Trauma-informed teaching: how to be more intentional with course policies, LMS, and scaffold feedback

In higher education, administrators and educators are constantly rethinking how to better help students retain course information. Recently, many have focused their attention on brain-based learning, as there is a plethora of new information about how the brain works, which helps us identify areas of the brain that initiate and promote learning. We have discovered that our brains are not plastic and can be rewired if we choose to make an effort in that direction; Neuroplasticity is defined as the brain’s ability to adapt to different situations. This means that the traumatic brain can be reorganized. This is done by creating new neural pathways that strengthen new synaptic connections and weaken other synaptic connections. Science has proven that the traumatic brain develops differently. For example, if a student has suffered multiple traumas, the brain’s flight or fight mechanism (the amygdala) has not developed in an optimal environment to be able to properly distinguish between real danger and something that is just a daily event. Since our brain development depends on the environment to present findings that help us perceive the world around us, it is essential to reconsider the platforms and strategies used so that we can effectively interact with the brain. traumatized. Revising course policies, using LMS tools to increase student participation, and providing scaffolding feedback are all strategies that can be used to show consideration for students who have experienced trauma, also known as under the name of trauma-informed pedagogy.

Revise course policies

Instructor course policies sometimes reflect that they favor students who know what to expect from an academic path and respect the particulars of the course – this reinforces a fixed mindset. Revising our course policies can help develop a trauma-informed curriculum, as language and considerations can foster a growth mindset. Students who have experienced trauma may perceive words differently from students who have developed without trauma. For example, in brain-based learning, we take advantage of the development of the prefrontal cortex. According to thescienceofpsychotherapy.com (2017), “The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is the cerebral cortex covering the front part of the frontal lobe. This region of the brain has been implicated in the planning of complex cognitive behavior, personality expression, decision making, and the moderation of social behavior. The basic activity of this region of the brain is considered to be the orchestration of thoughts and actions in accordance with internal goals. This part of the brain also houses the amygdala, which processes our emotions and regulates the fight-or-flight system (Chang, Barack and Platt 2012). As a reminder, note that the American Psychological Association defines trauma as “an emotional response to a terrible event … Longer-term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships, and even physical symptoms like headaches. or nausea ”. With this background information, we can consider revising our course policies to help learners separate the learning process from trauma by providing them with a new experience that can validate that they have the right to learn and grow.

The revision of course policies also considers that students need space to learn to manage their time, which includes integrating obtaining a degree into their life plans. The amygdala not growing properly means that a student may perceive strict course policies as a reason to take flight, as it confirms their negative outlook on their intelligence. Course policies that reflect standards and an understanding of the learning process help create new neural pathways. These new course policies will confirm that a student can learn to adapt to higher education that trusts the learning process. Incorporating course policies that reflect the encouragement and willingness to associate with your learners can mitigate student reaction to course policies with a traumatic response.

Use your LMS

Another strategy for helping students who have experienced trauma is using your LMS. LMS systems have many resources that allow us to track logistics, from homework grades to retrieving course data and statistics. As modules are developed in your LMS, instructors can see when a student has read assigned readings and how much time they have spent on those modules. You can then use that information to figure out when to allow makeup quizzes and other homework, which helps break the brain synapses of students who think that not doing their best will reduce disappointment by one grade. When students need to prepare for an assignment, you can check how much time they spent studying the modules and whether the student took the opportunity to take the practice tests. Instructors can authorize a make-up or retake only if the student chooses to go back and study the content. It helps students’ brain synapses believe that if they put in the effort, they can achieve their goals. Since the LMS is necessary for students to navigate their classroom, in most cases helping them perceive it in a useful way will only increase engagement with the content being learned.

Scaffolding Feedback Guide

Developing scaffolding feedback that provides advice on how to raise skills is another useful strategy. The comments in general have been discussed for eons in all facets of the world, especially within the leadership communities. In higher education, feedback is the golden egg of improvement. We rely on students to assess where they are at in their learning based on detailed feedback and feedback, and hope they apply it to advance their overall skills. Scaffolding feedback also helps take advantage of the recovery phase in brain-based learning. Creating homework and strategies that reiterate the lesson or content helps in the memorization phase of the learning process. By considering the type of direction we are leading our students in, we can help eradicate trauma-informed (fight or flight) responses on the part of students. According to Embody’s lab Embody your program webinar, presented by Dr. Anita Chari and Angelica Singh, “Symptoms of unloaded traumatic stress peaks instead of flow. This causes black and white perception – which is a form of protection. When providing scaffolding feedback to students, highlight what the student needs to keep doing and why it is useful for their job. In addition, give them advice on the direction they need to take to effectively achieve the mission objective. This helps ease any tension students may have about the task. Scaffolding feedback also uses neutral language to help detach emotions from a traumatic experience. As Dr. Anita Chari eloquently stated in the webinar mentioned above, “Trauma is about being seen and heard. When we use neutral language, we are seen and heard. If the brain gets the recognition it needs through scaffolding feedback, which recognizes the effort and skills that are useful in a student’s work, we help weaken old synaptic connections and strengthen new ones. synaptic connections.

Improve your efforts to learn

Each new generation that chooses to graduate offers higher education administrators and instructors the opportunity to continue to explore the intricacies of how best to learn. Educators pride themselves on being lifelong learners, indicating that there will always be something new to learn that will enhance our efforts to help students achieve course goals. Incorporating revised course policies, showing that the LMS is useful for the student, and providing encouragement in the form of scaffolding feedback are some basic strategies students can use to restructure a traumatic brain.


Professor Jamie Butler, MALS, is a first year English Composition Professor at Atlanta Metropolitan State College in the School of Social Sciences and Humanities. Professor Butler has led faculty learning communities that deal with brain-based learning and is keen to continue learning how to apply brain-based learning to the revised curriculum.

The references

American Psychological Association (2013). Recovering emotionally from a disaster. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/topics/disasters-response/recovering.

Marks, Jay W. “Medical Definition of Neuroplasticity. ” MedicineNet. Accessed June 3, 2021, www.medicinenet.com/neuroplasticity/definition.htm.

To coax. (2017, January 4). Orbitofrontal prefrontal cortex (OFC). The science of psychotherapy. https://www.thescienceofpsychotherapy.com/glossary/orbitofrontal-prefrontal-cortex-ofc/.

Chang, SWC, Barack, DL and Platt, ML (2012). Mechanical Classification of Neural Circuit Dysfunctions: Insights from Neuroeconomics Research in Animals. Biological Psychiatry, 72(2), 101-106. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006322312001448


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