Monday, June 06, 2011

3rd grade brain development

A new study shows significant brain changes between 2nd and third grades. The researchers think it might be caused by school, but have found no cause and effect relationship. I would suggest that the changes including increased cross-lateralization (cross-talk between hemispheres) are the natural effects of the maturing brain, having little to do with school and more to do with normal brain development. It explains why Finnish schools would start certain educational endeavors like reading when the children have reached the point of development at which those particular lessons would be most effective rather than detrimental. Students pushed too early and too vigorously to read also learn to dislike and resist reading. (and math) Children are more likely to enjoy reading and math if they are allowed to mature first and read later.

It used to be that teachers were trained to watch for cross-lateral brain development in their students as a means for assessing reading readiness. Kindergarten teachers were trained to observe whether or not their students could skip, indicating that the two halves of the brain were becoming more closely integrated. The idea was that if you could skip, you were nearing the time in which you would be ready to read. When standardized testing became so dominant in American education, they stopped training teachers in the use of more direct tools of observation and stopped trusting teachers as being capable of assessment.

Make, fix and create.


  1. Not feeling trusted as a teacher is demoralizing and downright scary. To feel as if my opinion doesn't matter unless it is formalized in a statement or quantified as data is draining. This is an awful characteristic of our schools and society. Where has the courage to take a risk and trust people gone? Where will we be in 50 years as a result of all this?

  2. It is not just a matter of not being trusted by others, but of not trusting ourselves and the observations we make. Just imagine having to censor your own ideas for compliance with party line. People do it all the time.

  3. It's the truth, and it happens all the time in the culture of fear that we work in. I view working with kids similar to working with tools in that as you get used to working with either you develop a feel for what works and what doesn't. It's a natural thing and it doesn't require quantification in order to understand it- you know when something works and when it doesn't- the feedback is ever present right before your eyes. There is a real relationship between the worker, the materials, and the tools. They all work together. Much like in a classroom. Unfortunately, much of what we are demanded to do as public school teachers prevents us from establishing these real relationships with the kids and subject that we work with.

  4. I was talking with one of our CSS teachers this evening, and her daughter in public school was having reading difficulties and had been called out of class for special attention which she did not like. Our teacher Michelle had mentioned to her the relationship between brachiation bars (monkey bars)... the ability to use them hand over hand, and the association with reading readiness. It too, like skipping is indicative of cross lateral brain integration. Her daughter came home excited that she had been able to use the brachiation bars for the first time. Curiously, but no surprise to a trained teacher, her ability to read suddenly advanced almost miraculously.

    Reading specialists will want you to do all kinds of things and have fits of self-importance over reading problems that might simply disappear on their own with further physical development.

  5. This is very interesting. I just shared this with some students in our In School Suspension room at our school and they were very excited to hear this!

  6. Chris, kids get branded as insufficient, not because they are insufficient in intellect, but because their development may not be as advances as that of other kids the same age. Some kids walk at 8 months, some at 12, which illustrates a wide variation in physical development. We accept that without alarm bells and sirens. But when it comes to reading age, parents and teachers go ballistic, kids are branded and then sadly accept the ridiculous judgment as being true.

    I hated writing as a kid. Now that I've matured and become more comfortable with what I have to say, I enjoy saying it. Is there no room for late bloomers, even for kids in High School? There you have the shame of the American educational system.