There's a lot of data in this new report from Washington University St. Louis, and a lot of the information has implications for the future of education.
When children were asked to generate words using different strategies, researchers found that were quite different from adults.
Excerpt: "there is no simple mapping of maturational effects onto broad brain regions, such as the mere 'coming online' of left frontal cortex. Instead, task--specific developmental changes appear to occur in a complex functional mosaic." Kids, it seems, think very different from adults, and that can be an obstacle for knowing how best to teach them.
As in some of Dr. Schlaggar's earlier work, it looks as if the visual areas of children are more active when words are being generated.
This may be why children delight so much in picture books, cartoons, and computer-based learning, and why eidetic imagery or "photographic memory" seems to be more common in children than adults (see other link below).
This next figure shows the complex shifts in brain activation patterns that can be seen from age 7 into adulthood. The question is, can we use this sort of information to change how we teach or assess students. With all the emphasis on standards-based testing, are all the expectations developmentally appropriate?
** By the way, we don't want to give parents or teachers the idea that all children will prefer using imagery. fMRI studies such as these are based on averaged responses, so individual children (for instance those with visual pathway injury, visual perceptual disturbances, or limited visual spans) may not use visual imagery pathways. In the future, our hope is that individualized education based on brain-based preferences will become common practice.
Developmental Changes in Word Generation
Eidetic Imagery in Children and Adults