In this seminar we had a fascinating discussion about what is going on in the brains of Young Scholars. After a brief introduction via PowerPoint about the anatomy and physiology of the brain and some findings related to gifted brains, there was much discussion about emotions, stress and their impact on the developing brain. An unrelenting supply of cortisol in the brain can damage its higher functions; however, the brain is amazingly resilient. A stimulating home environment can overcome the effects of a boring school environment (and vice versa). There is, however, the issue of too much stimulation in the form of parents who constantly are forcing their children into activities in which they are not particularly interested; this creates more stress and the cycle begins again. The brief lesson is let the child lead you—if they are bored they will let you know.
We touched on some of the differences in the brains of gifted as opposed to average learners, and this led us to a discussion of nature vs nurture. The most recent statistic I know of is that intelligence is 60% genetic and 40% environmental. This does not indicate that parents, through sheer willpower, can raise their child’s IQ into the gifted range. In the absence of traumatic injury, the most impact environment seems to exert is around one standard deviation. There was a most interesting side topic of adoptees—many seminar participants were adoptees, or their spouses or children were—leading to the topic of twin studies. Studies of twins separated at birth have yielded amazing similarities years later, down to marrying the same type of spouse and having the same job.
We talked about visual spatial learners (Upside Down Brilliant according to Linda Silverman) and that they are likely right brain dominant. That makes them a bit out of step with most classrooms, but highly creative and capable is many different areas. The best bet here is to use the creative side to help figure out ways to adapt to, survive, or circumvent the left-brain orientation of schools.
There was some discussion of memory. We discussed that different types of memory are stored in different areas of the brain. There is also the aspect of people remembering obscure facts from years ago in one area of study, but not remembering the mundane aspects of life. That seems to be a function of how much effort they place on recalling them—it’s called the depth of processing theory. We also talked about the loci method of memorizing lists of things by visualizing them in locations of your house, and mnemonics. There was a bit of talk about rote memorization: that it’s a helpful skill to learn, but not to overdo it. Having to prove you have memorized something (like basic math facts) over and over is nonproductive.
We talked about sensory processing and movement. In general, multisensory experiences aid both learning and recall. Some kids seem to need movement to learn best. One participant pointed out a fine distinction between purposeful movement tied specifically to a learning task, such as tracing letters in the air, versus gross motor movement to get rid of excess energy to free the brain to learn other things. This is an area that has not been well researched.
We also discussed brain cycles and sleep. The brain cycles daily, monthly and about every 90 minutes. Sleep cycles are highly tied to brain productivity—your lowest time for brain productivity is 12 hours from your deepest sleep cycle. Certain types of activities seem to be best done at certain times of day. And, these cycles go totally haywire in adolescence.
Finally, we discussed school and brain-friendly and brain-toxic classrooms. Here we delved a bit into constructivist practices, where student are to discover algorithms, patterns, and theories on their own. The discovery process helps to cement the learning in memory, but it is only effective when, after the discovery, the learning is tied directly to the standard, “known” theories or algorithms. This reflection process is necessary for sense-making to occur. In conclusion, participants strongly made the point, and I concurred, that the most important brain-friendly practice is differentiation for each child’s needs and pace. Rigid ideas about brain development at certain ages are misapplications of the research.
This was a wonderful, stimulating discussion from my viewpoint, and I’d like to thank the participants for coming along on the journey.
This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit www.DavidsonGifted.org.
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