Week one: Human Development and Principles of Learning/ Brain Overview

After reading the Restat, Rizzolatti et al., Damasio and Damasio, and Clark writings on current human brain research, my big take-away is that neuroscientific evidence demonstrates human interdependence with the outer world for the internalization and use of knowledge.  I was particularly struck by a fact highlighted by Rizzolatti et al. (1999) that our understanding of another’s intention is encoded in every step of the neurological chain that moves the human mind from internalizing attention, to an action of responding to a hardwired predisposition of assuming the other’s intention.  Rizzolatti et al. provides an example of a man who sees a woman is picking a flower and smiling at him.  Due to mirror neurons at work, the man projects romantic intention onto the subject of his attention, the woman.  The implications of this brain science for clear human communication are fascinating to me.  Often, two individuals will misunderstand one another because one assumes the intention of the other, responds accordingly, but is mistaken.  Perhaps the woman picking the flower does not intend to give it to the man watching her, and just happens to meet the man’s gaze while lost in happy daydreams.  Being aware of our neuroscientific predispositions can afford us the opportunity to clarify the other’s intentions before we act on assumptions.  On the other hand, it is likely that acting foolishly on romantic perceptions is what unites us in loving bonds.  However, when attempting to be effective communicators as teachers, and foster nonviolent communication in children- I believe it is essential to consider our human predisposition to assuming the other’s intent, and take time to clearly communicate our unique perceptions and needs one another.

Mirror neurons are a class of nerve cells that enable humans, and some other animals (i.e. Macaque monkeys), to simulate our actions, and the actions of others (real or perceived) as a means to understanding and demonstrating new information.  One implication of this neuroscientific research on student learning relates to student voice.  I use the term student voice as an umbrella for any way a student demonstrates ownership of new information.  I appreciate the way Clark (1999) describes the cognitive action of internalizing new information as a “recipe for action” (p.10), rather than a “passive data structure”.  I believe when I have succeeded in engaging a student with my instruction, they will demonstrate student voice through this process of creating a recipe for demonstrating their unique understanding of the subject matter.  As an early primary teacher, I am always looking for ways to actively engage student voice throughout the whole lesson on a multi-sensory level.  By doing so, I hope to optimize the use of mirror neuron activity for all young learners.


Clark, A., (1999). Whole brain, body, and world collide. Journal of Cognitive Systems Research. 1, 5-17. Retrieved from:https://bbweb-prod.spu.edu/bbcswebdav/courses/EDU6655_60173201450/Week%20One%20Readings%20-%20Clark%201999%20-%20Where%20brain%20body%20and%20world%20collide.pdf


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