- What assumptions can be made about brain development and learning?
- Does the traditional educational system teach learners to think?
- Does understanding the brain functions and cognitive processes help a teacher to evaluate each learner with respect to learning differences? Why or Why not?
1. Brain Development and Learning:
It's important to define "learning" in this case; basically we need to agree on whether we're talking about a neuroscientific process, or a more abstract, subjective and predominately performance-based standard as gauged by most schools. For example, we would agree that Little Johnny is "learning" when he seeks out a friend for help on his math homework, goes to tutoring, and takes notes in class, but if he still fails the math test, he is lumped into the "did not learn" category. From a neuroscientific perspective, this is not correct, or at least, it's too narrow-minded.
Learning, as a more objective definition, is the acquisition of new knowledge or skills. We can assume that this begins very early in life, and continues until death except under conditions of extreme disease or injury. The brain is also extremely plastic and highly adaptable to its environment, such as in the cases of individuals who have lost their dominant hand and reacquire skills with the remaining one. We can assume that both "nature" and "nurture" are significant influences on both brain development and learning, and that learning is organic and chaotic; there is no method of knowing whether the intent of a lesson is what is actually learned by the student. Assessment can evaluate this to a certain extent, but is never a holistic picture of the learner.
2. The traditional education system does not teach learners to think. Thinking takes place as a matter of human nature and is an intrinsic part of the brain. If a human did not "think" without being taught to do so, it would be extremely difficult to explain consciousness. If, however, by "thinking" we mean critical analysis and abstract reasoning, then yes, the school system does teach methods of doing so, in the same way that a cookbook teaches one to cook. One with no experience could, hypothetically, use a cookbook to learn how to cook from scratch, or one with experience could use it to clarify, identify and improve upon existing processes. Nevertheless it is egotistic to argue that the education system is, or could, teach students "how to think".
3. Understanding brain functions helps to a certain extent. It essentially places the teacher in a position of greater responsibility and doubt; a little knowledge can go a long way, but without the power to do anything about it, a teacher may find this knowledge difficult to successfully incorporate. For example, a teacher has no means (and often no time) to explore the individual cognitive processes of their students - for example, determining if one learns best through reader and another through speaking. Hypothetically some of this information should be available to a teacher in the later grades, but speaking from experience, this is rarely the case.
In terms of a "cold" introduction to new students, a teacher is largely at the mercy of whatever information is provided to them regarding the student's history. The teacher does have the time and opportunity to conduct some differentiation to ascertain different learner profiles, but this comes at the risk of 1) being inaccurate, 2) intimidating and discouraging a student at crucial times early in the school year, or 3) confusing students about their own ability and the purpose of the class.
Additionally, the teacher doesn't really have an empirical way of actually conducting neuroscientific studies on their students; they are unable to hook the kids up to a computer and get statistical data on the actual processes going on inside their heads. This would probably be the best, if not the only, way of empirically confirming a teacher's evaluations.
To answer your question, I believe learning enhances ones brain development. Learning is using your brain power which thus develops it. The current educational system tries to get the young minded to think and bring their ideas to their table. But this can't be taught and is a process that every child has to achieve themselves. I think teachers have to cater for a wide number of students and use the method of teaching that is best known to help the majority of the students to achieve success and learn better and faster.