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Ready to Learn?

What is Learning Readiness? What does it mean for the current debate on Pre-K education, and for all of us?

The Education Blog Eduwonk has a great entry on Pre-K Everywhere You Look! where it discusses pros and cons of current legislation initiatives.

Today, we have had a very good debate at a meeting with a number of California superintendents, at an event organized by School Services of California. The questions:

– How can we make sure every student is “Learning Ready”?

– We are all very focused on Special Ed, and on academic subjects, and fairly so, but could we identify, and address, “Learning bottlenecks” that people have?

– If we could find a way to do so, wouldn’t it make sense to start as early at possible, maybe when kids are 5-6, making therefore the case for Pre-K interventions?

Two specific “bottlenecks” or “roadblocks” for learning and performance I have found well identified in scientific literature are:

– Working memory deficits and high levels of anxiety. Working memory is the ability to keep information online during a short period of time and to be able to manipulate this information (research context), and working memory deficit is a core problem in ADHD and attention deficits.

– High levels of anxiety provoke cortical inhibition (research context), this is, when high emotional arousal overwhelms our higher-order thinking or executive functions in the Frontal lobes (have you ever tried to think logically about a problem while being angry or highly stressed?). Fortunately, there are programs that address those 2 bottlenecks, and are now creating specific programs for Pre-K children.

James E. Zull, Professor of Biology and Director of the University Center for Innovation in Teaching and Education, at Case Western Reserve University, offers a great perspective on how recent neuroscience findings confirm and help refine educational best practises, in his book The Art of Changing the Brain: Enriching the Practice of Teaching by Exploring the Biology of Learning.

His main message is that “learning is change. It is change in ourselves because it is change in the brain. Thus the art of teaching must be the art of changing the brain.” He strongly advocates that “Learning Readiness” means Learning How to Learn, and proposes a learning cycle for students and teachers alike to take into account.

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