07 February 2009

Brain Research May Produce Results In Classroom

On her back in a dark tube, Blair Smith held still as a scanner combed her brain with magnetic waves. Words flashed by her eyes: tack, vase, hope, glow, vague, cade.The 11-year-old had been told to press the button in her right hand if the word was real, the button in her left if it was nonsense. The answer itself was less important than the map the scanner would make of which areas of Blair's brain lighted up when she struggled with a word.The aim of the study, said Laurie Cutting, director of the Education and Brain Research Program at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, is to understand the neurological differences among students who are skilled readers, those who have difficulties and those with diagnosed learning disabilities.If neuroscientists can pinpoint which parts of the brain are activated when a reader puzzles over an unknown word, they may eventually help teachers tailor reading instruction for individuals.

That is only the beginning. Many educators hunger for scientific data to help them structure their lessons, and neuroscience is beginning to offer them broad guidance about what works best. One of the most startling recent revelations in neuroscience has been that the brain's structure is much more flexible than was previously thought; this may help teachers find ways to train the brain to better solve math problems or understand a book.

"There's an awful lot that neuroscience can begin to tell us in broad strokes that's relevant for education and that ultimately 10 or 20 years downstream can provide us with prescriptive information," said Robert Pianta, dean of the University of Virginia Curry School of Education."I think we're looking at a period of five years of very rich territory for investigation here."Brain research already is opening the way to help teachers detect and address complex conditions — such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia and its mathematical cousin, dyscalculia — that defy blood tests and other simple medical diagnostics.

Cognitive scientists are developing a theory of "micro-development" that could turn some lesson plans upside down. Studies have found that, on a minute-to-minute basis, children and adults learn in fits and starts, often going backward. That could indicate that students should be allowed to grope their way to understanding, for instance, by being asked to power up a light bulb using a battery and a strand of wire before having the theory of electricity explained to them.How the brain functions remains deeply mysterious, with studies seeming to unfold at a glacial pace.Still, top educational institutions have recently shown new interest in the link between brain activity and education. Johns Hopkins University this year briefed the Maryland State Board of Education on a neuro-education initiative that aims to "explore how current findings have application to educational practice."

No comments:

Post a Comment