Monday, August 13, 2018

My Reading Thoughts, Summaries and Connections: The Social Animal by David Brooks - Chapter 7 (Norms)

Erica is introduced in Chapter 7. From my understanding, Erica and Harold will eventually connect and get married and then the book will follow the rest of their lives together. Erica does not come from as stable or as afluenct a background as Harold and so creates the opportunity in this chapter to dig into the impacts that social-economic status (SES) has on development and personality.

Erica comes from a mixed-racial family with her mother being Chinese and father being Mexican American. It also seems that her mother experiences mental health issuse that create osilating periods of stable middle-class living and unstable lower-class living. In the lower times, Erica takes on an adult role as it appears that her mother becomes entrenched in the world of addictions in these times. Her parents are not married but both parents and both are actively involved in her life in a sporatic way. This chapter gives a glimpse of her in her elementary years trying and failing to get into a charter school followed by another glimpse as she gets closer to high school when she once again pushes to get into a charter school. At this point she succeeds in getting in, although in an unorthodox way.

Weaved into the introduction of Erica, this chapter addresses several SES-based differences: parenting approaches, language exposure, stress hormone levels, impact on internal narratives...etc. The chapter also introduces the concept of "emergence" while explaining the theory of the charter school that is being developed in Erica's neighborhood. This is a topic that is always fascinating to me as it represents the need to always dig deeper than what we can first understand on the surface level. At one point in the chapter, the author makes reference to the fact that the brain itself is an emergent system and gives the example of how the idea of an apple is not contained in a single neuron but rather emerges out of the firing of a pattern between millions of neurons. This circled my thoughts back to Chapter 4 and the mention of how with continued exposure to concept the subtleties of the understanding improve. Thinking beyond something as concrete as an apple, it speaks to how as these connections grow and change, the physical structure of our brains actually also change. To me it really speaks to how you can look at some concept today and see it completely different from how you saw it last year or a few years ago (or sometimes even yesterday). It isn't just that you have gained more knowledge but that the physiological make up of your brain has changed in ways that have different neurons firing together around the concept. For me this speaks to the need to be intentional about trying to connect what is new to what we already know; to take the time to engage with new information that is coming to us... and even to take the time with old information because there are probably experiences between this exposure and the last exposure that change the way it makes sense.

Below I have included the visuals of what jumped out at me while reading this chapter. Clicking on each graphic should make it larger and easier to see.

Following the presentation of the idea that poverty is an emergent system, the author goes on to explain how the charter school felt they could then address poverty by surrounding the person living in poverty with a different culture so that they aborb the new habits of thought and behaviour.. and that you are conscious to keep surrounding them so they do not slip back into old familiar ways. As I read this, I found myself quite uncomfortable with the approach, particuarly given the informaiton shared earlier in the chapter about some of the child rearing approaches that we seem to be starting to realize are important like having time to play freely, being surrounded by extended family, playing with peers of different ages...etc. As I read this chapter I kept thinking back to a Ted Talk that I recentely watched about community builders that I'm going to share below. It seems to me that there has to be better ways than approaching it from building a "counter-culture". 

Saturday, August 11, 2018

My Reading Thoughts, Summaries and Connections: The Social Animal by David Brooks - Chapter 6 Part 1 (Learning)

This chapter is framed around Harold's senior year in high school. The content in the chapter is a bit overwhelming jumping from the social structures in high school to the adolescent brain to contemplating what learning is and stepping the reader through the steps of a discovery project. I wasn't sure how to organize it all and in the end I decided to do a summary but keep the idea of doing a second post on this chapter sometime in the future open. I would like to dig a bit more into all the inforamtion that was presented as the author stepped throught he project that Harold completed. I also feel that I need a bit of time to let that part of it marinate because it speaks to the kind of learning that I don't remember ever experiencing in school although I have experienced it many times since. I found myself thinking about and connecting into concepts related to the "Deeper Learning" movement a lot.

Another thing that jumped out in the explanation of the process was the amount of time that was used to gather and interact with information before moving on to a final product. I was fascinated with the idea of taking the time for the conscious and unconscious components to come together. In many ways, it reminded me of the process we went through in the Self-Reg Foundations course. There was thinking and learning happening throughout at the conscious level but there was also all this stuff happening below the surface at an unconscious level. As we carried through the program some of that unconscious stuff started to come up and connect to the conscious. We talked a lot about an "embodied" understanding.

