Friday, August 28, 2009

Social Work 634 Community Practice: The Mind Is Everything, What You Think You Become

What a delightful and engaging start to our Tuesday and Saturday SW 643 classes. Thanks for your ideas, participation, and SLANT

Neuroplasticity and Community Social Work Practice

At the front end of our class will continue each session with our positive thinking/awareness neuroplasticity exercise. Breathe deeply. Focus. Become aware. Concentrate. Recall.

As you'll recall one of the things I stressed was that becoming an "effective" community social work practitioner requires that we delete old ineffective neural connections associated with distraction, fear, doubt, and complacency and replace them with new empowered neuropathways that embody creativity, hope, clarity, courage, focus, compassion, and success. To do this, of course, requires that we undertake specific repeated, empowered, focused thinking, feeling, speaking, and doing to change our brain structure and function. As you all know by now, our brains have an immense capacity for positive change, (referred to neuroplasticity) according the quality of information we supply to it.

Eating disorder expert Dr. Irina Webster, M.D. ( says that our brain changes in four ways:

1. By responding to the world in a certain way
2. By perceiving the world in a certain way
3. By acting in the world in a certain way
4. By thinking and imagining in a certain way

When we take charge of how we do each of the above, our actions can be referred to as "self-directed neuroplasticity." If we respond to the world in a courageous, peaceful manner our brain will change to accommodate our response. If we perceive the world as a place full of opportunities rather limitations our brain will view the world in this manner. If we act with confidence and curiosity, neural networks will develop and strengthen according to the amount of confident and curious acts we undertake. Finally, if we thinking and imagine in a positive manner, overriding negative thoughts with a cascade of positive thoughts and images, our brains we will change our brains to accommodate this type of thinking.

Of course we can change our brains in a negative manner as well. In his book, The Brain That Changes Itself (2007), Dr. Norman Doidge notes that there exists a plasticity paradox: the longer that we perform "defective" thoughts, perceptions, responses, and actions in our encounters with the world, the stronger these neural networks/connections become. Doidge believes that is the reason we have such a hard time stopping bad habits.


Sit up, Listen, Ask questions, Nod your head, and Track the speaker with your eyes. Slant is a system for classroom behavior invented by David Levin and Michael Feinburg ( Interesting.

Not sure that Levin and Feinburg can comfortably lay claim to this system since my first grade teacher used this same process when I attended the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) elementary school in White Shield, ND back in 1960. Only thing is that she'd whack and smack and abuse the hell out of us whenever we deviated from her classroom behavior system.

Despite the controversy with its origins, I find that SLANT is a very powerful neuroplasticity exercise which engages an shapes the function of the brain in a number of critical ways:

Sitting up

that is mindful and focused triggers a cacophony of communication in our neural networks that talk to major muscle and nerve groups throughout the body reminding it to maintain our pose, position, to keep muscles engaged. If we keep our backs pressed up to the back of our chairs for support on our lumbar region and elevate both feet in front of us on a short stool or other raised support we will, additionally, take a lot of stress off our spines and lower back muscles. As we sit in healthy poses our brain will develop the necessary neuropathways to support our sitting up skill. Sitting up is a pose of alertness, readiness.


is a very complex task and key to our learning.

Neuropsychologist David Rose says that "Listening is qualitatively different from hearing. Hearing seems effortless, automatic and nonselective. Our brains recognize and categorize sounds even when we are sleeping, which is why we wake to a faint but unexpected noise in the next room but sleep peacefully through the blast of the regular midnight train. On the other hand, listening feels intentional; it is effortful, focused and selective. We need to be awake to listen. Hearing is reactiver, while listening is strategic. The strategic, effortful, selective aspect of listening recruits a different part of the brain than the posterior regions with which we recognize sounds (

Asking questions

is an important natural neuroenhancer (a strategy that increases our ability to think: retrieve the issue you want to get clarification about from your memory, open your mouth, and ask your question).

Asking questions in response to our classroom discussion, lecture, or reading, enables us to tap into our memory which is located in our hippocampus. The hippocampus has an key role in the formation of new memories about experienced events (what you heard in class, what you read, and what your classmates say about what they heard or read). The hippocampus is the also thought to be part of the medial temporal lobe memory system responsible for our declarative memory (which are our memories that can be explicitly verbalized, for instance, our memory for facts.

Nodding your head

Psychology professor Richard Petty says that Nodding your head may influence our thoughts and shaking our heads serves as "self-validation" of how we feel about our thoughts."If we are nodding our heads up and down, we gain confidence in what we are thinking. But when we shake our heads from side to side, we lose confidence in our own thoughts.” Petty's research found that nodding ones head up and down is, in effect, telling yourself that you have confidence in your own thoughts – whether those thoughts are positive or negative. He also says that, “Nodding your head doesn’t mean you’ll agree with whatever you hear. One of the most surprising things we found is that if you’re thinking negative thoughts while you’re nodding, this actually strengthens your disapproval.”

In an experiment observing school children counting a large number of asterisks using their fingers for an accurate count, Richard Calson, et. al., (2007) found that when students were not allowed to use their fingers count they switched to using a nod as they counted. When viewers weren't allowed to point, they nearly always nodded as they counted. Carlso, et. al., state that "non-pointers who nodded were significantly more accurate than non-nodders. It's beginning to look like the body movements themselves are somehow assisting in the counting process." In conclusion, the authors suggest that "using your body, like using your voice, can help you work through arithmetic problems -- but some parts of your body help more than others.


the speaker or performer with your eyes is directly connected to our learning. Esra KELEŞ1, Salih ÇEPNİ2 (2006, p. 33) state that "Attention is a basic element in learning and remembering." It is the task of "focusing to think of an object or an event during a definite time." These authors say that "If a person does not exert upon a definite attention biologically, learning materializes difficulty. Learning can be increased with augmentation of attention. A learning environment must be designed in order to keep attention. Environment has very important role in the development of brain. An environment which provides students with sufficient health conditions, safety, regular nourishing, feedback, acceptance of the students as different individuals, giving permission for research and adapting neuroscientific data to learning environment is defined as a brain rich environment or an enriched environment. Many researches also indicate that sensations have influence."