the occipal lobes are in the back and that’s where we process visual information,
the temporal lobes are on either side and that’s where we process sound (includes the hippocampus which is the memory center of the brain),
the parietal lobes are on the top and that’s where we process tactile sensory information including touch and associate meaning to what we sense. Also where auditory and visual signals get associated with memories to make meaning.
and finally and perhaps most importantly is the frontal lobes where we do our highest order thinking and much of what we’ll be talking about today will be focused in the frontal lobes because writing is the single most complicated task any student ever has to do in school.I also want to point out the cerebellum here also known as the little brain because the cerebellum controls much of our movement and is particularly important in handwriting which is of course part of the writing process.
I promise I’m not going to get too technical and most of you probably know much of this already because neuroscience is such a hot field right now, but part of what I’ve been thinking and researching the past few days as I’ve been getting ready for this talk has been the writing pathway. For those of you who are reading specialists or are familiar with reading, you probably know that reading is a learned process, it’s not innate like language but we actually do know exactly what the reading pathway is in the brain, where it can break down and how to remediate it. Writing, on the other hand, is a whole other ball game. For starters, writing is the single most complicated academic task our brains ever do. And the reason I want to give you just a very simple, very simple! Picture of the brain is to that you can understand why I (and also neurosiciense in general) doesn’t know as much about writing. generally speaking, when we talk about the brain we need to be aware of the fact that it has four major lobes:
I don’t know how well you guys can see this, but there are basically 5 layers of learning, at the very bottom or core we have the core learning skills (EXAMPLES) – this is usually stuff that an OT works on.Next we have processing skills. If any of you are familiar with Mel Levine’s work he talks about 7 core learning skills: attention, memory, speed, language (which includes sound processing), visual processing, logic and reasoning and finally Executive function. This is where at ET comes in. Unless there is a serious language processing delay that requires an SLP, the majority of the work that I do is at this level…so I do memory training, attention tranining, work on speed, work on auditory processing, etc. in this chart EF is it’s own separate layer and I actually believe that’s more accurate. PROBLEM: since you are working at the tip of the ice berg but there is 3 very complext layers of learning underneath and you guys are in an especially imporant position since you see kids every day and what you see is often much more informative than any test I or a neuropsychologist can give so again, I hope this encourages you to think about learning not just as academics but as all these pieces that go together to make a learning brain.
Some of you might be wondering about diagnoses. I personally don’t like labels not because of stigmas but because EVERY kid’s learning process is different ESPECIALLY when they have a problem. No two autistic kids are the same, no two ADHD kids are the same, so even though if a kid has ADHD I know I have to look at memory, attention, executive function, I know I’m going to find different things there and that’s why I look at processing skills and not diagnoses.EF is our decision making process. (Orchestra: string, brass, percussion, wind etc.) –in the news a lot because of ADHD. And I want to highlight is because writing is HUGELY an executive function task. EF, since I’ll be talking about is:Inner language is a strong component of working memoryHow Writing Teaches Excutive Function:Self managementOrganization Ecision makingplanningSequencingInner language Visual languageEditing (evaluating)Adjust (think about things in different ways)Monitor attentionSense of spaceSense of time (think with time)See the big pictureNotice detailsFlexibility in thought and approachSlow down (poetry)Examining self talkDealing with frustration But just to wrap this up, on top of EF we have basic content learning (reading, writing, math, etc.) and then we have higher level content learning and that’s WHERE TEACHERS come in.
How does this all relate to the writing process?
Now I’m going to borrow a little bit from what we know about reading to explain writing because reading remains the most researched skill we have and writing remains the least reserached (one reason is that it’s sooooo complicated). But this is from the lindamood-bell people for those of you who may know them and the basic message here is that the reason we read is to comprehend just as the reason we write is to create meaning and here you have three circles (EXPLAIN) and then the spectrum.
