We become what we do over & over & over … (resolutions pt. 2)

[Adele Diamond, the moving force behind the Brain Development and Learning Conference (see CONFERENCE Tab above), was kind enough to email me this response to my last blog — Willpower, free will, & New Year’s resolutions.]

 

Prefrontal Cortex (PFC) image from “io9” (2010) at http://goo.gl/XZ6AP

Prefrontal cortex (PFC) — to which I have devoted my life’s work — is over-rated. It is true that to learn something new, we need PFC. Thus, novices who recruit PFC most usually perform best (Duncan & Owen, 2000; Durston et al., 2006; Kane & Engle, 2002). However, after something is no longer new, those who recruit PFC least usually perform best (Garavan, Kelley, Rosen, Rao, & Stein, 2000; Jansma, Ramsey, Slagter, & Kahn, 2001).

Why?

PFC is the evolutionarily newest region of the brain. Other brain regions, which have had hundreds of thousands more years of evolutionary time to perfect their functioning, can subserve task performance much more efficiently than PFC.

So I need PFC to learn a new dance step, but later if I try to think about what my feet are doing while dancing, I will not dance well. Similarly, children need PFC to learn what sound goes with what letter, but when a fifth grader reads, we no longer want the child to be thinking about letter-sound mapping; we want that to become automatic.

A child may know intellectually (at the level of PFC) that he should not hit another, but in the heat of the moment if that knowledge has not become automatic (passed on from PFC to subcortical regions) the child will do exactly what he should not (and exactly what, if you asked him, he knows he should not do).

Montessori (2007) emphasized the critical importance of the child’s repetition over and over again for education. The only way something becomes automatic (becomes passed off from PFC) is through action — repeated action. The only way we become really good at something, whether it is piano playing or chess [or, I’m guessing, acting in a way that is inherently healthy and not seeing it as a form of self-deprivation], is through repeated practice. Nothing else will do. Aristotle commented on this back in the 4th century BC.

Image source: Flickr CC Attribution 11304375@N07/2769553173

Image source: Flickr CC Attribution 11304375@N07/2769553173

Our expectations often determine outcomes. I suggest that we start with the deeply held conviction that every child is capable of succeeding at what we teach.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons -- Goethe_(Stieler_1828)

Image source: Wikimedia Commons — Goethe_(Stieler_1828)

When a child is not succeeding, ask yourself how you might do something differently so that this particular child is able to succeed. If we believe every child can succeed then we will push ourselves to think outside the box and try something new and different that might, just might, work for a particular child. Sometimes our testing method is the problem; we are not asking the question in a way that allows children to demonstrate the knowledge and abilities they have (Diamond, Churchiand, Cruess, & Kirkham, 1999; Diamond & Gilbert, 1989; Diamond, Kirkham, & Amso, 2002; Diamond & Lee, 2000; Diamond, Lee, &Hayden, 2003).”

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Additional references on the powerful role of expectations and attitude (others’ and your own)
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Welcome! (update)

This is the blog of the 2013 Brain Development and Learning Conference in Vancouver, BC, from July 24-28.  To find out more information and register, click on the CONFERENCE Tab at the top of this page and select the appropriate link.

In the weeks that come, we’ll introduce you to some of the speakers who you’ll hear at the conference and to other researchers at the cutting edge of neuroscience and its applications. We’ll also share information about community groups working on mental health issues, educational innovations using new findings to improve learning, and other cross-discipinary applications of neuroscience research.

Two new blog features this year are:

  • the Interactive Library of curated resources accessed from the 2nd tab from the right — up top. If you have suggestions, please post a reply and share the link or make a comment directly on the Scoop.it collection.
  • the RSS feeds from 1 or 2 top blogs that you’ll find when you click the BDL Blog tab up top. If you have a great blog to share, please let us know.

The new blog writer this year is Sue Hellman — an educator interested in the applications of neuroscience to teaching and learning. She apologizes in advance for any errors in her summarizing of the science, and asks that you send feedback to reassure her when she’s on the right track or correct misapprehensions so she can get things right.

We look forward to seeing you at the conference!

Interventions shown to Aid Executive Function Development in Children 4-12 Years Old

What will children need to be successful? What programs are successfully helping children develop those skills in the earliest school years? What do those programs have in common?

See a new article by the BDL Conference Organizer, Dr. Adele Diamond, in the foremost science journal, Science.

Link to the article

Link to SOM (Supporting Online Material)

from the article:

“Four of the qualities that will probably be key to success are creativity, flexibility, self-control, and discipline. Children will need to think creatively to devise solutions never considered before. They’ll need working memory to mentally work with masses of data, seeing new connections among elements. They’ll need flexibility to appreciate different perspectives and take advantage of serendipity. They’ll need self-control to resist temptations, and avoid doing something they’d regret. Tomorrow’s leaders will need to have the discipline to stay focused, seeing tasks through to completion. All of those qualities are ‘executive functions’ (EFs),”

“The best approaches to improving EFs and school outcomes will probably be those that (a) engage students’ passionate interests, bringing them joy and pride, (b) address stresses in students’ lives, attempting to resolve external causes and strengthen calmer, healthier responses, (c) have students vigorously exercise, and (d) give students a sense of belonging and social acceptance, in addition to giving students opportunities to repeatedly practice EFs at progressively more-advanced levels. The most effective way to improve EFs and academic achievement is probably not to focus narrowly on those alone, but to also address children’s emotional and social development (as do all 4 curricular-based programs that improve EFs) and children’s physical development (aerobics, martial arts, and yoga).”

Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett

Krista Tippet

Speaking of Faith is a public radio program about “religion, spirituality, and large questions of meaning in every aspect of life”.  This program regularly interviews writers, researchers, and scholars whose work focuses on enriching the human experience.

Back in November, Dr. Adele Diamond, our lab director and the organizer of the BDL conference was interviewed about her research.  Her work has highlighted the importance of play, dance, sports, and music in promoting healthy child development.

To listen to the episode of Speaking of Faith that features Dr. Diamond, click here.  While you’re there check out some of the other episodes as well.  The program does a great job of encouraging you to think about science and religion in ways you may never have before, and does so from a neutral standpoint that allows the discussion of these topics to be constructive rather than divisive as they are in so many other forums.

The program has a companion blog which further elucidates issues of religion and science, and how we can reconcile the two in today’s society.