Saturday, February 06, 2016

The Brain. Spurts of growth followed by periods of adjustment and implementation.

Herman T. Epstein wrote in of the Roles of Brain in Cognitive Development. It is a shame educational policy makers have not as yet learned what to do about what we know.

According to Epstein who made a life's work of his study of the brain, the human brain goes through growth spurts preceding longer periods of apparent adjustment in which newly developed capacities are practiced and become integrated, connecting the mind with reality, and thus building the intellectual capacity, which is not itself a thing isolated from the real world.
During rapid brain growth periods the brain weight increases average 5% to 10%, while during the interim periods of slow brain growth, the increase is perhaps 1%. The brain increases include significant expansion of neural network arborization: the elongation and branching of axons and dendrites. The resultant additional and more complex neural networks make possible enhancements in brain functioning, depending for their quality on both the quality of the existing networks that are connected by the added arborization and, also, the quality and quantity of the external inputs that generate the consequent network changes. Because these factors combine individual growth and experiences, age-wise and domain-wise developmental differences will be the norm. From this point of view, the Piaget stages will not necessarily be expected to be acquired in a fixed sequence nor even precisely at the canonical ages given by the Piagetians' studies, although general similarity of early experiences will preserve much of the sequence. – Herman T. Epstein, The Roles of Brain in Cognitive Development
The following is interesting in this regard as it has to do with the role of the environment and its effects on brain development.
During the first years of life, the influence of the environment on development is crucial. The most pronounced changes induced by the environment occur during windows of time called critical periods.

All critical periods have certain basic properties in common. First, they all involve a time window during which a given behaviour is more sensitive to specific environmental influences. These influences are even necessary for the normal development of the behaviour in question. Once the critical period is over, the behaviour is no longer significantly affected by the presence or absence of these environmental stimuli. And, as a corollary, if the individual is not exposed to the appropriate stimuli during the critical period, it is difficult if not impossible to compensate for this lack later on.

Many critical periods have been detected in the development of behaviours in a number of species. But the existence of a critical period does not necessarily mean that a given experience will subsequently have no effects on brain development. It simply means that certain major restructuring will then be more difficult, if not impossible, because some irreversible changes will have taken place at the synaptic level. –
And so it appears that the environment and genetics work hand in hand in the development of intellect. The brain expands rapidly, making more of itself available for processing power, then in turn, is dependent on the environment for the stimulus that enhances intellectual growth. The same factors apply to the child's development of emotional intelligence and emotional resilience.

When we sit students in desks, sequestered from the real world, and expect them to listen passively, ignoring the totality of their senses, and then later expect them to sit passively absorbing information that's too boring for words, we fail to engage the whole of their intellectual system, and have screwed up big time. The costs are enormous. Part of the mistake that educational policy makers have made is to assume that the brain is the only component in the intellectual system. The hands play an important role in the development and implementation of human intelligence that should never be forgotten, and never purposefully ignored. At Clear Spring School, we recognize that and have placed the hands at the center of learning as the hands are not only central themselves to the developmental process, they are symbolic of deeper engagement.

Make, fix, create and extend to others the chance of learning likewise.


  1. Doug,

    If you haven't already read it, you should check out: Education Outrage by Roger Schank. Your sentiments in this post perfectly mirror his.

  2. Kim,thanks for the suggestion...