Academic Career Plan:

Learner Profile for a Student with a Mental Disability

Student's Academic Ability includes Background and Education

The particular student in question is a young girl that suffers from Autism and is in a wheelchair. She is originally from the coast, but after her birth mother had left her family due to her daughter's disease, her father moved them inland. There he met another woman, who became her stepmother and her stepmom helped her to become a somewhat fierce young lady. Although, this tough demeanor caused her to be stubborn when she needed help. The young girl is a possible future student of mine, who is very logical, great at mathematics, and eventually, she realizes she is also excited by learning.

"Researchers have established that characteristics of developing brain architecture in young children are heavily shaped through interactions with the environment and personal experiences." (Hall et. al. 2014)

One way of determining academic ability is through the studying of the student's brain architecture, which simply stated means the way the brain is connected.

Academic abilities of my student were stunted in part by her mother's detachment from her life at the early stages of childhood, which is also characterized as a "sensitive period" according to the textbook Introduction to Teaching (Hall, Quinn, Gollnick 2014). These sensitive periods can affect the functionality of neural circuits, language, problem solving, and general cognitive function. As stated by Lenroot and Giedd, "Human structural, functional, and behavioral brain development emerges as an ongoing dialogue between a child's genetic heritage and his or her environment. Understanding how these factors interact at different points during development may help to identify how and when to intervene to help children grow to their fullest potential." (pp1161 2008) The fact is, we as a society have begun to understand that given enough physical, mental, and emotional nurturing, it is not impossible for the intensity of a child's already diagnosed disease to lessen; which is exactly what is researched and written about in an article in the journal Development and Psychopathology, "If genes with particularly strong effects come on line, they may potentially substantially impact the variance because of genetic factors. The interaction of genetic with environmental factors over time may also increase heritability." (Lenroot, Giedd pp 1169)

“That is to say, the quality of a child’s early environment and the availability of appropriate experiences at the right stages of development are crucial in determining the strength or weaknesses of the brain’s architecture, which, in turn determines how well he or she will be able to think and to regulate emotions” (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2007).

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Plasticity of the Brain and Improving Academic Ability

My student used to have trouble in school due to the other students picking on her and her being forced to partake in a majority of special education classes, which only made returning to the "regular" classrooms that much harder on her self-esteem. She struggled with reading and writing because of her lack of educational effort by any teachers. However, once given the opportunity, she realizes that she reads quite well and learns very quickly, including learning grammar, etymology, and so on. Her newly discovered intelligence gave her more confidence that led her to achieve higher scores in other subjects such as social studies and the sciences. If the brain architecture of a student is not too damaged, the academic ability still lives and just needs help to thrive. The fact that I can save a student from losing all ability and cognitive function into adulthood is the reason I want to work with students that are at the preoperational stage.

Educational Environment: Preoperational Stages

My ideal environment for teaching in an environment geared to helping children between the ages of two and seven years old, which is where the largest amounts of information are taken in and stored, not to mention self-esteem develops during these years, as well as the general sense of accomplishment or defeat is ingrained into the child's brain architecture.

Plan to Address Student Needs

I will address student needs through sensory activities such as arts and crafts, music, nature observations, science projects, cooking, and even lectures and writing assignments. All of the previously stated activities cover the senses of either sight, sounds, or touch with focus on either mental, physical, and/or emotional processes. Mental activities would include puzzles or math problems, while physical activities would be sports or hands-on games, and emotional activities would be descriptive assignments with focus on feelings and ethics or would be the class pet projects which would stimulate nurturing feelings in the students.

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There will be daily activities planned to invoke the growth of mental, physical, and emotional processes that contribute to proper brain development or the repairing of brain architecture.

Routines will be a vital part of each day, with exceptions for any necessary or activities changes because preoperational children need to learn that change is inevitable and entirely natural. Understanding and accepting change allows the students' to think crtically and solve complex problems. In the article "Where Do the Bears Go?" The Value of Child-Directed Play, there is a teacher named Ms. Ellison whose educational environment is with preoperational students, ages two to seven, as well. One day, she places a basket of bears along with the children's class zo which create "disequilibrium" in the play environment. As I previously stated, change is going to occur nd students need to know this, "Ms. Ellison uses a change in the environment to create an opportunity for these children to work together to solve a problem they find important. Because solving any problem requires creative and critical thinking..." (Genan et. al. 2014)

Rewards will be given to students for effort regardless of the outcome, praise for success, and always positive reinforcement. However, discipline is extremely crucial to proper classroom management so that we will have firm guidelines and standards or codes of conduct. When consequences or punishments are necessary, it will be directed at the behavior only and not the student, with the utmost respect for each individual because I allow no demeaning of anyone's character.

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Conclusion

Despite what a student is going through, whether physical or mental, the label disability only says to me gifted. Every child can learn, every type of learning is different, but where there is a will, as they say. In my classroom, I plan to understand a student's background and their abilities, which can help me utilize certain techniques to unlock a student's full potential. Part of the capacity to unlock potential is to understand brain architecture and utilize the brain's plasticity to encourage mental growth in education. I feel that the most vital stages are the preoperational ones, and I plan to address individual and collective student needs through creative play, arts, science, nature, sports, and involving them and their minds in healthy activities along with firm daily routines. Young children need to start off their schooling in a positive light, so that when they get to the older educational systems there is already a confidence and independence to succeed with a positive mindset.

References:

Anderson, G. T., Spainhower, A. R., & Sharp, A. C. (2014). "Where do the bears go?" the value of child-directed play. YC Young Children, 69(2), 8-14. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1621404982?accountid=32521

Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (2012). The Science of Neglect: The Persistent Absence of Responsive Care Disrupts the Developing Brain: Working Paper No. 12. Retrieved from www.developingchild.harvard.edu

Hall, G.E., Quinn, L.F., & Gollnick, D.M. (2014). Introduction to teaching: Making a difference in student learning. Los Angeles: Sage Publishing


Lenroot, R. K., & Giedd, J. N. (2008). The changing impact of genes and environment on brain development during childhood and adolescence: Initial findings from a neuroimaging study of pediatric twins. Development and Psychopathology, 20(4), 1161-75. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0954579408000552


Strategy, Strategem [Def 2, Def 1(b)]. (n.d.) In Merriam-Webster Online, Retrieved January 13, 2016, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/strategy and http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/stratagem.