Wrapping Your Mind Around the Brain
Authors: Hillary Keys, Early Childhood Consultant, Texas Deafblind Project, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI)
Keywords: brain, neuroscience, learning, somatosensory system, cortical/cerebral visual impairment, CVI, resources
Perhaps the most complex part of the human body is the brain, making it “important for teachers and parents to understand that maturation of the brain influences learning readiness.” (Semrud-Clikeman, 2015). Everything teachers do changes and shapes students’ brains. When learning occurs, the brain changes, reorganizes, and grows neural networks (Cherry, 2022). Teachers of students with visual impairment (TSVIs), Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialists (COMS), and teachers of students who are deafblind (TDBs) may not study the brain in the same detail as neuroscientists. However, to be most effective, they should understand enough about the brain to select appropriate strategies, design meaningful lessons, and optimize instruction.
For example, for students with cortical/cerebral visual impairment (CVI), a teacher’s understanding of how the brain works directly impacts their ability to help build consistent visual attention, integrate vision with function, and refine CVI characteristics (Perkins School for the Blind). For all students, understanding the somatosensory system (which includes the vestibular and proprioception systems), is an important component of learning. Whether the teacher is working on object identification, texture discrimination for learning braille, or using motor skills for any task including walking, way-finding, or sitting upright, that system is busy. It determines, among other things, temperature, differentiating tactile information, deciding how much pressure to exert when touching, where the body is in space and whether the body is upright and balanced or not, and whether there is any pain as the skin sends signals to the brain (Dougherty, 2020). Expectations for communication and self-regulation, choice of interaction strategies, and understanding a student’s readiness to learn should be based on understanding the student’s cognitive, emotional and developmental levels. Researchers from various disciplines outside of education dedicate themselves to understanding various aspects of brain development, and many share their findings.
Resources for learning more about the brain
This is not an exhaustive list of resources. It is meant to offer a cross-section of relevant and accessible information.
- Harvard Center on the Developing Child provides scientific information translated for non-scientists to use, evidence-based interventions, and a learning community of like-minded practitioners. It includes The Brain Architects Podcast. Consider listening to this podcast any time that you have 15 minutes or an hour between appointments to digest some information.
- Texas Deafblind Project’s Podcasts and Webinars webpage offers some audio files on topics related to brain development from Dr. Judy Cameron and others.
- For information on cortical/cerebral visual impairment (CVI):
- For some basic information about the brain and how it works:
- Very Well Mind is not a site about the brain per se. Its focus is mental health, but the section titled Biological Psychology contains articles about how the brain and nervous system impact human behavior.
- Sensational Brain offers resources and courses. While the site is geared towards occupational therapists (OTs), there is plenty of useful information for teachers and parents. There is a fee for much of the content, but there are also quite a few free resources.
- Are you intrigued by the somatosensory system? The following resources will get you started:
Applications of Psychological Science to Teaching and Learning modules. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/education-career/k12/brain-function
Cherry. K. (2022). What is neuroplasticity? Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-brain-plasticity-2794886
Dougherty, P. (2020). Somatosensory Systems (Section 2, Chapter 2) Neuroscience Online: An Electronic Textbook for the Neurosciences. Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy, The University of Texas Medical School at Houston. https://nba.uth.tmc.edu/neuroscience/m/s2/chapter02.html
Perkins School for the Blind. (n.d.). Examining degree of impact and CVI phases. https://www.perkins.org/examining-degree-of-impact-and-cvi-phases/
Semrud-Clikeman, Margaret. (2015). Research in brain function and learning. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/education-career/k12/brain-function