I couldn’t find something similar so I made like a teacher and made one. And I could come up with at least 5 components to writing and they are (EXPLAIN). On the spectrum we would go from dysgraphia (which is a disorder of written expression) to what I called meta-cognition which is similar to comprehension in reading where you not only have to be able to visualize, understand the gestalt or main idea and get the language but there is an extra step just like there is at the other end with dysgraphia – there you have a problem with encoding like you do with decoding in reading but you also have the motor component – on this side you have language, visualization, understanding what we call the gestalt or big picture AND executive function! You don’t need executive function for reading, you absolutely cannot write without it which is why as in everything else the problem IS the therapy. You have to write to build EF. Dysgraphia – motor problems, encoding difficulty, visual perception difficulties, sequencing problems, ADHD, auditory processing weakness, memory issue (digit span) – for those of you who are coming to the small group section I’m going to be sharing programs with you that hit all of these problems but for this keynote I really want to focus on the other end of the spectrum because ultimately, and some of you may disagree, but I believe that writing is what happens on this side. Everything here can be cut out of the loop with a writing aid or secretary. AS a therapist, I use writing to REMEDIATE EF and ADHD! I do it with older kids…
I hope that paints a picture of how complex a process writing is and how many different pieces of a very intricate pathways have to be working perfectly in order for us to write. And often they don’t. But I don’t want you to despair. In fact, I want you to get ready because you guys are the ones that are going to be building and remediating all of these problems.Back when I worked at TCRWP, I was impressed by the curriculum that we were using in NYC schools one, because the curriculum follows the process that authors go through. In other words, it’s brain based. Second, it is still the only way of teaching I know that allows for true one-on-one work in a classroom setting. In short, it had all the structures to let teachers be educational therapists. When I went back and looked through units of study for this talk, I was shocked to find that almost every aspect of this curriculum is building better brains by working on the underlying learning skills and actually, in writing workshop, it’s working on one of the most difficult parts of processing to build (EF).
Traditional curriculum inherintly does this. In math: multiplication table (memory path)algebra (logic and reasoning), reading (visualizing), handwriting (Repetitive handwriting movements create neural connections that influence impulse control, attention)and now writing works to build the most difficult part of all (EF). Past a certain point, doesn’t develop on its own like your arm, you have to build it! And I want to show you how by doing writing workshop you are building a better brain.
I have to admit, I was a bitaprehensive about this talk because I know that while things like Attention, memory, sequencing,visual and motor skills and phonemic awareness and encoding, even language develop early and in place by about 8 ½. Exectuive Function begins to become apparent around 4th grade but doesn’t fully develop until 25. So the idea of teaching writing or teaching EF to young kids seemed not exactly developmetanlly appropriate.
But when I went back and started reading the teaching instruction in this curriculum I realized it’s not only almost EXACTLY the way we as Ed therapists are trained to work with students, but the curriculum is actually pulling apart EF into the small pieces that ARE developmentally appropriate and explicitly teaching them. I wish someone could do a STUDY because I would hypothesize that kids who do writing workshop are far less likely to have the EF problems we begin to see in Middle School and it has nothing to do with writing and everything to do with managing and organizing themselves in the ways we expect them to.Let me show you what I mean:
I’m not going to go into a lot of detail here because there is no time and also because you guys know this curriculum better than I do, but EXPLAIN chart. Equally important I wanted to point out some of the language I found in the units of study that felt really right. This is the kind of language we again as therapists are trained to use with kids who have difficulties:Make a Mental Movie of yourself following your directions (visualization)Write the sounds you hear (sound letter coordination)Use your finger to help space your words (motor planning)Help me see what you saw (visualizaiton, language output)Touch Each page and think about what will go on that page (EF, planning, multisensory)LAST: emotions! I also found that this curriculum really works to educate and help students regulate emotions. The arts is how we educate our emotions in general but emotional regulation is a huge component of executive function and I saw a lot of explicit teaching of emotions in this curriculum.
The Write Brain
The Write Brain<br /> How OurBrain Affects Writing and How Writing Affects Our Brain<br /> Bibinaz Pirayesh, Educational Therapist<br />
Goals:<br />Understand that writing is the single most complex academic task our brains ever do<br />Understand which parts of the brain are involved in writing<br />Have an overall picture of the Learning Continuum and how it’s reflected in writing<br />Understand the difference between writing and written expression<br />Understand how writing builds a better brain<br />