Which brings me to the final insight about this chapter (for now) and that was that the personal component of the project that Harold did. Knowing a bit about how the brian works the making connection with the content part makes sense to me as it reflects the building of neural connections. It was great to see that the end goal though was not just to connect all the various pieces of informatin but but also connect to them to one's own life. That, to me, seems to be the piece that then leads to the statement that the learning experience ends up changing all future perceptions of the world. The idea makes me question even more what the purpose of education should be.

Below I have included the visuals of what jumped out at me while reading this chapter. I feel that I will, at some point in the future, come back and do a second post on this chapter but for now I'm going to move forward. Clicking on each graphic should make it larger and easier to see.

In closing to this post, I want to add a couple of thoughts about "imitation". The line "much of learning is throuh imitation" really jumped out at me while I read this chapter. All of the books that I have chosen to either go back to and re-read or read for the first time have a theme tied to what happens consciously and unconsciously in our brains. Imitation is one of those things that happens unconsciously a large portion of the time. It seems particularly when the imatition is tied to something that we view as a "negative behaviour". I see this often in how accepted an individual will be in any given setting. When the adults embrace that student for who they are and just seem to naturaly modify the environment to ensure everyone is actively involved you see the children doing the same. We often look for ways to teach to the cognitive part of the brain through "direct instruction" and although this is important, it seems it can be counter-productive if our actions are teaching the opposite. It seems to me that the old saying "actions speak louder than words" is so important and tied to this idea of our conscious and unconscious brains. So I end this with a great graphic that I recently stumbled across... 

Friday, August 10, 2018

My Reading Thoughts, Summaries and Connections: The Social Animal by David Brooks - Chapter 5 (Attachment)

This chapter was loaded with information and also sparked a lot of thoughts and connections for me. This post might be a bit all over the place as I try to sort through it all.

This chapter starts with a story of Harold and his mom (Julia) engaging in the process of trying to get Harold to do his homework during his grade 2 year. The following video shares the story... 

As I started to read this story I found myself immediately putting on my "Self-Reg glasses" and looking at the situations through these lenses. Self-Reg is a framework for understanding stress and managing tension and energy. One of the foundational premises of Self-Reg is that our many body systems are always working to maintain a state of balance. Stressors are simply those things that require our body to burn energy to return to a state of balance. We can organize those stressors into five domains - biological, emotion, cognitive, social and pro-social. When our systems get overstressed we are unable to do tasks that can quite easily do when not stressed. The story at the beginning of this chapter illusstrates an overload of stress as Harold starts his homework that is eventually resolved by his mother connecting with him and, in so doing, bringing down his stress level to the point where he is finally able to engage in his homework. Although Self-Reg is not mentioned at all in this story it is a story that I cannot separate from Self-Reg in my mind so when I made my notes I combined the two. 

The second half of this chapter goes on to explore attachment and attachment styles. It speaks to the impact different attachment patterns can have on one's life. Several times throughout this section, the author does state that although attachment forms working models that we operate from, trajectories are fluid so people are not bound by their original attachment style. This is an important, and hopeful, point. I've included the highlights of the different attachment styles in the summary visuals below.

During this chapter, I found myself coming back often to the orignal reason I started reading this book. It was tied to a Dr. Stuart Shanker lecture on resilience at the Self-Reg Summer Symposium (2018) that I listened in on through VoiceEd radio. In that lecture, Dr. Shanker made a statement about how some children come to school securely attached and then become insecurely attached and then others come insecurely attached and become securely attached. He questioned the why of this. I releived to hear him say this as it is something I have seen over and over again in my personal and work life. During the lecture, Stuart Shanker talked about the idea of "fragile secure attachment". Through his lecture he built toward a balanced red brain/blue brain definition of resilience and spoke of the impotance of the dyadic brain within that. It seems that we are coming to a time when we will no longer think of brains in isolation. There seems to be a move toward research that looks at how brains are interacting with each other rather than just how they are functioning in isolation. We are talking about behaivours that arise out of a network of brains interacting with the environment and with each other. We are no longer thinking of brains as passive recievers. The implications for this are exciting, particularly for education. I felt I needed to include even just a glimpse of this connection to what struck me from Dr. Stuart Shanker's lecture even though it might take some time for me to understand or articulate the magnitude of the thoughts (consious and unconsious) it sparked. 

Below I have included the visuals of what jumped out at me while reading this chapter. Clicking on each graphic should make it larger and easier to see. 

Monday, August 6, 2018

My Reading Thoughts, Summaries and Connections: The Social Animal by David Brooks - Chapter 4 (Mapping)

Chapter 4 of this book follows Harold through approximately the first five years of his life and examines how his thinking evolves over the course of that time. This chapter made me think a lot of the work that I do with students with complex needs as it explores how we create mental maps, the emergence of imagination and the development of narative skills and thinking. Although language is not mentioned, I found myself wondering often how important verbal conversation is to all of these developmental steps and what might be missing for the child that does not develop speech.

