Building Blocks – Glossary

The Building Blocks of Brain Development glossary is a supplement to the framework. The Building Blocks of Brain Development framework is provided as a general guideline for educators and professionals. It was developed as a beginning “reference point” for professionals working with students where a brain injury is suspected or known to be present. The glossary offers some definitions and additional information on some of the terms used in the framework. The framework does not cover all areas affected by a brain injury, nor is an exhaustive list. For more resources, please refer to the additional resources at the end of the framework.


Minds in Motion Fit Sticks


Goal Directed Problem Solving Process

  • WHY IS PROBLEM SOLVING IMPORTANT FOR MANY STUDENTS AFTER TBI? For many people, the process of setting goals, planning, reviewing, and adjusting (solving problems) is often relatively automatic. For many students with disability, including disability associated with TBI, this process is not automatic. Problem solving may need to become more conscious and deliberate. In part, this is because there are more obstacles to overcome and problems to be solved if one has a disability. Furthermore, this process of setting and managing goals and solving problems in pursuit of goals may be a relatively specific deficit after the brain injury. Individuals with damage in the frontal regions of the brain, common after TBI, tend to have difficulty understanding their needs, setting realistic goals, making plans to achieve the goals, initiating relevant goal-directed behaviors, inhibiting distracting behaviors, monitoring their performance, evaluating outcomes in relation to goals, and making strategic adjustments – that is, solving problems – as a result of this monitoring process. Therefore, goal management and problem solving are often specific intervention targets in working with students with TBI. As a result of damage to the frontal lobes, many students with TBI are relatively unaware of their difficulties. Alternatively, they may resist that awareness because it is emotionally painful. In either case, the students will likely resist problem-solving strategies and systems until awareness and denial are effectively addressed. (See Tutorial on Self Monitoring and Self Evaluating.)
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  • General Self-Regulation Script/Routine: Goal-Obstacle-Plan-Do-Review
  • The information that follows is an outline of how people achieve success when tasks are difficult. One of the goals of education is to plant this template into the heads of all students. This becomes even more essential for students with TBI, because they more frequently face difficult tasks than students with no disability. Problem identification and problem solving arise at the level of identifying obstacles and creating plans, but also at the level of review and adjustment. Ideally this GOPDR script will become a habit for adults in the student’s life, thereby increasing the likelihood that it becomes a habit of thinking for the student with TBI. (See Tutorial on Self-Regulation/Executive Function Routines)
  • GOAL: What’s the goal? What are you trying to achieve? What do you want to have happen? What’s it going to look like when you’re done?
  • OBSTACLE: What is standing in the way of you achieving the goal? What is the problem?
  • PLAN: So what’s the plan? What do you need to do? You need help? Want to do it as a team? Think that plan will work??
  • PREDICTION: So how well do you think you will do? How many can you get done? On a scale of 1 to 10, how well will you do?
  • DO: Apply the chosen solution.
  • REVIEW: So how’d it work out? What worked? Anything that didn’t work? Why not? What are you going to try next time? How might you do it better?
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Priming the Pump

  • Priming the Pump (PTP) is a simple method to activate the memory circuits of the brain that will aid in memory encoding.
  • This method works by an adult first securing the full attention of a student. When the student is focused, the adult tells the student that a few questions will be asked after the directions or instructions are given. After the directions are given, the student needs to quickly answer the questions when the adult stops talking.
  • This common sense approach is built upon the observation that it is not enough to gain a student’s attention before speaking; one must also slightly raise the emotions of the student, which also activates the same neurological structures that aid in memory formation.

Strategy to slightly elevate emotions when teaching new concepts

  • See Priming the Pump noted previously.

