BAW Events Help Dyslexic Students

Our guest blogger is Marilyn Cook, a Brain Awareness Week partner and professional educational therapist who works as a reading/district dyslexia specialist for K-12 students in the Port Aransas (Texas) Independent School District.

“Wow…I didn’t know that was a picture of the brain.”

“I want to learn more about this.”

“This is so cool.”

“I can’t believe these students can do this.”

What could these people be talking about? Why Brain Awareness Week, of course!

About three years ago, my interest in neuroscience led me to surf the web and find a treasure trove of information about the brain and an exciting opportunity to become a partner in an international brain awareness campaign sponsored by the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives. The organization’s website has excellent resources, and combined with some imagination, the possibilities to teach about the brain and how it functions are endless. With a generous grant from The Port Aransas Educational Foundation, I was able to develop the Brain Awareness Week (BAW) initiative Neuroscience for Kids: The Mind That’s Mine for my students and my schools.

A goal I have for my students is for them to figure out their best individual learning styles. In the words of a school staff member, “[the students] are proud and they own their challenges.” To help accomplish my goal, I use kid-friendly resources from Dana such as Brainy Kids Online and the Its Mindbloggling! booklets, as well as the website Neuroscience for Kids from the University of Washington. Several teachers and the counselor of the middle and elementary schools have commented how the students that participate in brain awareness activities have become more confident in their abilities and are more patient with students who struggle.

BAW began early with this year with our lunch and learn program at the Brundrett Middle School. The students I work with have dyslexia and other learning challenges, so we have been meeting and discussing how our brains work. During our first lunch, students were already asking about our next BAW activity.

At one of our presentation luncheons at H.G. Olsen Elementary School, we hosted local pediatrician Dr. Lori Anderson and our school counselor Jeri Franco for discussions on how the brain works and dyslexia. Dr. Anderson even made a brain out of Jell-O, which the students thought was the “coolest thing.”

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An integral part of our BAW program is student displays. Students from the Brundrett Middle School have exhibited posters about the brain at several venues, including the Brundrett Middle School libraries and the Bill Ellis Memorial Library (Port Aransas city library). Poster topics have included learning challenges as a strength (featuring many famous people with dyslexia) and a comparison of the brain activity of two reading students; one with dyslexia and one without.

In 2011, the Port Aransas Independent School District partnered with the Art Center for the Islands and provided students grades 3-7 with activities based on the theme, Your Brain on Art and Reading. This idea was based on a study from the Dana Foundation on the brain and the visual arts. Over the course of a week, students studied the brain and what happens when they read and when they view visual art. One particular project that the students completed was to draw the brain with an acetate overlay showing how the brain activates when looking at images from art history. They also participated in creative activities with two guest artists, using colored dyes and colored chalk. At the end of the week, a student art show was held and the students discussed their brains in relation to the art they created. These activities have resulted in an increased interest in student art classes and in conversations about how we learn.

BAW has been a wonderful learning initiative for both me and my students. And we’re not the only ones who benefit from the experience. I feel that the school community and the surrounding community have also benefitted from BAW. We have increased awareness of dyslexia, including dispelling certain myths, and through lessons on brain function, we have promoted the idea that people learn in diverse ways.

–Marilyn Cook

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