By Amy Clifton, Behavioral Coach, Sankofa School, Indianapolis, IN
At the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year, we wanted to start our cognitive training program with a group of 30 students who were in Tier 2 or Tier 3 for behavioral issues. These were students who were getting into trouble frequently, not participating in class, and many were failing academically. You never know which comes first – the chicken or the egg. Are the students failing because of their lagging skills and acting out because they don’t know what else to do? Or are they acting out and therefore missing out on instruction and not getting the education that that is being offered to them? We found that we had a mix of both. We had students that would not volunteer in class but that would be the first to be the class clown. They weren’t doing their homework because they didn’t feel that they had the skills to do so.
We gave these students the Mindprint cognitive assessment and found that most of students we had chosen had significant delays in a variety of cognitive processes. Then we got the students started in BrainWare SAFARI.
The plan had been to have the students take Mindprint again towards the end of the school year and also to be able to look at their academic growth after using BrainWare SAFARI. Of course, that did not happen, because of COVID-19. However, as one teacher said, “I didn’t even need to see the post-tests.” The changes were big, especially in task initiation. Many kids couldn’t get their homework done at home because things were so chaotic, but they started to come to the cafeteria in the morning, sitting by themselves, and not wanting to go into class until they had their homework done. Now they felt they could do hard things; they learned to stick with tasks that were challenging.
Teachers also noticed a big improvement in sustained attention. Before BrainWare, students might have started the task, got their name on the paper and maybe answered the first question, but then were distracted and off to something else. Afterwards, they were able to stick with the assignment. They were doing much better volunteering to answer in front of their peers; where before they didn’t want to be embarrassed, now they were willing to take a risk.
One of the things they really enjoyed was the bulletin board I made that said, “Get to Know Your Brain.” I taught them about the areas of the brain and we’d talk about how what they were doing was improving their brains. I had a caution tape around the outside of the door that said, “Caution: Growing Brains.”
Working in BrainWare was a big deal and the kids really loved it. If I didn’t pick them up on time to go the computer lab, boy, they were on it quick. Now, this year I’m getting kids asking me if we aren’t going to “do that brain thing again” and wanting to participate.
Even when students were working on challenging things, I always built them up and said, “You know, you’re getting smarter every day and your brain’s growing.” I built the self-esteem from the outside, but they also built the intrinsic motivation to excel themselves. They walked a different way in the hallway – they carried themselves differently. Now I’m not going tell you that they never got in trouble but there was definitely a difference in the way that they would approach situations, even the way they would encourage one another in class. Before, they were the ones that would laugh when somebody didn’t understand, but now they’d said, “No, come on, you can do it.”
We started using the results of the Mindprint assessment and the recommended strategies that are the best match for each child based on their cognitive strengths and weaknesses. That’s something that I’m really looking forward to for this coming year with us hopefully being able to screen all our students in 3rd through 6th grades. To be able to use that as a planning tool that is specific to each child, that’s powerful. Having the data helps the teacher realize what’s causing a child to struggle with a particular concept or process. I worked a lot with the 6th grade teachers and when we looked at the data, they’d say, “That totally makes sense. Now I see why they do this or don’t do that. Thank you!”
Behavioral issues decreased significantly. After working in BrainWare, students were spending more time in class and less time where they should not be. That also probably helped to contribute to the academic growth that we saw. I sometimes see the parents of last year’s sixth graders when they’re picking up younger siblings at school. “He loves middle school and he’s doing great.” It’s nice to hear.
I’m so looking forward to next year because I don’t want to go through another year of having students right in front of me, knowing their skills are lagging and not knowing where to start to help them. With the data that you get from Mindprint and then the ability to build those lagging areas with BrainWare SAFARI, it changes the whole game. There’s no more guesswork about how to help a child. And then you move them into BrainWare and it actually builds skills in a way that students don’t feel like they’re struggling to learn. They’re having fun in a productive way. It is very motivating for them and it is very motivating for me as the person who gets to work with them, to watch them build their confidence and their excitement to participate, to watch them build each other up.
I don’t know exactly what it is, but there’s something different about the kids when they come out of using BrainWare SAFARI. Then go in one way and, when they come out, you see a whole different child. Of course, it is still the same child, but there’s just a difference about them. I can’t really put my finger on exactly what it is but I I cannot wait to put this tool into the hands of all of our students and teachers.
I believe in our kids and I believe that they deserve every opportunity that other students have. With, the trauma and the poverty and all of these ACES (adverse childhood experiences) that are happening in their lives and that are against them, this is something that can help to level that playing field. They are not responsible for their circumstance; it’s the hand they’ve been dealt. That’s why helping them understand how their brains develop was so important. The kids got a lot more out of it knowing that they were working for a specific purpose and it was all for themselves not for anybody else.
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