New Learning


  • Chunking is a way of organizing information into familiar groupings. This is done with all sorts of information, including numbers, single words, and multiple-word phrases which are collapsed into a single word, to create acronyms. The main advantage of this type of mnemonic device is that it enhances retention and memory.
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Errorless Learning

  • Students with severe cognitive and memory problems may benefit from a teaching approach referred to as errorless learning (Wilson & Evans, 1996).
  • Errorless learning is based on a model of behavioral rehabilitation that involves discrimination training with early prompting and support that is systematically faded to ensure successful responding.
  • In errorless learning, individuals are not allowed to guess on recall tasks, but are immediately provided with the correct response, instructed to read the response, and write it down (Mateer et al., 1997). If errors do occur they are followed by nonjudgmental corrective feedback (Ylvisaker et al., 2001).
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Gradual Release of Responsibility Model

  • One way teachers can provide more targeted, individualized instruction is to use the gradual release of responsibility model (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983).
  • This instructional model requires that the teacher, by design, transition from assuming “all the responsibility for performing a task…to a situation in which the students assume all of the responsibility” (Duke & Pearson, 2002, p. 211). This gradual release may occur over a day, a week, or a semester.
  • Stated another way, the gradual release of responsibility “emphasizes instruction that mentors students into becoming capable thinkers and learners when handling the tasks with which they have not yet developed expertise” (Buehl, 2005).
  • The Four Components to gradually release responsibility from the teacher to the student are: Focus Lessons – “I do it”; Guided Instruction – “We do it”; Collaborative Learning – “You do it together”; Independent Learning – “You do it alone”
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  • An approach to education that introduces key concepts to students at a young age and covers these concepts repeatedly, with increasing degrees of complexity.
  • The idea of spiral curriculum is attributed to Jerome Bruner, who discussed it in his 1960 book, “The Process of Education.”
  • Proponents of spiral curriculum say that the approach helps students score better on tests and retain information longer than students who learn from curricula that take a massed approach.
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Experiential Learning

  • Experiential Learning (or “learning by doing”) is the process of actively engaging students in an authentic experience that will have benefits and consequences.
  • Students make discoveries and experiment with knowledge themselves instead of only hearing or reading about the experiences of others.
  • Students also reflect on their experiences, thus developing new skills, new attitudes, and new theories or ways of thinking.
  • Experiential education is related to the constructivist learning theory.
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Forward/Backward Chaining

  • The new behavior you want to build may be a series or chain of behaviors. A behavior chain is a series of related behaviors, each of which provides the cue for the next and the last that produces a reinforcer. Almost everything we do can be considered part of a behavior chain. For example, when you are reciting the alphabet, you start with “A”, then “B”, then “C” and so on until the task is completed at “Z”.
    Each step serves as a cue for the next step; a chain is really a series of signals and behaviors. The completion of one behavior in a chain produces the signal for the next action. Saying “G” is the signal to say “H” next.
  • Practically any complex behavior we do in the way of operant behavior is part of a chain or a multitude of chains: eating, getting dressed, using the computer, counting, brushing your teeth, riding a bike, walking to school and so on. Behavior chains are very important to all of us; as is the procedure for building chains, which is called chaining.
  • Chaining is the reinforcement of successive elements of a behavior chain. If you are teaching your child the alphabet, you are attempting to build a chain, if you are teaching the tying of shoelaces, you are also attempting to build a chain.
  • There are two chaining procedures, forward and backward chaining.
  • FORWARD CHAINING: Forward chaining is a chaining procedure that begins with the first element in the chain and progresses to the last element (A to Z). In forward chaining, you start with the first task in the chain (A). Once the child can perform that element satisfactorily, you have him perform the first and second elements (A & B) and reinforce this effort. Do not teach “A”, then teach “B” separately; “A” and “B” are taught together. When these are mastered, you can move to “A”, “B” and “C”. Notice they are not taught in isolation; hence the term ‘chain’.
  • BACKWARD CHAINING: This is often a very effective way of developing complex sequences of behavior. In forward chaining, you are teaching A to Z; in backward teaching, you are teaching Z to A. Backward chaining is a chaining procedure that begins with the last element in the chain and proceeds to the first element.
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Executive function – Initiation

Use of contingency based interventions centering on video games

  • The use of contingency based interventions is based on the venerable behavioristic concept called the Premack Principle (or relativity theory), high-probability behaviors (those performed frequently under conditions of free choice) can be used to reinforce low-probability behaviors (e.g. school work).
  • The allowance of a higher order behavior, such as video game play time, is contingent on work completion. Essentially, “If” the student does work, “then” he gets a desired reward.

