- Bransford et al. (2000) describe three developmental brain process research findings that carry significant information for lesson and intervention planning:
- learning changes the physical structure of the brain;
- learning organizes and reorganizes the brain;
- and different parts of the brain may be ready to learn at different times.
This relatively recent research funnels into a central idea that brain development and psychological development are a dynamic and ongoing exchange between a human and their environment, and experience increases overall quality of knowledge acquisition. Like Professor Hartman, I also found it intriguing that human minds will appropriate a story as fact if exposed to it repeatedly. Perhaps some of my classmates can relate to the experience of having heard a family member tell a story about you as a young child so many times that you begin to blur the lines between your factual experience and constructed memory of the occurrence. I found it reassuring to learn that the same areas of the brain are activated in hearing a verbal recount and actually experiencing an event.
The implications of this brain research in terms of instruction are many. For the purpose of elaboration I will focus on language instruction in the primary years of schooling. According to Bransford et al.(2000), the brain is pruning inappropriate synaptic connections through most of the elementary school career. Studies have shown that children will prune phonemes that do not exist in their first language/s. If a child prunes a phoneme that doesn’t exist in their first language, then needs this particular phoneme to acquire the common language of their school- might this ability for the brain to unite constructed memory and factual experience be encouraging information? For example, an ELL teacher might approach teaching phonemes through a story that illustrates the learner having already acquired the language. An actualization process of having each student write, color, and read a book that carries a script saying, “I know ‘th’ sound, I learned it when I threw a ball, thought about how thorns form on roses,” and so on. Or possibly, a teacher could guide students through a mental imagery process that accounts a story of their students already having mastered their language acquisition goal. The caveat is that this process would need to be consistent, repeated practice in order to accomplish the goal of simulating the experience of having acquired the goal language from a very early experience. This is a bud of an idea. I am certainly not a trained ELL teacher. I would be curious to hear from others as to whether this approach might be an effective language acquisition strategy.
- “Guided learning and learning from individual experience both play important roles in the functional reorganization of the brain (Bransford et al., p.99).” The implications of this summation from the reading is that assessment of student learning should be both longitudinal and latitudinal and include assessments of student voice at each step, with responsive supports for guiding the students toward appropriating new knowledge into meaningful experiences. For example, Bridges Math Curriculum (the curriculum I taught as a resident teacher) was designed to teach a particular concept by revisiting in different ways throughout the entire academic year. Each concept was introduced through a variety of modalities, requirement to gather student voice, and instruction that enabled students to connect learning to real world experience. The words, pictures and complex collaborative activities were repeated throughout the curriculum and activated meaningful experience of the mathematical concepts. This approach nurtured long-term understanding of mathematical concepts.
Bransford, J.D., Brown, A.L., & Cocking, R.R. (2008). Mind and Brain. In Fischer K. Editor & Immordino-Yang, M.H. Editor (Eds.), The brain and learning (89-105). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.