has never been easy to carry over. Either it be willingness to accept feelings, habits, or beliefs that are different from your own definition or the the ability to accept, experience, or survive something harmful or unpleasant definition, there are no guarantees of progressive thoughts of tolerance making formulaic and consistent headway (however having laws in place to guide tolerance in society does help).

Dr. WIlliam Glasser, MD posited ten axioms on human behavior called Choice Theory. The axioms are:

  1. The only person whose behavior we can control is our own.
  2. All we can give another person is information.
  3. All long-lasting psychological problems are relationship problems.
  4. The problem relationship is always part of our present life.
  5. What happened in the past has everything to do with what we are today, but we can only satisfy our basic needs right now and plan to continue satisfying them in the future.
  6. We can only satisfy our needs by satisfying the pictures in our Quality World.
  7. All we do is behave.
  8. All behavior is Total Behavior and is made up of four components: acting, thinking, feeling and physiology.
  9. All Total Behavior is chosen, but we only have direct control over the acting and thinking components. We can only control our feeling and physiology indirectly through how we choose to act and think.
  10. All Total Behavior is designated by verbs and named by the part that is the most recognizable.
What the Daily Grind Can Look Like
What the Daily Grind Can Look Like

Based on these, there is then no cookie-cutter, logical explanation to the rise in overall intra and interpersonal disharmony due to intolerance…unless we consider tracing the frustration explosion phenomena to axiom number 3: ALL LONG-LASTING PSYCHOLOGICAL PROBLEMS ARE RELATIONSHIP PROBLEMS. The inability to communicate one’s thoughts and be heard, the ability to differentiate between being assertive and aggressive, and to tie one’s rights over other’s personal space all blurring the lines of the collective unconscious which is present a form of the unconscious (part of the mind Dr.Carl Jung proposed contained memories and impulses of which the individual is not aware) common to mankind and originating in the inherited structure of the brain.

What then if the collective unconscious has been relegated to crevices of mini mental villages and worlds as the highly technological world is creating biological changes in the apportions of appendages (e.g. functions of the thumb due to device usage) and dysregulated exposure to speed and graphics?

Choice Theory also says in axiom 7: All we do is behave. Behavior is situation and environmentally dependent, a thrive and strive response with surviving as the initial aim and contributing as the end goal. If one is not equipped with the tools to compete in the circles that are surrounding him or her, there is the tendency to withdraw, the flight, fight and freeze phenomenon courtesy of the cerebral Acetylcholine (Ach) all to preserve one’s sanity and self. Behavior is an output, both genuine and malicious. If however there is an aberration of brain function, behavior will also mirror the bizarre processes; the anticipation of learned helplessness via anger or hurt habituates the brain into assuming this is the ‘normal’ state of being.

We don’t need to go to extremes however to be in learned helplessness — being in a job that is meaningless, a relationship that is not working, difficulties with parents or with children — all daily, common struggles experienced by us which push and pull stressors in one’s coping mechanisms. And our eventual responses can range from being on the high frustration tolerance (HFT) or low frustration tolerance (LFT), as per Dr. Windy Dryden, a leading Cognitive Behavior Therapist (CBT) in the United Kingdom.

He says that high frustration tolerance beliefs are rational in that they are again primarily flexible and not grossly exaggerated. These beliefs are expressed in their full form, thus: ‘Failing my college exam would be difficult to tolerate, but I could stand it’. The stronger a person’s unmet preference, the more difficult it would be for her to tolerate this situation, but if the person holds an HFT belief it would still be tolerable. That would mean an HFT belief is consistent with reality, and is logical since it again makes sense in the context of the person’s preference. It is like a preference and an anti-awfulizing belief. Overall, it is constructive since it will help the person take effective action if the negative event that is being faced can be changed and it will encourage the person to make a healthy adjustment if the situation cannot be changed. HFT displays often are celebrated in Olympians, in academicians, or in service above and beyond required expectations of job descriptions.

Low frustration tolerance beliefs, on the other hand, are irrational in the sense that they are first and foremost grossly exaggerated. They are couched in such statements as ‘I can’t stand it. ‘I can’t bear it., ‘It’s intolerable. When a person has a low frustration tolerance belief, it means one of two things: (i) the person will disintegrate or (ii) the person will never experience any happiness again. Since these two statements are obviously untrue, an LFT belief is inconsistent with reality.

Even Dogs Do It....
Even Dogs Do It….

It is also illogical since it is a nonsensical conclusion from the person’s implicit rational belief (e.g. ‘Because it would be very bad if I failed my college exam, I couldn’t stand it if I did fail’). Finally, like musts and awfulizing beliefs, it is unconstructive since it will interfere with the person taking effective action if the negative event that the person is facing can be changed and it will stop the person from making a healthy adjustment if the situation cannot be changed. Extreme examples of LFT displays end up in news headlines: aggression by the bullied, the angry, the fundamentalists.

If we brought these concepts of frustration to Education, we would refer to a recent graduate study by April Vian in 2012 from Kaplan University that looked at,  “Teacher Frustration Tolerance and Disruptive Behavior of Special Education Students.” Teachers completed the Munich Personality Test with its measure of general frustration tolerance and a survey designed for this study of frustration tolerance for special education students. Results demonstrated negative correlations between teachers’ general frustration tolerance and numbers of student discipline incidents among both general and special education children. Results also indicated that teachers found specific disabilities to be more frustrating than others and that frustration tolerance of certain disabilities may predict numbers of discipline incidents for these children.

Ultimately, the direction of the correlation was the inverse, with teachers having the greatest frustration tolerance for special education students also evidencing the greatest numbers of discipline incidents among these students. Among several explanations considered by the researcher, it was suggested that the school administrator in the facility where this study occurred was aware of teachers’ with high levels of frustration tolerance for special education students and thus assigned the most difficult students to these teachers. These lead teachers to have the greatest number of associated discipline incidents among special education students.

Knowing how neurotransmitters are affected by bodily and emotional processes, it is then no surprise that levels of frustration can be influenced by these as well. As the focus in brain training is on strengthening the Pre-Frontal Cortex and Executive Functioning Skills, there also needs to be a heightened awareness for the environmental expectations to not demand more than what the developmental brain can muster, including in ourselves. Irrational beliefs usually stem from irrational or negative emotions that have been learned over time, over habitual exposure to situations that an individual deems impossible to control or comprehend, natural or society-caused.

Humor Always Helps
Humor Always Helps