I found that commentatry in this chapter often made me think of a recent webinar that Erin Sheldon delivered to our Alberta Complex Needs Community of Practice that can be found on the Resources the Complex Communication Needs Population website. It is webinar number 13 on the list of webinars. In this webinar, Erin speaks of the link between language and cognitive development and highlights the conversations she had with her older daughter in helping them to build their conceptual knowledge. She then goes on to explain educational approaches that can be used with students who have complex communication needs to ensure that they are able to assist them in developing their conceptual knowledge. 

As I read through I also found myself thinking about how important it is to facilitate the devleopment of both imagination and narrative skills. These are often skills that do not get considered very much when working with students with complex communicatoin needs. Each fall, the Alberta Council for Inclusive Education hosts a provincial conference. This past year, Kathy Howery and I did a presentation on Mental Health and Students with Complex Communication Needs. The presentation was framed around research into the lived experience of using a communication device that Kathy had done for her Ph.D. One of the key take aways from the presentation was the importance of supporting students to develop narative skills so that they are able to tell their stories. Our lives are complex and being able to understand and tell our stories helps to make sense of the complexity.  Being able to understand and tell one's story also positions one to be able to understand and advocate for their needs. As I read, I put on my "to do list" a need to go back to the CCN Alphabet posts that I started sometime ago and at least do the N post, focusing in on narrative development.

Below I have included the visuals of what jumped out at me while reading this chapter. Clicking on each graphic should make it larger and easier to see.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

My Reading Thoughts, Summaries and Connections: The Social Animal by David Brooks - Chapter 3 (Mindsight)

As mentioned at the end of my last post, I am jumping up to Chapter 3 for this next post. In Chapter 3, one of the main characters, Harold, is introduced. The chapter covers information from conception through to his first months of life and examines how the brain is formed throught these times.

I have chosen the books on my list with the intention of looking at them through the Self-Reg lens. For several years now I have been on a journey to learn more about Self-Reg. At first the quest was tied to wanting to find an anwer to "behaviour management" but as time has gone on it has become about concepts so much larger - healthy development, human flourishing, creating an unconscious sense of safety, reducing barriers to learning through disarming the fear response, nurturing relationships, individual and collective resilience...etc. I believed when I started to dig that the digging would be finite; That at the end of it all I would have a neat cognitive package. Instead I discovered that there was so much that was happening under the surface of our consciousness. It connected to the part of me that has always been a problem solver; The part of me that has always wanted to dig down one layer deeper on the question of why.

As I read through this chapter, I was reminded again and again of the beginning of the Self-Reg Foundations Course and learning about secondary altriciality and the inter-brain.

Secondary altriciality in its most simplified explanation simply means that when a baby is born their brain is not fully developed. This equates to our babies being born completely dependent on others... really "fetuses outside of the womb". Because so little of the brain is developed a birth, it continues to develop beyond birth and how it develops is dependent upon the child-caregiver relationship. This chapter addesses some of what is critical to healthy brain development and although it doesn't directly reference the development of regulatory skills, it hints at it often. The chapter also references the many of the sensory experiences but does not step in to the process of the sensory systems integrating. Perhaps this will come up in the next chapter?

In reference to the inter-brain, because the baby's born is so underdeveloped in the first months of his/her life, the baby relies on the primary care-giver to serve as an external brain that will help to regulate the baby's physiological state. This chapter discusses a lot of the mechanisms that serve to connect the parent to the baby but doesn't reference much the attunement so the parent is able to read their baby's cues and help to regulate them until their brain develops the ability to self-regulate. It's interesting the interplay between it all - the baby being born with what it needs to draw the connection, the parent serving as an external brain, the caregivers shaping the baby's brain, the caregiver's brains changing themselves in response to the new relationship with the baby. It speaks to how deeply connected we all are and how our brains really do not function in isolation. It speaks to how every interaction serves to change our brain ever so slighting and then potentially drastically over time in relationship with someone.

From the teaching perspective, this chapter highlights several of the "roots of cognition". I am including a visual that I made some time ago when reading The Learning Tree by Dr. Stanley Greenspan here as this chapter triggered that connection for me. The idea of behind the learning tree is that often the challenges we see students having in education (those that are within the branches and leaves of the trees) are connected to something that needs to be strengthened either at the roots or up the trunk of the stem. The trunk of the stem represents the social-emotional learning continuum that is references in Floortime. I found the model helpful in that it makes you stop and think below the surface of what you are seeing. From working with students who often experirence bariers to learning it has me thinking about what happens when those roots are not fully developed and about how to ensure that we continue to work on the ones that may need more attention.

