Tag Archives: theory of mind

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!

Introduction

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.

Education, Meet Neuro

Careers in Education span from being a one to one teaching assistant, which may or may not require education beyond high school, to holding a doctorate in education with the hopes of changing policy, running a school or teaching future teachers at prestigious universities. The paths to becoming an educator therefore, are as multi-faceted–ranging from the vocational training as a one to one teaching assistant to trial by fire  in teacher-certification or principal training programs. Arts_Education_KoreaLogoMany who enter the field, hold the ideals of wanting to change the world and to contribute to the education of the future generation; however, many of those same inviduals leave the field after a long and albeit arduous career,  with little to no passion for the profession they entered or beliefs they had about changing the world.

Why the phenomenon? Our colleagues have narrowed it down to the lack of support overall, both in background preparation and in workplace coaching. No one from either area really says flat out to a teacher-to-be, guess what, your classroom is a mini neighborhood, and you are expected to be town policeman, mayor, judge and parent. Maybe it is time to add therapist and neurologist to this list; skills possessed by these individuals may actually benefit an educator’s craft.

Currently, the majority of the programs that prepare our teachers discuss education theory, history and pedagogy. Many programs have teachers spend an entire semester creating a unit plan of about 5 lessons, when in reality many teachers need to create multiple lessons for multiple grades or multiple subjects in any given day. In addition, they teach to learners ranging from gifted and talented to those struggling to learn–classified, diagnosed or otherwise.

If schools of education added a fraction of the courses required to graduate with a degree in a related therapeutic service, psychologist and neurologist, perhaps it would not only change the approach taken to teaching, but also preserve the mentality educators have at the beginning of the field when they finally leave the field. An even greater outcome is teachers would change the world, at least the world for the children who they had the privilege of teaching. This is the potential of neuropedagogy. Neuropedagogy Synthesis

Neuropedagogy blends psychology, neuropsychology, neuroscience, school psychology, educational neuroscience and pedagogy into one, which results in a more complete understanding of the whole child in regards how children learn, how the brain functions and the role emotions play in both. Essentially, neuropedagogy explores the brain, body and mind of a child and takes all into account when teaching in a classroom.  However, the first step in teaching from a neuropedagogical point of view is to understand the anatomical brain, the power of neuroplasticity, and what is happening in brains of struggling learners.

Some schools have begun teacher training programs that explore this very notion, Harvard offers a Master’s Degree in Mind, Brain and Education. Courses include: cognitive neuroscience, statistics, educational neuroscience, atypical neurodevelopment, applying cognitive science to learning among other more typical education courses. The Teacher’s College at The University of Columbia offers a Master of Science degree in Neuroscience and Education and the courses are similar to those offered at Harvard. Finally The School of Education at John Hopkins offers a Mind , Brain and Teaching Certificate. The School of Education at John Hopkins has started an entire neuro-education initiative, which aims to inform teaching practices about the the research from neurosciences and how it can positively impact teaching practices. Most likely more programs are out there and gaining steam; however, these programs are all optional specializations in schools of education, not required. Educators or other professionals enrolling in these programs most likely have an understanding and background in the role neuroscience plays in teaching.

It is not enough. This is a fundamental disconnect, which poses  to lead to irreparable damage not only for the United States’s educational system as a whole, but for the ability of students to learn and learn to their optimal potential. Little understanding exists on the long-term effects of technology on developing minds, especially given the rate at which children are exposed to it in the 21st Century. Some doctors like Dr. Gary Small have begun studying the impacts. He has found less than positive outcomes on the development of essential executive functioning skills, which require a developed pre-frontal cortex and access to that cortex in order to employ them. Excessive exposure to technology threatens that entire process. Yet, teachers are expected to teach and children are expected to learn. How?

Teachers (and children for that matter) need to understand the brain and how that brain develops a mind and how both affect the body because all impact how a child learns, thinks, behaves and reacts. Take the Child’s Belief-Desire Reasoning developed by Dr. Henry Wellman, from The University of Michigan.  This complex thought process occurs instantaneously, and provides a glimpse as to why understanding the brain, body and mind is essential to successful teaching.  Child's Belief-Desire Reasoning

Common Core (for better or worse) changed the standards for our children; yet the change occurred before equipping educators with the ability to meet those changes armed with the required knowledge.  An education program would not be approved if they failed to teach lesson planning, educational theory, and areas of specialization–whether early childhood or advanced calculus. Neither should they be approved if they don’t teach teachers about the anatomy of the brain, how it functions, and how children learn.

The challenge therefore is to stop separating education from the very field it uses most. Education, meet Neuro.

The Mental Ability to Always Hope: Priceless

As there is the promise still of a new beginning,  a do-over in the resetting of the previous year, that uplifting feeling and positivity can collectively be described as Hope. Hope is not necessarily the same for everyone; however, at some point every person in the world has experienced the internal dialogue and introspection and pushed the positive thoughts out into the universe hoping on hope. And maybe a mantra some of us call prayer.

