Monday, November 29, 2010

Learning and the Brain

I recently returned from the Learning and the Brain: No Brain Left Behind Conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts where I had a chance to hear about the rapidly expanding research findings in the fields of neuroscience, evaluation, and education. Applied imaging techniques like functional MRI and other technologies to measure brain activity are providing a great deal of insight in the fields of brain development, brain maturation, development of academic skills, normal variations, and learning differences/disabilities. I also had a chance to spend a full day focusing on the latest developments in reading diagnostics and dyslexia.

One clear message that emerged from the Conference is that traditional testing of students' abilities or achievement is not specific or sensitive enough to get at the kinds of variations we need to be appreciating to decide on appropriate interventions for individual students. Assessments that identify strengths as well as specific weaknesses will be critical in making treatment decisions as well as allowing for the kinds of research that has to happen so that we can move toward research based decisions in determining which strategies are most effective.

The many attendees at the Conference included a number of Learning Specialists and Clinicians who worked with me when I served as National Director of the All Kinds of Minds Clinical Programs, which were the predecessor to The Yellin Center.

AKOM Alumini: Paul Yellin, Molly Warner, Sarah Eskin-Drake, Hollis Dannaham, Craig Pohlman, and Jennifer Bitner

Much of so-called brain based interventions or educational strategies often grow out of personal agendas, individual points of view, or marketing initiatives, rather than unbiased peer reviewed research. But I was pleased to leave the Conference with the strong sense that interest in doing rigorous study of educational practice and interventions and linking these to the newest findings in neuroscience is increasing. As pockets of research collaborations between scientists and educators are appearing around the world, those of us in the field will have a richer, more vigorously derived body of knowledge to draw from as we make day-to-day decisions to best serve the children and families in our schools and clinics.

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