Child Brain Development
"Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere." — A. Einstein Due to improved research techniques and cutting edge technology, it's now possible to understand what's really going on in our brains.
Understanding some of the underlying science of how the brain works and how it can change will help explain why, with training, it's possible to get such remarkable improvements in cognitive skills and how the improvements impact our learning and reading abilities.
Since the 1980s, astounding developments in brain research have better revealed not only how the brain works but also how it can be changed and developed. This revolution in understanding holds many of the keys to the best ways to train learning skills. If your child or someone you care about has a learning difficulty, these discoveries about the brain will give you solid, objective hope: Learning difficulties can be overcome.
I call these scientific breakthroughs in brain research an under-publicized "revolution" because much of this research has not found its way into the mainstream thinking of educators—and particularly those concerned with helping students who have learning difficulties. This may be your first time reading or hearing about many of these findings, too—even if you've been searching for answers to learning difficulties for some time now.
The following Questions and Answers section reveals important information on brain research every parent needs to know.
Child Brain Development — The Brain and Learning
This exciting information on brain research can be grouped into five broad categories:
- Brain Functioning
Q: Is the structure of the brain permanently fixed at birth?
A: Interestingly, new evidence confirms that the brain is constantly changing. The brain operates through a complicated arrangement of nerve cells or neurons. Groupings of neurons accomplish specific tasks. Research shows that neighboring neurons are regularly called on when a person must learn a new task. When the task is mastered, the "borrowed" neurons go back to other duties.
"Neuroplasticity" is a relatively new word that defines nerve cells' ability to change and modify their activities in reaction to changes in their environment. Repetition or practice of a task strengthens the neuronal connections and increases the certainty of a more accurate recall of task activities when needed.
As an example, research studies monitoring the brains of violin players by fMRI scans reveal that areas of the brain involved with the left hand (used for fingering) are substantially larger. Thus this part of the brain, the motor cortex, grows to accommodate the demands of learning. Once these skills are mastered and become more automatic, the area of the cortex required is reduced and the brain gears up for new learning tasks. Rather that being locked into a fixed structure, the brain can adapt to each new learning challenge.1
Q: How does the brain deal with expectations and respond to incomplete data?
A: Input to the brain shapes the way it prepares for subsequent input. It arranges itself physically and chemically to receive more information. Visually, if insufficient information is provided with input, the brain uses its data bank to fill in the blanks.
If you see the left front end of a car in your car's rearview mirror, you assume that a complete car is in the right lane next to you. However, if your brain had insufficient background information, it might fill in the blank inappropriately.
Here's another all-too-common example: being trained to read the "whole word" forces a student to guess an unfamiliar word based on the context of the story and whatever illustrations may provide clues. It's not unusual for young readers to fill in the blank by guessing wrong. That's especially true (and discouraging) for a student with weak cognitive skills. Keep Reading!
1 Ratey, MD, J. A User's Guide to the Brain: Perception, Attention, and the Four Theaters of the Brain. Pantheon Books. 2001.
Excerpts of the book Unlock the Einstein Inside by Dr. Ken Gibson