From a brain perspective,  hope  is activated and is influenced from the  neurotransmitter Dopamine.

The two specific receptors we will focus on here are D1 and D2 receptors. These receptors assist in the faciitation of the sense of well-being, which we label as hope. These have been implicated, along with oxytocin receptors, in both the maintenance and formation of social pair bonds, respectively. The density of these receptors in an area of the brain called the nucleus accumbens plays an important role in both mating and social bonds. The D2 type receptor is necessary to initially form the pair bond between two monogamous animals.

Hope then based on this study is not only a singular experience,  or a personal experience.  Rather, it’s a  collective biological, mindful collective unconscious that connects from the youngest child to the oldest human.

A study that supports the social aspect of hope was one on primates conducted by Morgan et. al., 2002, Nature Neuroscience. They had singly housed monkey brains scanned for D2 binding capacity (n = 20). Then,  the primates were allowed out of their individual cages for the first time so all the animals were now together, which meant there was an opportunity to create a social hierarchy.

After a stable hierarchy was formed the researchers re-scanned the primates brains. The high ranking animals D2 binding capacity increased by approximately 20% (the authors believe based on rat studies that singly housed animals have a lower than normal D2 levels at baseline, and therefore suggests that falling lower in the social hierarchy would cause a reduction in D2 levels if the animals start at a ‘normal’ baseline), however D2 levels in the low ranking individuals did not change.

In order too see if the changes in D2 levels had a functional effect in these animals, they  offered the addictive drug cocaine to the animals.

The high ranking animals with high D2 levels were resistant to addiction while the low ranking animals with low D2 levels were more  susceptible to addiction. These results are consistent with a large body of additional research that find low D2 levels is related with higher addiction rate.

Can one then be addicted to the feeling of hope or the idea of it?  Can it be strong enough to actually influence the consciousness of one’s mind?

Not directly seems to be the response from the scientific community. Without an external supplement to the dopamine such as cocaine, maintaining the sense of hope to a point of addiction is controlled by the D1-D2 synaptic dance.  The brains ability of course to regulate and maintain biological boundaries.

Efforts to investigate dopamine’s role in addiction and normal biological processes have been complicated by the fact that the nervous system contains multiple kinds of receptor molecules for dopamine as well as different types of nerve cells that use dopamine.

“Research in humans and other species has shown that increased vulnerability to drug addiction correlates with reduced availability of D2 dopamine receptors in a brain region called the striatum,” explains David M. Lovinger, Ph.D., chief of NIAAA’s Laboratory for Integrative Neuroscience. “Furthermore, healthy non-drug-abusing humans that have low levels of the D2 dopamine receptor report more pleasant experiences when taking drugs of abuse.”

On another front,  Quantum mechanics has determined that if you think it, it is.  The thought of hope and the end product of hope are one and the same.

Quantum physics specifically states in the act of observing an object (events, conditions and circumstances) the cause for the thought to be there and the outcome is based only on how we observe it. An object or thought cannot and does not exist independently of its observer.

The Quantum Field is an “Infinite” field of potential. Anything and everything that has, does or will exist, begins as a wave in this field and is transformed into the physical realm, limited only by what can be conceived as truth by the observer.

Following this line of thinking,  one can only hope for an experience that is being craved or an object that has not yet been retrieved.  All within the realm of the subjective experience of what hope looks like to one person: from positive to hope-imagenegative hopes. Antithetical as this may sound,  there’s a reality out there for negative hopes.

That would be best explained with a philosophy of thought called the Theory of Mind.

This theory has roots in philosophy, particularly in the groundwork for a science of the mind laid down by René Descartes (1596–1650). The Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget (1896– 1980) suggested that before the age of 3 or 4 egocentrism prevents children from understanding that other people’s thoughts and viewpoints may differ from their own. And in 1978 Nicholas Humphrey proposed that introspective consciousness has a specific function as it enables social animals to predict each other’s behavior.

Theory of mind is a theory as it is believed one’s mind is not directly observable. The presumption that others have a mind is because each human can only intuit the existence of his/her own mind through introspection, and no one has direct access to the mind of another. It is typically assumed that others have minds by analogy with one’s own, and this assumption is based on the reciprocal nature of social interaction, as observed in joint attention, the functional use of language, and understanding of others’ emotions and actions. Having a theory of mind allows one to attribute thoughts, desires, and intentions to others, to predict or explain their actions, and to posit their intentions.

Without a mind, one would either have negative or no hopes. Someone with a theory of mind (ToM) impairment would be someone having difficulty with perspective taking. This is also sometimes referred to as mind-blindness. This means that individuals with a ToM impairment would have a hard time seeing things from any other perspective than their own. Individuals who experience a theory of mind deficit have difficulty determining the intentions of others, lack understanding of how their behavior affects others, and have a difficult time with social reciprocity.

In the end,  no matter which of these you adhere to, the ability to hope is a truly human faculty. Hopefully if will be one hopeful year for those of you with priceless hope.