The Growing Brain

As I read through the pages of The Brain and Learning and Brain Matters, I find myself constantly reflecting on my own experiences as a child, adolescent, and now an adult. The Jossey-Boss Reader contains an essay by John T. Bruer where he discusses brain based education vs. mind based education. Bruer explains that many brain-based educators who claim to back their educational philosophies on the study of the brain, in fact, base them on the study of the mind. One example of this Bruer gives is the idea of a ‘sensitive period’ or ‘critical period’ of learning for young children. Many educators subscribe to the idea that there are specific ages at which children’s brains are more susceptible to learning. Bruer suggests that this idea is not based on any science about the brain or brain activity, but rather on the mind of children, it better qualifies as educational psychology than it does brain-based education.

A few classes on language that I have take at SPU have discussed the topic of a critical period. The more research I do on the subject and the more in interact with my own preschool age students, the more I am apt to believe that no such period exists. In my preschool class, I have several students who came to me speaking absolutely no English. As in any situation, the need to speak the common language for simple communication purposes is present at all times, however, there are no educational demands on my young students. Students participate in discovery learning and are focused on social and emotional development alongside handwriting, math, science, and reading in my class. There is no homework given at this age, and very few academic requirements. Students have the opportunity to be completely immersed in a new language and to experiment with that language without fear or pressure. As ESL children grow older, there are more requirements put on them and learning the new language is more pressing. I believe that children learn languages (and probably many other concepts) easier at a young age simply because they are given the opportunity to do so.

Another idea from this week’s readings that I reflected a lot on, is the development of the adolescent brain. I have spent time considering my experiences as a teenager and I feel much less guilty about all the bad choices I made! Wolfe discusses sleep and the adolescent brain in chapter 6 of Brain Matters. She discusses the need for teenagers to get 10 hours of sleep, while the average teenager gets less than 8. At the same time, it has been discovered that a teenager’s internal clock is set much later than younger children, meaning they get tired much later and are not ready to wake up until around 8:00 or 9:00 in the morning. This is much later than most high school’s start their day (mine started at 7:15). I can recall the lack of focus I had in the first few classes of the day and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t wake myself up in time to be alert for school. In fact, I had a hard time getting to school at the right time, let alone being alert! It makes sense to me that teenagers need more sleep in the morning and I really hope that someday the school day will be adjusted accordingly.

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