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).


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).”


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

American Youth Circus Organization (AYCO) Biennial Meeting

American Youth Circus Organization (AYCO) Biennial Meeting

The American Youth Circus Organization (AYCO) Biennial Meeting was August 17-20 in sweltering 95o, 95% humidity Sarasota, FL with no air conditioning, but the 300 kids from all over the US who worked their butts off from dawn to dusk were not deterred in the least by the heat and humidity.  They were having the time of their lives.

BDL Conference Organizer, Adele Diamond, went to AYCO Meeting to learn about Youth Circus.

Circus Harmony of St. Louis, Missouri, says that youth circus “teaches the art of life through circus education. We work to build character and expand community for youth of all ages, cultures, abilities and backgrounds. Through teaching and performance of circus skills, we help people defy gravity, soar with confidence and leap over social barriers, all at the same time.”

Amazing Grace Circus of Nyack, NY says youth circus is about building “Confidence. Imagination. Respect. Cooperation. Understanding. & Success” (CIRCUS).     
“Their mission is to offer youth the opportunity to…develop positive relationships using circus arts as the common bridge of communication and cooperation among diverse communities…To give teens the opportunity to build their self-esteem, learn how to cooperate, support and challenge each other to excel, and learn how to promote the use of their imaginations.”

If addressing all parts of the child is critical for children to excel in school and in life, then might programs like youth circus be important for academic success?

Early Childhood Support and Education

Intervening early to prevent problems is far more effective and costs far less than trying to fix problems once they have been allowed to develop.

Watch this video of Dr. Adele Diamond, the BDL Conference Organizer and one of the Canada’s leading experts on developmental cognitive neuroscience, explaining the importance of early childhood education and how it can make a positive life-long impact.