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Growing Super Athletes (each of our students)

(Thanks for the lead, Tom!)

David Brooks writes a great column (requires subscription) in the NYT titled A Critique of Pure Reason. He expands the usual restricted understanding of “education” to incorporate a wider sense of “learning”, by discussing

1. Where

  • “The creative ones (politicians) will finally absorb the truth found in decades of research: the relationships children have outside school shape their performance inside the school.”
Each of us has one and same brain, for school (or work) and for “real” life. Labels such as “formal” or “informal” learning are quite irrelevant from a neural development point of view. What happens at home is as important as what happens in school.
2. What
  • “They will understand that schools filled with students who can’t control their impulses, who can’t focus their attention and who can’t regulate their emotions will not succeed, no matter how many reforms are made by governors, superintendents or presidents.”
Skills in that list, that usually don’t get explicit attention, and they should, since they are both critical and trainable:
– Inhibition (“can’t control their impulses”)
– Concentration (“can’t focus their attention”
– Emotional self-regulation (“can’t regulate their emotions”)
David Brooks doesn’t include other executive functions (goal-setting, decision-making…) that are also critical for success in school, work and life, but his article is a great starting point. We do ourselves and our children a disservice if we think “education” refers to the mere transmission of content.
3- How
We can now link this Where and What with How, thanks to a great article in NYT Sports Magazine titled How to Grow a Super Athlete, by Daniel Coyle.
  • “In neurology, myelin is being seen as an epiphany,” Douglas Fields, the lab’s director, had told me earlier. “This is a new dimension that may help us understand a great deal about how the brain works, especially about how we gain skills.”
  • Through a mechanism that Fields and his research team described in a 2006 paper in the journal Neuron, the little sausages of myelin get thicker when the nerve is repeatedly stimulated. The thicker the myelin gets, the better it insulates and the faster and more accurately the signals travel.
  • “What do good athletes do when they train?” George Bartzokis, a professor of neurology at U.C.L.A., had told me. “They send precise impulses along wires that give the signal to myelinate that wire. They end up, after all the training, with a super-duper wire – lots of bandwidth, high-speed T-1 line. That’s what makes them different from the rest of us.”

In short, through targeted and repeated practice, that trains/ develops the appropriate brain networks. What cognitive psychologists and educators would call “internalization”.  See our interview with Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg on Brain Fitness Programs and Cognitive Training.

4- Further Reading

How neuroscientists and educators are establishing a dialogue for fruitful improvements-but yet outside mainstream education policy-making:

Enhancing Cognition and Emotions for Learning – Learning & The Brain Conference

On what is Learning

Interview with neurobiologist and educator Prof. James Zull

On the importance of emotional self-regulation and stress management:

Student Achievement Gap, Stress, and Self-Regulation

On the importance of developing so-called executive functions or portable skills:

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