Your Brain is Actually Plastic - How this Helps you Learn

The belief that the brain can’t be rewired is played out.

The brain is the most important structure in the human body. (yes, I’m biased.)

It has been referred to for centuries as a “machine with parts”.

Being related to a computer by clinicians for over 400 years, rather than an organ that is capable of regenerating itself, gave way to the theory of Neurological Fatalism.

This is the belief that that to be born with a learning disability was to live with it until death (Doidge, 2012).

Some educators are still under the impression that learning disabilities are lifelong, even with strong evidence supporting neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity is defined as the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life (Medicinenet.com).

Our brains are malleable structures that are capable of forming new connections. Neurons, the brain’s specialized cells, are able to transmit signals and information to different parts of the brain and body!

But how does this relate to education?

In 2014, there were 6.6 million children and youth ages 3-21 receiving special education services. Of those children, 35% percent had specific learning disabilities (National Center for Education Statistics, 2017). Researchers don’t know the exact cause of learning disabilities, but realize that it is related to impairments in the language dominant region of the brain, the left hemisphere.

A few common indicators of learning disabilities are:

  • Difficulty listening  

  • Problems staying organized

  • Difficulties with reading/writing or mathematics

  • Inconsistent school performance

In the United States, 63% of students with disabilities graduated high school in 2014, a rate of graduation that is 20% lower than the national average (Todd Grindal, 2017). In 20 states within the U.S., the graduation rates for students with disabilities is less than 60%, specifically at schools that have been labeled as “dropout factories”.

How can we solve this problem?

Teachers can take what is known about the ever-changing brain and enforce strategies to train students with disabilities.. Cognitive exercises help stimulate the brain and with repetition and practice, new connections between neurons can be formed. Barbara Arrowsmith-Young used these principles to address her own learning disabilities, then founded a school in Toronto in 1980!

Some of the exercises that Arrowsmith used to improve cognitive ability are:

  1. Computer exercises that help with logic and reasoning.

  2. Auditory exercises which seeks to improve long and short term auditory memory.

  3. Pen and paper exercises to improve cognitive capacities related to motor skills.

With this program, parent and teacher reports have seen significant improvements in students ability to remember factual information, focus on homework independently, as well as improvements in reading and writing (Arrowsmith Program, 2007).

Millions of students still falsely believe that their disability is a hindrance, but they shouldn’t.

Santiago Ramón y Cajal, who has been considered the father of neuroscience, said it best.

“Consider the possibility that any man could, if he were so inclined, be the sculptor of his own brain, and that even the least gifted may, like the poorest land that has been well cultivated and fertilized, produce an abundant harvest.”

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it’s stupid.”-Albert Einstein

 

Cited Sources

  1. Arrowsmith, Barbara. "Research." Arrowsmith Program. N.p., 04 May 2017. Web. 24 July 2017.                                              

  2. Grindal, Todd. "The Special Education Graduation Gap." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 14 Jan. 2016. Web. 24 July 2017.              

  3. "What Are the Indicators of Learning Disabilities?" Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, n.d. Web. 24 July 2017.                      

  4. "Children and Youth With Disabilities." The Condition of Education - Participation in Education - Elementary/Secondary - Children and Youth With Disabilities - Indicator May (2017). N.p., May 2017. Web. 24 July 2017.

  5. Lewis, Tanya. "Human Brain: Facts, Functions & Anatomy." LiveScience. Purch, 25 Mar. 2016. Web. 24 July 2017.                      

  6. "The State of Learning Disabilities." National Center for Learning Disabilities 3 (2014): 1-52. Print.