Ruth K. Chaffee
As teachers, we strive each day to teach students and to enrich their lives with the delight of knowledge. No knowledge is more fundamental to creating a lifetime learner than beginning to understand neurological function and the actual process of learning. Over the course of four weeks, this unit will introduce high school students to the basic components of the brain, the process of learning, and variables and strategies that can increase or decrease learning success.
This unit is designed for instruction in a high school special education resource classroom. All of the students are mainstreamed into regular classrooms, but spend one period of their school day in the resource classroom for pre-teaching, reinforcement, and support on assignments from the regular curriculum. The students in my resource classroom are in all grades of high school, and similar to the regular education setting, the students span a range of abilities, though they all have an identified disability qualifying them for special education services.
Although the school district focuses on full inclusion of special education students in the regular classroom, many of the special education students need additional support to be successful. To be enrolled in a Resource Class, a student must have an active Individualized Education Program, and it must be determined by a pupil personnel team that the student is impacted by his or her disability in a way that requires additional instruction and support outside of the regular education classroom. Individualized learning goals and objectives are established to address each student's specific weaknesses. These goals are regularly monitored and progress reports are sent home to the parent quarterly. The Resource Course is intended to support regular education content and individual skill deficits through specialized instruction, accommodations, and pace.
The diagnosed disabilities of students in the classroom include learning disabilities, autism, speech/language disorders, attention deficit disorder, and emotional disorders. Many of my students have verbal weaknesses, auditory processing deficiencies, and read below grade level. Many of them also have working memory or long-term memory retrieval difficulties, which significantly impact their learning success. As a result, the instruction in this unit will be highly adapted for their specific learning needs--including lower reading level of materials, extended pacing for instruction, and accessing multiple intelligences. This unit is also written specifically for the small number of students and low student-to-teacher ratio that are defining characteristics of a resource classroom.
The unit will begin by teaching students about the basic components and function of the brain--cerebrum/cortex: occipital, parietal, frontal, and temporal lobe; cerebellum, limbic system, and brainstem. Through activities such as coloring images, students will learn the locations and functions of each part of the brain. The coloring activity will be coupled by digital videos on the brain from United Streaming Discovery Education database, a human skull--so the students can understand where the brain sits within the skull. This portion of the unit will also include a trip to the anatomy lab at Yale Medical School, so that students can see an actual brain.
The second section of the unit will address how the brain learns and develops, including some information on disabilities. Many of my students are very frustrated and feel inadequate in the regular classroom. Having a better understanding of their brains and the biological differences between them and their peers will alleviate some of these feelings of inadequacy and help them become better self-advocates. This section of the unit is also designed to expose students to the different capacities of the brain. This will be explored through different videos of savants and incredible feats of memory.
The final aspect of the unit will examine different things people can do to affect brain function. Based on biology and brain function, students will learn strategies and techniques to facilitate learning and memory. Does nutrition and sleep play a part in brain function? How many times do you have to practice things before you learn them? In tandem with learning about how to improve brain function, the unit will explore how the brain's learning capacity be disrupted by things such as drugs, alcohol, or brain injury.