Interactive Brain Map

Click below to explore OpenColleges’s interactive Brain Map. Filled with facts about the brain as well as strategies for leveraging those brain features to take ownership over learning. Enjoy.

Open Colleges Presents Your Brain Map: 84 Strategies for Accelerated Learning

An interactive infographic by Open Colleges

Humor — It’s all in your head

Humor is generally regarded as an important and valuable tool for sustaining engagement with students (in moderation, of course). But what is really going on in the brain when it comes to humor?

In an article in New Scientist magazine, Daniel Elkan writes,

Yet humour is a far more complex process than primeval pleasures like sex or food. In addition to the two core processes of getting the joke and feeling good about it, jokes also activate regions of the frontal and cingulate cortex, which are linked with association formation, learning and decision-making. The team (led by Dean Mobbs of Stanford) also found heightened activity in the anterior cingulate cortex and the frontoinsular cortex – regions that are only present in humans and, in a less developed form, great apes. Indeed, the fact that these regions are involved suggests that humour is an advanced ability which may have only evolved in early humans, says Watson, who conducted the research.

He goes on to write,

More than anything, the recent research confirms the fact that humour, an oft-neglected trait when considering our cognitive skills, requires a tremendous amount of brain power. “Getting a joke would seem – on the surface – to be a very trivial, intuitive process. But brain imaging is showing us that there is more going on than we might think,” says (Andrea) Samson (of the University of Fribourg in Switzerland).

Below is the accompanying graphic for that article, showing the parts of the brain activated when under the influence of humor:


The Mysterious Workings of the Adolescent Brain

There is a common thread that connects the earliest parents to the current ones. It isn’t walking to school uphill in snow both ways, negotiating screen time, or bedtime battles. At some point or another we have all thought the same thing about our kids: “What in the world were they thinking?!”

While neuroscience still has a long way to go to truly and completely answer that question, the mental processes involved (or not) in making decisions in the adolescent mind are coming to light. Check out this great TED Talk by Cognitive neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore who studies “the social brain . . . and how it develops in the adolescent brain.” (From her TED Talk bio.)

Want to know more about the mysterious (and vexing) adolescent brain? Check out Dr. Judy Willis’s ASCD webinars archived here.

What’s Up with Kate? (Part 2)

Last week we told you about Kate, a 6th grade student with some learning challenges.  Kate is earning good grades, but she really has to work hard for everything – seemingly much harder than her peers.  She struggles to retain new vocabulary words, recall information from reading passages, follow multi-step directions, and master math facts.

So what’s really going on with Kate?  We got some terrific responses to last week’s post, with thoughtful analyses of Kate’s challenges as well as creative strategies for using her strengths and affinities to help her.  Here’s what we think:

The Good News

Kate has strengths in expressive language and writing.  She is also very creative, a function of higher order cognition.  She enjoys graphic design and computers, indicators that spatial ordering could be a strength for her.  She also loves animals, especially cats.  We’d want to continue to encourage her in these areas, and take advantage of these strengths and affinities when coming up with strategies to help Kate. (See the comments on last week’s blog for some great ideas on how to do this!)

Getting at the Root of the Problem

As many of our readers suggested in their comments, memory seems to be an underlying theme behind Kate’s learning issues. While retrieving information from long-term memory is okay, getting the information into long-term memory is a challenge that is showing up when she studies new spelling and vocabulary words and tries to master her math facts. Summarizing what she reads also relies on functions of memory, including active working memory. Weak active working memory could also be making it difficult for Kate to follow multi-step directions. 

Talking to Kate

The first step we’d take is to discuss with her the reasons behind some of her difficulties in reading and the resulting academic struggles. It’s important to highlight Kate’s strengths as well as the areas in need of improvement.  As one of last week’s readers alluded to, we’d also want to foster her confidence that she can succeed in these areas.

We’d talk with Kate about the different types of memory, and tell her that she has difficulty “getting things into” her memory. We might make this idea more concrete by using an analogy such as putting clothes in a dresser or papers in a file so she can easily find them later.  We’d share with her that subjects like social studies and science have a lot of factual information and more memory demands than other subjects, which is why she struggles more in these areas.

