Loving Life

It’s been a while, once again, since I last posted, and things in my life have been simply amazing both professionally and personally. I’ll keep the “personally” to myself as a constant reminder to be grateful for all the changes in my life, but for you readers, I wanted to share all my amazing professional actions from the last twelve months!

http://lindamoodbell.com
http://lindamoodbell.com

A year ago, I finished working as a behavioral aide, one-on-one with a third grader and began working as a learning clinician at a learning center. The learning center, Lindamood-Bell, focuses mainly on word recognition and reading comprehension, but it also works on math for some students. Their foundation for teaching/learning is based on the dual coding theory. I’ll be writing about that in another blog. For me, though, I have loved every moment. I have instructed several students from age 5 all the way up to 25. Their improvement has been dramatic. To provide a few examples, I worked a few students who started by recognizing the letters of the alphabet. When they finished their programs, they were reading at a minimum of two grades higher than when they initially tested. I’ve had other students who could read just fine, but had no idea what they were reading. This type of learning disability is called “hyperlexia”. With these students we start with simple descriptions of pictures and move on to sentences, then paragraphs, then stories. It always amazes me the progress students can make in just a few weeks and how their confidence levels completely change. I’m only working a few hours a week there while managing my epilepsy, but every child I’ve met there has impacted me.

Second, in November of last year, I began an unpaid internship/volunteer position as a research assistant at the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences. I assisted a post-doctoral fellow with a study she was completing on how the brain stem responds to sounds. Throughout the study, I learned how to schedule participants, run tests written in MathLab, and set up MEG sessions. It was a very steep learning curve for me.

http://ilabs.washington.edu/
http://ilabs.washington.edu/

Whenever I’m involved in something that fulfills my passion, I turn into a perfectionist, and I catch every single thing I did wrong. So, I was a bit hard on myself. The preliminary study finished at the end of April, and the post-doctoral fellow presented her findings at a conference in Texas. Of course, I’ll not be credited in any part of the study, but I have the satisfaction of knowing I assisted in a successful Brain Sciences research, and my work mattered.

Finally, I attended the Infant and Early Childhood Conference, held in May of this year in Tacoma, Washington. I didn’t know what to expect, but I assumed some of the sessions would be helpful to education advocates as well as educators. My favorite session was with Jocelyn Manzanarez of Musically Minded.

http://www.musicallyminded.net/
http://www.musicallyminded.net/

She taught us, mostly educators, the importance of rhyme, rhythm, surprise, and music starting from infancy through kindergarten. And, she provided us with copies of some of the songs she uses with children and other early childhood educators. It brought to mind the dual coding theory followed by Lindamood-Bell, which again, I’ll focus on in a follow up blog. I have since followed her on her mailing list, Facebook, and Twitter. Her staff includes those who have completed degrees in music and/or music education, but their work is based on sound peer-reviewed research. She happily sent me the research she is currently following as she continues to craft her career. I highly recommend parents of young children and early educators to check out her website. If you’re not local to the Puget Sound, I am confident she can recommend organizations that are similar to hers.

So, that has been my last twelve months. I’m still living in the Seattle area and finding more ways to hone my career, and I hope to share more excitement as 2017 continues. Thanks for reading, and keep coming back for updates!

Booklet Review: Starting smart: How early experiences affect brain development (1)

It’s been awhile since I’ve blogged, and I’ve realized it’s been even longer since I’ve talked about some of the research I’ve saved and have been meaning to read. Now that I’ve switched to a new laptop and backed up a lot of the research articles I’ve saved, I’m taking the opportunity to finally go through them. These aren’t in any particular chronological order. I’m choosing them in the order they appear in my google drive, so I hope my readers will find these research articles or research summaries as fascinating as I have. My goal is to keep these blogs to approximately 750 words, so if my reviews are more extensive, they may extend through two or more blogs.

The first is Starting smart: How early experiences affect brain development. This booklet was put together by Zero to Three and The Ounce of Prevention Fund, and it was published in 2000. While it is 16 years old, I feel it is still very relevant to early childhood education.

First, this booklet discusses the importance or blend of genetics and environment. While genetics are largely important, it is the environment in which the infant and young child grows which will determine when and how certain genetic traits will develop. This is a recent discovery as there had previously been a debate as to which was the primary factor in human development. B.F. Skinner stressed that development, particularly language, was behavioral, based on the behaviors an infant sees as he is growing. Others, such as Noam Chomsky, argued that growth was innate, and it was this innateness that was the precursor to anything else that could cause development within an infant.

Zero to Three and Ounce of Prevention Fund argue that the combination is in fact the why and the how a person develops. And it is not simply observed behavior that influences development. Rather, it is nutrition, medical care, nurturing or the lack thereof, and observed behavior which will influence development, and of course as I mentioned above, how/when any innate traits contributed by the parents will develop. In other words, a child may have the innate ability to be bilingual, but unless that child has the all-around complete environmental contributors, that innate quality will either never be expressed or will be expressed to a lesser degree than it might have had the ability to do.

Further, it is important to note that the argument nature versus nurture takes on a greater significance. Nurture, in this article, isn’t just the environmental factors in general, but rather whether a child will be nurtured by his parents or neglected. Even a child with healthy genetics can develop into an adult that has severe mental or emotional disabilities.

My primary background before entering the world of general human development was in bilingual education. I had taken several bilingual education courses at the graduate level before deciding I wanted to pursue psychology and then educational psychology. So, I understood primarily how language and dual languages develop and the importance of exposure at a young age. I mention this simply because it’s important to note that the brain has a greater ability to learn when it is “new”. I have recently learned that the brain development or formation allows for so much more than language learning.

The author of Starting smart: How early experiences affect brain development explains, “In most regions of the brain, no new neurons are formed after birth. Instead, brain development consists of an ongoing process of wiring and re-wiring the connections among neurons” (p. 3). The brain can make new connections from one nerve to another, but it is essentially complete at birth. It has everything a child needs (or rather everything his parents could have possibly given him) to survive or thrive. Whether the child is able to use everything he is given is next dependent on that nutrition, medical care, education, etc. Once that brain formation period ends, at approximately as late as 10 years of age for some genetic expressions, very little can be done to retrieve those unexpressed genetic traits.

So, what does this all mean? Certainly most parents are aware that healthy development leads to success, but can all parents offer the quality of “healthy development”. Of course not. Socioeconomic factors play a role. The so-called exceptions to this rule are those that achieved some aspect of proper childhood medical care, nutrition, etc.

I will continue this discussion of socioeconomic background and brain development tomorrow.