ISSUE: Do recent discoveries about the brain and its development have implications for classroom practice?

7 pairs of students created the following consensus statements on this very issue


Controversy 4 – Step 4 April Niemela, Angie Zeller Brain research allows educators to formulate specific action plans that actually improve learning for our neediest children. In basing our actions upon research, we are no longer doing what we think or hope might work. Instead, we are bringing together focused research, learning interventions, and best practices. Many of the latest discoveries in brain research are strategies or methods that we already know work in the classroom. Now, however, brain research can not only validate this work, but focus it, guiding and directing it in the appropriate direction.  No longer are teachers adrift on an ocean of doing-what-feels-right or attempting to steer based on intuition. They are armed with tools that inform their teaching and impact student learning. There are caveats for bringing brain research into the classroom. For example, Cole and others warn that research on the brain is often misinterpreted. In some cases, K-12 educators have misapplied suggestions or, more seriously, discarded proven practices in the name of “brain-based education” (Marzano 2003).  In short, educators should use caution as they evaluate the theoretical framework, logic, and conclusions. Not only should educators use care when assessing the applicability of brain research to one’s district, school, or classroom, but they should also pay close attention, ensuring that fidelity to the research is observed during the implementation sequence.

<< Read & Comment >>


While psychology and the behavioral sciences have much to teach educators about learning and memory, potential contributions of the “brain sciences” are much more limited. Current brain imaging technology is limited in resolution both spatially and temporally. A much more important limitation, however, comes when we try to interpret activation patterns. Our current state of interpretation: “there is more oxygen being used by this part of the brain when participants do this particular task,” for example, suggests nothing about potential causes or potential effects of that activation. In no way does this suggest that we should not continue with the brain research, but rather that we should not accept individual data points afforded us by the brain research without the context that educational cognitive studies can also bring to it over time.  To do this, there needs to be intentional testing of the new findings over time just as any other scientific theory and concepts are put through.  Until we can solidly connect those links, brain research has limited uses for educators in today’s classrooms. Instead, educators should focus on research that does have classroom implications: both research that specifically addresses pedagogy as well as research from the behavioral sciences looking at learning and memory processes, group dynamics, reading processes, etc.  For those educators who want to move the field of brain science further as a tool to inform education, participating in action research within their own practice would be of great value to both the learners and the researchers.

<< Read & Comment >>


Advances of neuroscience allow for greater understanding of the functions of the brain and the interconnected nature of its processes. While more research is needed to make direct connections between neuroscience and education, educators should be aware of the brain functions utilized in the teaching and learning process. Teachers and parents should be critical in the extent we link learning to neural development, acknowledging that environmental factors like culture and socialization also play a role in developing learners. Cognitive neuroscientists are already informing cognitive psychology and helping educators solve educational challenges in the classroom. For example, classrooms that promote sensory stimulation excite the synapses and encourage creativity and learning motivation. Educators should be wary of any approach that acts as an all encompassing cure-all for each student, recognizing that students are individuals who cannot and should not be reduced to their brain activities. Approaches to education should be diverse and multifaceted, encouraging problem solving, team building, and higher order thinking. Future neuroscientific studies may help us better understand the unique needs of students with learning disabilities (cognitive and emotional) and gifted aptitudes. For this to succeed, we need to continue to build relationships between educators, cognitive psychologists, and neuroscientists and develop open channels of communication that will inform recursively and iteratively this shared and promising discourse.

<< Read & Comment >>


Consensus Statement? Reading is not a linear, step-by-step process.  It is very complex, involving the construction and reconstruction of extensive neural networks that are individualized to the experience.  As reading skill improves, brain activity changes.  There are a multitude of social, emotional, and motivational factors that impact the process.  To determine that there is one best approach that should maximize student learning and reading processes is a classic case of oversimplification that fails the educational system, and the students in it, and generates dangerous implications impacting educational legislation.  Though recent technological advances in brain imaging are not able to pinpoint specific networking patterns for ideal functionality, they have provided an increased understanding of the interconnectedness between functions such as language acquisition, motor development and emotional responses.  Research also indicates that repeated exposures strengthen synapses.  We must adopt educational approaches that use repetition, multi-sensory activities, and connections to prior knowledge to optimize synapse mapping and capitalize on what we do know about the intricate functioning of the brain.  We should also emphasize experiential activities and problem-solving to facilitate learning and memory connections between the motor cortex and the frontal lobe.  Additionally, we should encourage self-regulation and collaborative activities to build an emotionally and socially supportive environment for learning.  These approaches combined will best appeal to the multifaceted nature of brain development and its impact on learning.

<< Read & Comment >>


We believe that brain research offers us much promise for the future, but know that it is still in its infancy.  New technologies in brain imaging and brain mapping are improving our understanding of the brain and neuroscience should not be discounted in making breakthroughs in our understanding of the learning process.  Unfortunately, at this time, neuroscience studies are typically very specific and difficult to apply to anything outside its narrow scope.   And for a teacher to attempt to apply findings in neuroscience to the classroom is a risky proposition.  Through cognitive science, researchers have found more broad ranging principles and it is for this reason that it currently offers us more insight into learning, memory, and cognition than neuroscience.  Ultimately, properly trained educational researchers should be aware of neuroscientific findings and do further testing to see what, if any, applications could be applied to the classroom setting.

<< Read & Comment >>


Brain research, when combined with what we already know about effective teaching and learning strategies, can inform teaching practice in important ways but cannot be interpreted sufficiently enough to improve classroom instruction or methods on its own. Brain research supports the importance of positive attitude, prior knowledge and assimilation, higher order thinking activities, real world application of learning, and meta-cognitive/self-regulatory processes in effective instruction. All of these have been established by cognitive psychologists as effective practices, but emerging brain research seems to reiterates their importance. In addition, knowing how and when the brain develops, how and when connections are strengthened and abandoned, and how emotion and brain activity are linked could potentially help us develop instruction that makes the most of these understandings. Although this information can help support existing methods, limitations of directly transferring brain research to classroom instruction persist. Brain research is often oversimplified in an effort to apply it to educational settings. The field is not mature enough to have many long-lasting scientific certainties and in some cases substantial leaps in interpretation take place due to misplaced application or over-generalization. In particular, one area that requires scrutiny is the interpretation of results from analyzing brain functions or reviewing brain scans. In some instances, interpretations based on scans or perceived functions have been made to substantiate current practice or social/political agendas. In these studies, research design must be examined very carefully to determine whether purported results are truly consistent with conclusions drawn. Brain research may one day have [...More...]

<< Read & Comment >>


Current understandings of brain research (admittedly still in its infancy) combined with sound pedagogy has the potential to transform learning for all students.  However, the brain is complex.  While the revelations coming out of neuroscience are fascinating and illuminating, generalizing those findings into a teaching practice should be done with caution. Specifically some have argued that brain research has been oversimplified, misapplied and counterproductive to quality education reform.  Learning within the brain can be influenced by myriad factors, from the physical to the emotional.  Recently, for example, it’s been determined that brain development continues as a person grows and this has made an important contribution to recent developments in classroom practice.  Recognizing the complex interplay of factors that influence learning will allow for the best practices in our classrooms.

<< Read & Comment >>

 

Leave your response!

You must be logged in to post a comment.