Working toward Success

As we mentioned earlier, we’d want to capitalize on her strengths and interests when thinking about strategies to use with Kate.  Here’s a few examples:

  • Support Kate’s interest in animals by having her read about a species or particular animal and practice summarization skills and memory strategies by role-playing as a zoologist. 
  • In addition to supporting Kate’s art activities, give her the opportunity to work with experts in set-design and construction, so that she will see multi-step processes and instructions at work.

Other strategies you might try with Kate include …

  • Help with reading – Provide her with some basic accommodations in reading assignments to help her experience some success in class and to improve her learning of the content. For example, give her outlines – possibly partially-completed – from text book chapters to guide her to important information.  As one reader mentioned, graphic organizers, charts, and drawings might also work well for Kate.  Have her save these “tools” to study for tests.  These tools might vary based on the subject.  For example, in history, she may benefit from making timelines or creating cause-effect flow charts.  In math, she may benefit from making reference cards with the technical vocabulary words of an upcoming lesson.  One reader also recommended using visuals to help Kate remember math facts (e.g. the program “Nine Lines”).
  • Help with tests – Give Kate specific guidance in what is expected of her on tests and assignments. For example, instead of just asking Kate about the author’s intent in a story, provide instruction to her: “The next few questions will ask you about the author’s intentions in writing the story. Use what we learned about the author’s feelings about the subject to help you understand her intentions. Use facts in the story to back up your conclusions.”
  • Help with vocabulary – Limit the number of new vocabulary words she’s asked to learn at one time. Too many vocab words can be overwhelming for her, especially if other rules are introduced at the same time. For example, the word endings for action, suspicion, and suspension all sound the same, but are spelled differently. Some students find it easier to practice these rules one at a time.  One of last week’s readers also suggested having Kate “visualize” her vocab words.

See the comments on last week’s blog entry for more great strategies for working with kids like Kate.  What strategies would you use?  What are some other ways we could leverage her strengths and affinities?  If you haven’t done so already, share your ideas with us by leaving a comment below!

Related links:

Teachers: What’s Your Framework?

By Craig Pohlman, Ph.D., Co-author of Schools for All Kinds of Minds and Director of MindMatters at Southeast Psych, a learning program in Charlotte, NC

In some circles, All Kinds of Minds has become equated with the neurodevelopmental framework it uses, but this framework is only one aspect of their approach to understand learning and learners.  All Kinds of Minds is really about a set of principles for education, such as leveraging strengths and affinities.  So the framework itself is not nearly as important as having a framework.

The Value of a Framework for Understanding Learning

As we note in Schools for All Kinds of Minds, gathering and then making sense of clues about learning is made easier with a framework for sorting and organizing those clues.  In the same way that artists or musicians know their influences, teachers should know what pedagogical theory guides their instruction.  Louis Pasteur once wrote, “In the fields of observation chance favors only the prepared mind.” A framework prepares the mind for understanding learners.  A framework is a conceptual structure or mental scaffolding that can be used to organize observations from multiple sources.  It is vital equipment for an educator because it clarifies what to look for and then guides how to interpret what is found.

A framework facilitates communication.  When teachers, students, and parents use similar terms to describe learners, collaboration is made much easier.

Learning plans are more readily handed off to different teachers.  Also, using a common vocabulary helps teachers support each others’ thinking and problem solving.

Our Framework

The neurodevelopmental framework used by All Kinds of Minds is an organizing structure through which all learners can be understood.  Developed with an eye towards linkages with academic skills, such as reading and writing, it is similar to neuropsychological frameworks and draws from disciplines such as speech-language pathology.  Its structure and components are well-supported by the research literature.  Its major aspects, or constructs, are attention, higher order cognition, language, memory, neuromotor function, social cognition, spatial ordering, and temporal-sequential ordering.

Frameworks Can Be Eye-Opening

Using a framework is not confining.  Rather, it is liberating in how it opens one’s eyes to new sources of data and more sophisticated levels of understanding.  Put differently, patterns and themes emerge more easily with a framework.  Also, a conceptual framework can and should be adaptable; it’s not acceptable for one’s framework to remain ossified in the face of new thinking and research.   The All Kinds of Minds framework has certainly evolved over the years.

If you are new to the AKOM approach, take the framework out for a spin.  You’ll probably find it comprehensive, yet user-friendly.  Most importantly, it will prepare your mind.

Craig’s  previous books are Revealing Minds and How Can My Kid Succeed in School?