Executive function – Planning and organizational skills

Report and Talk Aloud strategy

  • The effectiveness of this intervention is based upon the establishment of routine and having the student repeat the necessary steps to complete a future task.
  • A student reports to a designated staff at midday and reads to the staff the tasks that need to be completed and how those tasks are to be completed.
  • The student repeats this activity at the end of the day to another staff member before the student to leaves school.
  • It is key that the student reads aloud and hears him/herself describe the tasks that are due and the steps to complete the task.

Executive function – Mental Flexibility

Guided Self-Reflection

Executive function – Reasoning


  • In education, scaffolding refers to a variety of instructional techniques used to move students progressively toward stronger understanding and, ultimately, greater independence in the learning process.
  • The term itself offers the relevant descriptive metaphor: teachers provide successive levels of temporary support that help students reach higher levels of comprehension and skill acquisition that they would not be able to achieve without assistance. Like physical scaffolding, the supportive strategies are incrementally removed when they are no longer needed, and the teacher gradually shifts more responsibility over the learning process to the student.
  • One of the main goals of scaffolding is to reduce the negative emotions and self-perceptions that students may experience when they get frustrated, intimidated, or discouraged when attempting a difficult task without the assistance, direction, or understanding they need to complete it.
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Teaching into meaningful concepts

Asking “why” questions

  • “Why” questions help students to interrogate their own thought processes and clarifies for staff those steps in a student’s problem solving approach that are not effective, or faulty.
  • Asking students “how” they arrived at an answer or “what” their approach is to a problem, also helps make a student’s hidden thoughts more explicit.

Social/Emotional Competency

Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA)

  • Functional behavioral assessment is generally considered to be a problem-solving process for addressing student problem behavior. It relies on a variety of techniques and strategies to identify the purposes of specific behavior and to help IEP teams select interventions to directly address the problem behavior.
  • A functional behavioral assessment looks beyond the behavior itself.
  • The focus when conducting a functional behavioral assessment is on identifying significant, pupil-specific social, affective, cognitive, and/or environmental factors associated with the occurrence (and non-occurrence) of specific behaviors. This broader perspective offers a better understanding of the function or purpose behind student behavior.
  • Behavioral intervention plans based on an understanding of “why” a student misbehaves are extremely useful in addressing a wide range of problem behaviors.
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Behavioral Intervention Plan (BIP)

  • Behavioral intervention plans (BIP) are detailed plans, designed for a specific student, focused on teaching, practicing and reinforcing new behaviors.
  • BIPs are based on the data gathered during the FBA such as function, frequency, severity, consequence, etc.


Building Blocks of Brain Development & Glossary Developers/Authors (2017): Nicole Crawford, Patricia Colella, Judy Dettmer, Heather Hotchkiss, Karen McAvoy, Peter Thompson, Janet Tyler. Special Thanks to Tami Cassel, Donna Detmar-Hannah, Laura Dosch, Jayne Dougherty, Mary Linz, and Jennifer Mathis.

Revise only with permission.

Revised Brain Injury Matrix & Glossary Developers/Authors (2015): Nicole Crawford, Patricia Colella, Donna Detmar-Hannah, Judy Dettmer, Heather Hotchkiss, Corey Klein, Karen McAvoy, Peter Thompson, Kristy Werther.

Traumatic Brain Injury Networking Team Steering Committee (TNT)-Original Developers/Authors of the Brain Injury Matrix (2012): Nicole Crawford, Judy Dettmer, Jeanne Dise-Lewis, Priscilla Hurley, Megan Koepsell, Karen McAvoy, Kathy Patrick, Peter Thompson, Liz Wilburn.