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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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