From time to time I might link to another book or lecture. If I do this visually, I will include a link picture like the one on the visual above. Below I have included the visuals of my what jumped out at me while reading this chapter. Clicking on each graphic should make it larger and easier to see. 

... And just because this video is too cute I'm going to include here in connection to the last information on in this chapter around how laughter is a comoponent of connecting as well as something that often comes forward in pattern finding moments. Enjoy!

Friday, August 3, 2018

My Reading Thoughts, Summaries and Connections: The Social Animal by David Brooks - Chapter 1 (Decision Making)

Set in the middle of a the story of a young couple's first date, Chapter 1 digs into the idea of "decision making" and shares research and thoughts on how we make decisions. The information reflects an understanding that the brain is built upon experiences and that those experiences impact any future decisions. It also speaks the importance of "emotion" in the decision making process. Emotion was not explicity defined but it seemed to reference mroe our bodily sensations (somatic markers) rather than what we traditional think of as emotions. The theme that I kept seeing over and over again is one of the importance of the brain-body connection.

I was also fascinated with the research that was referenced around examining the decision making process in people who have had brain injuries that impact that their emotional processing abilities. In these situations, the people were unable to make decisions even though they could engage in all the cognitive steps involved in the decision making process (listing the options, analyzing the options). The conclusion made was that without the unconscious referencing of "emotions" that we do in the decision making process, making decisions is not possible.

There was reference in this chapter to people rely on reason alone to make decisions engaging in self-destrcutive and dangerous behaviours. Emotion and the abiltiy to feel other people are important in making sound decisions. As someone who at times can be acused of being overly-emotional, this idea sits well with me.

My visual summary of Chapter 1 is below. There is much more than this in the actual chapter but this reflects the concepts that jumped out at me and the way that I see them connecting. Clicking on each graphic should make it larger and easier to see.

Note that my next post about this book will be on Chapter 3. Chapter 2 is simply a part of the story that the book is told within. It carries the story through the first months of the marriage of the parents of one of the main characters (Harold). 

Thursday, August 2, 2018

My Reading Thoughts, Summaries and Connections: The Social Animal by David Brooks - Introduction

I heard about this book while listening in on Dr. Stuart Shanker's talk on Resilience at the 2018 Self-Reg Summer Symposium. As it is quite challening for me to this symposium, I was thankful that VoiceEd Radio broadcast several of the speaker presentations as part of their Voices of Self-Reg series.

This talk was fascinating as it wrapped the Self-Reg lens around the concept of "resilience". I have found along this Self-Reg learning joruney that I circle back often and, in those times, concepts get reworked. The key message that I took out of this particular lecture was that our aim is the "blue-brain" (pre-frontal cortex, rational brain) and the "red-brain" (limbic system, social-emotinal brain) to be in balance. Much of my focus to this point had been on those times when the red-brain had taken over to a negative point of fight, flight or freeze. I was fascinated to hear that the blue-brain functioning alone would also result in a negative personality profile (i.e. narcisism).

The whole lecture left me wanting more and, as I so often do after hearing Dr. Stuart Shanker speak, I went back to the list of books he mentioned while he lectured to consider if any of those books could wet my thirst for more. The Social Animal by David Brooks is one of the books he mentioned during this talk and when I read the summary of it on Amazon I felt confident that reading it would allow me to digger deeper into what I had begun to think about while listening to this talk.

I am finding each chapter of the book full of things to think about. The book is frame by telling the story of two individuals from birth (actually before birth) through their entire lives. As the story unfolds the author adds in relevant information. The challenge for me is the same as everytime I read a book... how to pick out and summarize the relevant pieces right now. To do this, I am going to experiment with a version of "sketch-noting". I tried at first to do it with pencil and paper but found myself getting too caught up in trying to cretae a perfect drawing (which I am along ways away from). I will continue to play with that approach but for not I wanted to explore just summarizing with a combinations of visuals and words using technology. My summary of the introduction is below. Clicking on each graphic should make it larger and easier to see.

I found myself nodding my head a lot while I read this introduction as it reinforces so much of what I've been learning since first starting to dig into a deeper understanding of the brain. It really speaks ot how unique each of brains are and how they are shaped by things that we often completely unaware of. I was also fascinated by the idea of gaining a deeper understanding of what is required for "human flourishing". I'm looking forward to continuing to read, explore and share related to this book.