HOW WE LEARN
Everyday we receive a great deal of information form our senses. We use this information to organize our behaviour and interact with our world. Our senses give us information about the physical status of our body and the environment around us. Think of the senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. Yet there are many other sensations that are just as essential to our survival.
We receive information from the environment in the form of sensory impressions from our seven senses, from what we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell as well as from the inner ear and our muscles and joints. These impressions are taken to the brain for interpretation and processing, via the various neural pathways of the nervous system.
Very simply the brain can be divided into three areas; the reptilian brain, the emotional brain and the higher intellect. The reptilian brain is responsible for our basic survival and originates from prehistoric times. This part of the brain allows us and prepares the body for fight or flight instantly. The emotional brain requires further processing and allows for emotional reactions. Finally problem solving and processing of information takes place in the higher brain or intellect; this is where connections, deductions, inference and conclusions are formed.
The sensory impressions the brain receives are transferred into electrical impulses and travel along the neurons to the central nervous system and then finally the brain. Neurons consist of a cell body which has fingerlike protrusions which receive the electrical impulse. The impulse is then transferred to a tail like protrusion called the axon to be transmitted to the next neuron. Each axon has a fatty layer surrounding it called the myelin sheath which improves conduction of the impulse.
Every sensory impression received must first pass through the reptilian brain, then the emotional brain and finally to the higher intellect, interruptions or blockages in this process will therefore impede learning.
When one or more of the senses is not being interpreted correctly e.g. when a child has vague or hazy feedback about his sense of touch, body position or movement and gravity he is in a world totally foreign from ours. Imagine yourself in a world where something as basic and reliable as the pull of gravity or another’s touch is perceived as something unreliable, inconsistent or threatening. This child does not feel secure. Disordered sensory integration results in a number of learning, motor and behavioural problems.
Having said that the brains of children are amazingly plastic and adaptable, some research has indicated that the brain only really reaches maturity in adolescence. Children with learning issues simply learn differently and therefore require a method of teaching and environment that enables their brains to bypass connections that are not working to well, or reinforce weak connections or even use different parts of the brain to achieve the same outcome.
However every child is different and the factors relating to impaired ability to learn are numerous. Additional factors that affect learning include physiology, sensory integration, and the emotional state of being and social relations. That is why the whole child must be considered.
I would now like to have a look at the sensory systems in a bit more detail so you can get an understanding of what needs to develop and why.
Proprioreception refers to the sensory information we receive about the position, force, direction and movement of our body parts. It helps to integrate the tactile and vestibular senses. Receptors for the proprioreceptive sense are in the muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons and connective tissue of the body. This sense lets us know whether muscles are stretching or contracting, how the joints are bending and straightening. Even when still, gravity stimulates these receptors, so that we know where our body is.
The vestibular system is a unifying system giving us a sense of where we stand in the world. Movement and gravity stimulate special receptors in the vestibule of the inner ear. This system takes in messages from the neck, eyes and body, sends these messages to the central nervous system for processing and then helps generate the correct muscle tone that allows us to move smoothly and efficiently.
Gross and Fine Motor Movement
Some children with learning disabilities have difficulty with gross motor coordination; they exhibit general awkwardness and clumsiness, behaviour typical of much younger children, poor coordination, poor body image, lack of directionality and spatial problems. The inability to perform local movements such as the inability to move and coordinate fingers, the tongue, lips etc may affect certain children. These issues in turn affect the performance of certain simple manual tasks such as taking hold of an object, producing certain words, learning to contract the lips and control the sphincter muscles and use the eyes to track.
The tactile system plays a major part in determining physical, mental and human behaviour. People, from infancy need constant tactile stimulation to keep us organised and functioning.
Tactile information is received through sensory receiving cells, called receptors in our skin. Touch sensations of pressure, vibration, movement, temperature, itch and pain activate tactile receptors. We are always actively touching or being touched by something.
The ability to process tactile sensations effectively is very important not only for visual perception, motor planning and body awareness, but also for academic learning, emotional security and social skills
When children are not processing tactile information correctly they will display tactile defensiveness and experience discomfort when being touched.
Visual discrimination is the ability to differentiate one object from another.
Figure-ground discrimination is the ability to distinguish an object from its surrounding background.
Visual closure requires a person to identify an object even though the whole stimulus is not present.
Form constancy is the accurate interpretation of an object as being the same in spite of it being seen in different positions.
Visual-Motor disabilities The child with a visual-motor association disability cannot manipulate linguistic symbols internally and does not relate what is seen to visual experiences stored from past experience.
Visual-spatial difficulties mean that the child cannot recognize groups of letters.
The perception of spatial relations is the ability to perceive the position of two or more objects in relation to oneself and in relation to each other.
right-left discrimination refers to the child being able to perceive the left and right sides of his body and the concept of left and right in objects and pictures, etc
Visual memory is called on to spell words that are unclear and indistinguishable from others. Finally, linguistic knowledge is needed to realize that the letter combinations “ti”/ “si”/ “ci” and “ce” regularly sound like “sh” as in “mention”, “dimension”, “magician”, and “ocean”. To realize that the sound of “sh” exists in all those words; one must be able to hear it and find it.
Auditory perception is the ability to recognise or interpret what is heard and provides an important pathway for learning.
Auditory discrimination is the ability to hear likeness and difference in sounds.
Auditory discrimination is also associated with articulatory speech disorders; the child may have a speech problem, may sequence sounds or syllables in an incorrect manner and may use small words inappropriately.
Auditory association refers to the ability to draw relationships from what is heard or the ability to manipulate linguistic symbols internally.
Auditory memory enables the learner to produce and hold onto the sounds in a word (phonological processing ability), accurately translate them into remembered letters (sound-symbol correspondences), and write them on the page. This requires students to say the word correctly, separate its symbols, and then segment the sounds in each syllable.