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Clap, Slap, Snap: Enhancing Learning with the Neurosequential Model in Education

Steve Graner stands in front of a room of 30 school workers from Mount Saint Vincent’s K–8 school. As he claps his hands, slaps his legs, and snaps his fingers in turn, he rhythmically chants, “Six times six is (clap) 36.” The audience follows his lead, clapping, slapping, and chanting along. The exercise is part of Graner’s training for teachers on the Neurosequential Model in Education, or NME. NME uses rhythm-based learning, combining body movements and word association to increase memory recall. “This technique helps struggling traumatized children learn vocabulary words, practice skip-counting, memorize math facts, and more — all by combining movement and rhythm,” Graner said.

NME is based on the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics (NMT), a strengths-based, highly relational model of therapy developed by child trauma expert Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D., founder and senior fellow of Houston-based ChildTrauma Academy. NMT focuses on identifying areas of the brain that are underdeveloped, and applying interventions that bolster development in those areas.

Graner, project director for NME at The ChildTrauma Academy, provides NME training to teachers across the country, who then return to their schools to train their own staff. “I first teach the core concepts of brain development and how stress and trauma affect growing brains,” Graner said. “We then explore interventions teachers can apply in the classroom to help traumatized children learn.” When the curriculum was first developed in 2013, just five teachers signed up; by September of this year, Graner expects there to be as many as 95 trainer candidates.

Graner visits facilities like Denver-based Mount Saint Vincent in order to learn about effective interventions that are in use in residential and day treatment care facilities. Mount Saint Vincent provides clinical treatment and academic instruction for children aged five to 12 with emotional and behavioral challenges due to trauma, mental illness, abuse or neglect. “What we learn from sites like this are other activities and how they can be applied in different settings,” Graner said. The interventions are often modified slightly, but the core concepts are retained.

Mount Saint Vincent Supervising Lead Clinician Jessica Pfeiffer, LCSW, SSW, AAT, serves on Graner’s international advisory committee, which supports the development of new interventions for NME. “The use of NME is woven throughout our everyday activities with the children in our school,” Pfeiffer said. “Participation in the advisory committee allows Mount Saint Vincent to share its expertise in NME with other treatment providers that are integrating trauma-informed care within their organizations.”

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