By Dianne Craft, MA, CNHP
God is so good—and so amazing! In Jeremiah 30:17, He says, “I will restore your health and heal you of all your wounds.” He is vitally interested in our health and, more importantly, in our children’s health and abilities. He has made many provisions for us.
When I was a Special Education teacher, working in the pull-out Resource Room in the public schools, I learned about God’s goodness. I experienced how much my students were struggling with their disabilities: reading reversals, severe auditory processing problems that caused phonics rules not to stick, little writing ability, and difficulty with comprehension. I asked God to show me what to do for these wonderful students. These hard-working students had been in special education pull-out classes for years, and had terrific parents and good teachers, but had made very little progress in their skills over the years.
God answered my prayers in a very interesting and dynamic way: I soon received a postcard from another Special Education teacher, Paul Dennison, Ph.D. He was offering workshops to show his fellow special education teachers a method he was using that was helping relieve his student’s learning disabilities. He used specific midline therapy that could easily be incorporated in the classroom setting, right along with their daily lessons. I was thrilled and began saving my money to attend some of these workshops (a thousand dollars at that time).
God’s Brain Efficiency
In those workshops, I learned so much about how the brain works when learning new material.
The Brain is designed to learn new things and to store the old without effort. (Remember that little song about friends? “Make new friends but keep the old…one is silver and the other gold”. That is how the brain works.)
Have you ever stopped and thought, “I wonder if I brushed my teeth this morning?” You don’t even remember doing it. Why? Because it was what we call an “unconscious” movement. You didn’t have to “think” about it, because it was automatic. That is how “God’s Efficient Brain System” works. When we learn something new, we use our “thinking brain” to concentrate on the task. After a little while, it crosses the midline of the brain and is transferred to the brain’s storage unit, the “automatic” brain hemisphere, for easy access. The same action occurs when we learn to ride a bike or drive a car. At first, we concentrate on it (the left brain’s responsibility), and then it becomes automatic (the right brain’s responsibility).
How did this affect my students’ learning difficulties? I realized that all the processes of learning, like tracking the eyes from left to right while reading, had not transferred to their “automatic” brain hemisphere. They were still having to use energy to “think” about their eye movements. They often looked at a “b” and had to decide (think about) if the letter they were looking at was a “d” instead. I discovered that learning in general, was not transferring to their automatic hemisphere, and thus often seemed to be “new information” every day. How could we make more connections, so that the learning could be stored in the long-term memory storage unit?
In the workshops, I attended those many years ago (20 years), I learned that God had set up the brain so that we could use specific movements that crossed the midline of the body to repair the disconnections and restore the connections in my students. This was a huge break-through in thinking, for me, as a teacher.
I began using these specific midline movements, I called Brain Integration Therapy, with my students daily before we started our lessons. It was a good “warm-up” session and was a nice start to the day. As I did these exercises daily, I noticed fewer reading and writing reversals in my students. The quick, easy daily midline writing exercise was quickly improving their spacing, and writing fluency immensely. I did not see as much change in the auditory processing and memory with the students, however.
I decided to go back for more training in midline therapy to see if I could make learning easier for my students with moderate and severe auditory processing problems (remembering names of letters, or sight words, or phonemes, or understand verbal information, etc.) It was in those more advanced workshops that I discovered the “key” to quickly creating the pathway from the “thinking” hemisphere to the “automatic” brain hemisphere.
The Eyes Have It
I learned the powerful role of the eyes in accessing different parts of the brain. I learned that brain scans revealed that when the eyes look upper left, the right brain is activated. Since the right brain hemisphere is the “automatic” brain hemisphere, I found that I could much more rapidly create a strong pathway to the automatic brain hemisphere by adding another technique to the midline exercises. Once a week, I found I could activate the right brain to “take over” the process of eye tracking, or whatever area we were working on, by having the child do the activity that was not automatic, and then having them look upper left while doing the crossing the body movement we call the cross crawl. I did this with them. We did this movement for about a minute or so. I also used music to further activate the automatic brain hemisphere for this process. The results were amazing.
Using this once a week “Specific Brain Training”, I saw changes rapidly. As one of my students, Casey said, “I can remember the names of all my teachers now.” Delores, another eighth-grade student said, “I can understand what I hear. I don’t always have to say, ‘what’, anymore.” I saw rapid changes in how they were processing auditory information. All skills took a huge leap forward. They were so noticeable that parents came in to ask what we were doing. Even my special education teaching partner across the hall, Anna Alvarado, asked me if I would show her what I was doing because she was noticing such a difference in these same students when they came to her class for math. We became partners in our shared learning curve. In fact, at the end of the year, we had quite a few students who could “staff out” of special education (and only be monitored) because of the leaps in learning they had made. Soon I was asked to give “teacher in-service” workshops to our school, and then the surrounding schools, and then state-wide, etc. Now, there are many more “midline therapy” resources available in addition to the one I used. (See the list below for these resources).
A Teaching Revelation
I soon realized that I could affect the processing abilities of my students by helping them with daily exercises and the all-important once a week Specific Brain Trainings. These results often showed in their WISC-IV cognitive testing by the psychologist. However, I learned that the midline therapy did not teach them the skills they needed to make leaps in learning. I saw my students each day for classes in reading, writing, and math. I realized that I needed to teach them in a totally different way if I was going to see the progress I was looking for.
That is when I developed and used the “Healing Teaching” method. My students came to me each day, for about 50 minutes each class. I learned that when I incorporated the midline exercises and a new method of teaching in that time frame, I generally saw a two- year growth in reading and writing, and a three -year growth in spelling and math. I was responsible for their grade, and all the content of reading, writing, and math. For my teaching sessions with these struggling students, I put the “Brain Integration Therapy” and the “Right Brain Teaching Strategies” together to make this growth.
An example of a reading teaching/therapy session would be:
1) Midline Exercises.
Teacher and students did all 6 midline exercises together. (10 minutes).
20 minutes decoding (sounding out) long words, with the decoding unit (au/aw) in color in the long word. The picture that gave that sound was on the wall in front of them always (teaching to their camera).
3) Sight Word practice.
I made Right Brain Sight Word Cards for them to easily remember their sight words and be able to spell them using their strong eye camera. You can easily make Right Brain Sight Word Cards just by drawing the name of the word (meaning) directly on the letters, so the brain sees it in a “unit” (word and name) and quickly retrieves it that way also. Color, humor, and emotion put the “Visual Velcro” on the words that the right brain quickly picks up and stores for easy retrieval.
4) Oral reading from a decodable reader with the decoding units in color.
I just made my own, since there were none available. But you can just use color for the “phonemes” (decoding units) you are using. We never did any “cold reading”. That is, my students never looked at a page in a book “cold”. I always did my own Pre-Reading, where I looked over the page and pulled out all the “tricky” words and put them on a large piece of paper first. We then proceeded to sound them out, or just talk about them before they read them in the story. I learned not to “correct them” when they were doing oral reading. This was not effective for retaining the word, and they did not like to read orally for me if I did this.
5) We only had our teaching sessions four days a week.
On the fifth day, I took the students individually and did the all-important once a week Specific Brain Training. That took about 15 minutes per student. The others were listening to stories on tape. That was one of their favorite activities we did once a week.
A Winning Combination
The adventure of creating more brain connections through physical exercises, and through the training of the child’s right brain, where the strong photographic memory is housed, is a wonderful process to be involved with. It is life-changing. You will see more smiles than you ever have before.
Let me know about your successes so we can celebrate together. God is so good.