Note from All Kinds of Minds: Did you hear about our free book giveaway?  Each week that we feature a blog post related to Schools for All Kinds of Minds, we’ll be giving away a free, signed copy of the book!  To be entered to win this week, you must subscribe to our blog and share your thoughts about this blog entry by posting a comment.  We look forward to hearing from you!

Related Links:

>      Schools for All Kinds of MindsRead book excerpts, purchase the book, download book extras, and more!

>      All Kinds of Minds neurodevelopmental framework

Summer Blog Series Post #6: The Role of Higher Order Cognition in Revising Written Work

Adding content and new ideas to a story, essay, or report can be difficult, but it is also very important. Students may stop at the end of a sentence, reread what they have written, and decide there is a better word to express what they want to say. They may find places where they need to add more description or rearrange sentences. (We did some revising while writing this blog post!)

Revising can happen at any time during the writing process. Some students spontaneously revise while they are writing. In school, students are often asked to reflect on what they’ve written after they finish their first draft – a task that can be challenging for many students. These students often focus on fixing punctuation and spelling rather than enhancing the content. 

To revise, students must first detect that there is something to change and then know how to change it.  Considerations include audience, grammar rules, appropriate levels of detail, and clarity of expression, just to name a few.  Revising written work is a multifaceted challenge, in terms of both academic skills and neurodevelopmental functions.

Neurodevelopmental factors:

This skill of revising – adding content and new ideas to a story or report changing a word, being more descriptive, re-ordering sentences, or inserting a new paragraph – requires students’ language and higher order cognition to be working well.  In this post, we’ll focus on the higher order cognition demands – specifically, creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving.

Students need to be creative and brainstorm new ideas when revising their writing. They also need to think critically about what information they need to cut and what they need to add – what will make the information most effective for the reader. Writing can be interpreted as a problem-solving task: The topic or assignment is the “problem,” and students need to “solve” the problem by producing a written piece that addresses the topic or assignment. Revising is a critical step in ensuring the quality of the end product, or the effectiveness of the “solution.” 

Here are some possible signs that a student is succeeding with the higher order cognition demands of writing:

The student …

  • comes up with original, engaging ideas to share through their writing
  • is able to evaluate written material for problem areas such as clarity, relevance to the topic at hand, level of detail, logical sequence, etc.
  • includes highly imaginative ideas in their stories
  • chooses words that are appropriate for the targeted reader
  • is capable of identifying problems with a writing passage and taking appropriate steps to resolve problems

Here are some possible signs that a student is struggling with the higher order cognition demands of writing:

The student …

  • has trouble choosing a topic to write about or using imagination to generate an engaging story or report
  • asks many questions about what to do to enhance their writing, e.g. which passages need revisions, how to address problems with the written work, etc.
  • generates better written work when allowed to collaborate with a peer or conference with a teacher
  • does not logically think through potential ways of resolving a problem, instead pursuing the first thing that comes to mind

Strategies to help students struggling with revising written work:

  • Have students break the revising process into steps, beginning with going through and marking the places where they need to add or change information. Students can use different colored pencils, pens, or stickers to mark where they need to make changes. For example, green could be where they need to think of some new words, yellow for where they should add more details, blue where they need to move a sentence, etc.
  • When having students work together as peer editors, first model the process and types of question they should ask. Provide students with a list of questions that they can ask the writer and example sentence starters for providing feedback. For example, “I really liked it when you said…”
  • Employ the C-D-O revising strategy (Compare, Diagnose, Operate):
    COMPARE: Read a sentence.
    DIAGNOSE: Does this sound right? Am I getting away from the main idea?  Will other people understand and believe the main idea?  Do I like it as is?  After “diagnosing,” the student should ask himself, “Why was this the diagnosis for that sentence?”
    OPERATE: Do I need to leave this sentence out? Do I need to include more information? Do I need to reword it? Should I leave it the same?
    Go to the next sentence and repeat the strategy.

We’d love to hear what strategies or activities you’ve used to help students who are struggling with revising their writing.  Leave a comment below with your ideas!

Related links:

Learn more about our summer series

  1. More information and strategies around the revision process
  2. More information and strategies on writing in general
  3. Related research on higher order cognition
  4. Writing section of the All Kinds of Minds Parent Toolkit
  5. Writing games for kids on (click on the “Writing Games” tab to the left)