Why are some students independent, successful learners while others struggle with learning new concepts? That was the question that faced Nancy Rowe, a speech therapist/audiologist.
From the challenge of helping students become lifelong learners and current research about how our brains work came Rowe’s development of the NeuroNet program being used in schools and with individual students via certified therapists across the country.
Locally, Westminster School, an Oklahoma City private school serving students from preschool through eighth grade, is seeing good results from their use of NeuroNet.
What is NeuroNet?
A program that facilitates learning through movement, NeuroNet is a strategic approach based on scientific research of how our brains create and strengthen neural networks. When we learn new information or skills, neurons in our brains connect to one another, creating a pathway. The more often that the pathway is used, the stronger the neural network becomes—and the more successful we are at using the knowledge and performing the skill.
With a motto, “Get your brain to practice what you want your brain to learn,” NeuroNet works from the principle that skills such as handwriting or math fact knowledge should become automatic, just as riding a bike is.
“We want students to have handwriting, body movement and math facts automated so that their brain power can go towards learning instead of spending brain energy figuring out how to [write] letters correctly on paper,” said Jessica Reineke, Westminster NeuroNet Coordinator. For example, if a student is answering questions on social studies content, it would be ideal that his brain power is focused on the content rather than how to form the handwritten letters in the answer. She added, “Students who have more control over their bodies can focus on the information they need to learn and not become as easily distracted.”
Since implementing the program over three years ago, teachers are beginning to observe positive changes in Westminster students, including improved spatial awareness, handwriting and even music skills. Reineke attributes NeuroNet for “making strong neural pathways in their brains that are allowing them to learn new skills more quickly.”
The NeuroNet Story
In 1993, founder Nancy Rowe was operating a private audiology and speech therapy practice when she repeatedly came across a seemingly hard-to-solve problem. “The children who came to me roughly fell into two groups: those who absorbed language like a sponge, and those who remained oblivious to the larger significance of verbal communication,” Rowe said. “The first group learned how to learn words, and went on to become independent language learners, even though they had no open-set auditory word recognition. Children in the second group, despite having similar or even better hearing, learned only the words that I taught them. As long as I kept teaching, they kept learning, but they did not go on to become independent language learners. This same difference reappeared as I began to see children with auditory processing problems,” the founder explained. This prompted Rowe to search for ways to help children “learn to learn.” Specifically, Rowe wanted:
- A way to change the learning process—not just the learning base—for students,
- A way to document changes in the learning process.
- A theoretical model of why this worked, to better meet the individual needs of a wide variety of learners.
How the program works
Students in kindergarten through third grade at Westminster participate in a 20-minute morning exercise that helps prepare neurological pathways for all aspects of learning. Reineke explains, “What may appear to be old-fashioned jumping jacks is actually a brain and a body exercise that includes rhythmic and patterned speech and body movements.”
Another exercise called catwalk has students on their hands and feet, mimicking the body movements of a cat. A stool is placed in front of the students and they tap the stool with rhythmic speaking and hand movements. In a classroom, this multi-tasking movement exercise helps students to develop the neural pathways and muscle development to be able to sit in their seats while also having to look at the board or teacher and back down at their papers to write.
In another exercise explained by Reineke, students may jump in and out doing feet jacks, while their hands remain on their hips and they simultaneously count by twos. Repeated program-led exercises become increasingly more challenging each week. Explains Reineke, “As students practice the same set of exercises throughout the week, the neural pathways in their brains become stronger. Our students recognize that the exercises are hard at the beginning of the week, but with practice, perseverance, and hard work the exercises become easier by the end of the week. This is one of the main reasons we love NeuroNet. In life, things may seem hard at first, but with hard work and perseverance we can grow our brains and our bodies.”
Bringing NeuroNet To You
Parents interested in NeuroNet therapy programs for their children should visit www.neuronetlearning.com and search for a NeuroNet provider in their area, as more are being added in the near future.
The NeuroNet Classroom Enrichment is available for children from kindergarten through third grade. Parents and educators may request an informational brochure by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org; more details may be found on the program website, www.neurornetlearning.com.
“After seeing Rowe’s success with students, other therapists became interested so she [Rowe] began training to certify other therapists,” said Jonathan Rowe, Managing Director of NeuroNet. It followed that schools became aware of the success and began to implement the strategies with struggling students.
Nancy Rowe’s vision for NeuroNet remains: “That education will use a neural network model for automating new learning, enabling more students to become independent learners in school and to become independent adults in life.”
Julie Dill is a National Board Certified Teacher from Oklahoma City and mother of two.