“If there were neuroscientific evidence for the existence of such a sensitive period (aka, critical period), such evidence might appear to provide a biological argument for the importance of elementary teaching and a scientific rationale for redirecting resources, restructuring curricula, and reforming pedagogy to take advantage of the once-in-a-lifetime learning opportunity nature has given us (Bruer, 1999, p.62).”
According to Goswami, Bruer, and Diamond and Hopson recent popular and persuasive beliefs that there is a critical or sensitive period for learning that occurs in children from the ages of four years old to ten is a myth that is based in questionable and limited neuroscientific research. Dr. Harry Chugani that charted high brain metabolism in children’s brains in the critical period bases the literature that has linked the human brain in the critical period to optimal opportunity for learning on a 1987 study. The studies were performed on 29 epileptic children ranging in age from five days to fifteen years. While these studies draw a connection between brain metabolism and high synaptic activity, there is yet to be evidence to link this highly active, synaptic firing brain to a brain that learns with more “ease, rapidity, and depth (Bruer, 1999, p.66).”
The implications for debunking the myth of a critical learning period, in my mind, are expansive on a personal and professional level. I would imagine that I am not the only person that has had a conversation with another regretting that we did not learn how to speak a foreign language as a child (in the “critical learning stage”), and now the possibility for attaining said goal would be parallel to climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. I have been guilty of carrying and conveying this brain-based mythology in such a fashion, and now must drop the excuse and learn my Spanish conjugations! As far as implications for teaching go, there can be no excuse for an educational community to convey a belief that because a child has had a difficult time in elementary school that they have somehow lost their chance to be brilliant. I think the implications for changes in pedagogy are curricula that are designed to build as a child progresses through the grades rather than compartmentalize concepts to specific grades. I think the Common Core when utilized optimally allows educators to view a child’s educational experience in this holistic manner.
Again, I have been guilty of applying another brain-based myth, left vs. right brain dominance, in limiting fashion. I am glad this misconception has only affected my personal perception, and not my acknowledgment of students’ potential. I grew up with this popular myth pervading my perception of my abilities and limitations. According to the three readings this week, the left and right brain work together to perform all functions. I connected this research to the yogic prana (breath) practice of alternate nostril breathing that balances the central nervous system and harmonizes the left and right brain hemispheres. I will use body and breath work in my instruction help children balance and focus their brains. The Brain Dance is another movement practice that I have taught my students to reset and balance their brains.
Bruer, J. (1999). In search of…brain-based education. Phi Delta Kappan. May 1999, 80(9).