Thursday, February 03, 2005

Understanding Brain Remodeling-Based Education

We're back! Over the next few weeks, we'd like to talk about some of the main take-home points of developmental neurobiology, and what it means for education. Multiple Intelligences was important for introducing and popularizing the concept of different preferences for learning, and Mel Levine's approach of "A Mind At a Time" emphasizes the importance of learning differences in each child, but neither addresses the implications of brain plasticity or its tremendous reorganization potential in education, the importance of perceptual processing disorders in school underachievement, and the potential for targeted brain-based retraining to overcome specific learning blocks.

We're at a point where the lines between biology and education blur. We would like to hear some discussion from some of you about what education should include. These days it seems that a majority of the time in school is spent on fact mastery and the basic building blocks of reading, writing, and mathematics. Should a core system of neurocognitive skills be added to this list? Is it a responsibility of educators to help entrain skills of sustained attention, organization, or efficient memory? Or if not, whose job is it?


  1. Welcome back! I think it is appropriate for schools to teach neurocognitive skills as school is the place which demands these skills so highly and it is the place where skill deficits often become apparent. I also think having educators trained to recognize and help with neurocognitive deficits will help them recognise the strengths as well as deficits in these kids, instead of viewing them as morally flawed with character deficits. Learning how to include all kinds of learners with all kinds of strengths and deficits is wonderful modelling for children to take into future situations.


  2. Thanks for your comments, Jair. We know it would be valuable, but the pressure on teachers is already enormous...especially with all the standardized testing, lists of learning requirements, and mandates from "no-child-left-behind." It would probably take a tremendous shift in curriculum orientation.

    On the pro- side, for some kids, mastering sustained attention or organization may be the most important challenge they face - that may mean success or failure in the world beyond school. It would be nice to have an option for allow children to have reduced classroom work expectations if they were working harder on the neurocognitive side. For instance, if a child needed more focused work on error detection, he could spend more work on redrafting working, developing a more efficient system for detecting errors, and learning alternative learning strategies. The problem is that school is already such a compressed and rushed experience, that there seems to be no time to add anything else, and if a student falls behind - he justs falls behind.

  3. Hi! I understand your points and agree that teachers are under time constraints for curriculum and standardized testing (and a shift away from that would be beneficial I think). However, based on my daughter's public school experience, a lot of time is spent quite fruitlessly applying pressure to kids to do tasks they cannot do in the way that is being asked and then dealing with the behavioural consequences. It's a cycle that goes round and round with little benefit to anyone. I know not all difficult behaviours in school are based on neurocognitive deficits, but a lot are. If there was a consistent and positive way to help kids with these difficulties, would it not pay off in less classroom time and energy being spent in negative ways? And wouldn't this trend only increase as the children became more able to do the tasks in question? I think one of the most disheartening things about spending time in a public school classroom is the negative energy being centred on kids who are not the "norm." This takes away from curriculum and standardized test preparation time too.