What Every Parent and Educator Should Know About Enriching Young Brains and Minds

To learn important lessons for all parents and educators, we interview today Eric Jensen, a former middle school teacher and former adjunct professor for several universities including the University of California, San Diego. Mr. Jensen co-founded the Learning Brain Expo, a conference for educators, and has written 21 books on the brain and learning. His most recent book, Enriching the Brain: How to Maximize Every Learner’s Potential (Jossey-Bass, 2006), is highly recommended for educators and parents alike.

Alvaro Fernandez (AF): Eric, thank you for your time. Can you explain the role that you and your organization play?

Eric Jensen (EJ): We act as translators between the neuroscience and education fields, helping to build a Brain-Based Education movement. We launched the first conference that attempted to bridge these two worlds in 1998. The goal of the conference, called Learning Expo, was for teachers to speak to scientists, and, equally important, for scientists to speak to educators.

Critics say that neuroscience research can add little to educational practices. What we say is that, whereas it is true that much needs to be clarified, there are already clear implications from brain research that educators should be aware of. For example, four important elements that are often neglected by educators, given the obsessive focus on academic scores, are nutrition, physical exercise, stress management, and overall mental enrichment.

AF: Since 1998? How would you characterize the progress so far?

EJ: The good news is that today many educators, more than ever, are learning about how the brain works. There is a growing number of academic programs such as Harvard’s masters program in Mind, Brain, and Education, and peer-reviewed journals such as the Mind, Brain and Education Journal.

Still, there are clear areas for improvement. Too many staff developers are weak on the science. I see too many books saying “brain” in the title that are not grounded in any brain research. Something I always recommend when shopping for books is to check the References section, making sure the book references specific studies in credible journals from 2000 on.

AF: Now, those are mostly awareness-related initiatives. What, if any, are the implications in daily teaching and learning in schools?

EJ: You are right, this is still an emerging field. A number of private, independent, forward-thinking public schools and charter schools are implementing specific initiatives, mostly around brain-based teaching strategies, nutrition and exercise. But these are tougher for some public schools, which have limited resources and flexibility. to implement. We also see an growing number of enlightened parents learning about the principles we discuss and applying them at home.

AF: Have you seen any impact at the policy level? specifically, what do you think about the current debate about the merits or demerits of No Child Left Behind?

EJ: I agree with the move towards accountability. Now, the question is, accountability for what? for creating narrow, specific test scores? or for helping nourish better human beings. I have seen very little policy activity in the US; some in Asian countries such as Singapore and China, that are evaluating how to refine the curriculum for 5-10 year olds. In the US, there was a major push for music enrichment programs, that was somehow misguided, in the late 90s. The problem is that, whereas it is clear that enrichment has an impact, it is tough to measure specifically what type of enrichment, since much of the benefit develops over time. The short term “stock-market” mentality that measures student growth over a few weeks or months has to be tempered by long-term measures, too.

For example, it seems clear that there are important skills that can be trained, that make for a better and more successful human being – such as the ability to defer gratification, sequencing, emotional intelligence, improved working memory, vocabulary, and processing skills. However, the type of assessments used today to measure schools’ performance don’t focus on these. We would need broader assessments to allow educators to focus on those important long-term skills, beyond the immediate pressures.

A specific area going from bad to worse is the level of stress in the system, and the lack of resources and knowledge to regulate it.

AF: You mention processing skills, as well as other cognitive skills. In your recent column you highlight Scientific Learning’s computer program that can train auditory processing. What’s your view on the role of computer-based programs?

EJ: It is encouraging to see programs based on extensive research, such as Scientific Learning’s. I appreciate the value of such programs to tailor individualized interventions to the needs of specific kids. So I believe these programs present a huge potential.

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Success and Education

Success in simple terms is the absence of failure, though debated a lot, in almost all languages; social set ups, cultures and business establishments it is still undefined. Being undefined doesn’t mean you cannot figure out what actually success is but your view about success can be different to the one another individual or a group has.

The difference of the definition of success in all the concerns is due to the difference in nature of events and requirements. Definition, principles, and exposure of success differ from situation to situation and in fact time to time as well. The components of success, i.e. determination, confidence, knowledge, potential, expertise etc, are, however, same in all cases with the variation in the composition ratio.

This article aims to focus knowledge with special reference to success. And when knowledge is being discussed it’s crucial to have an overview of Education as knowledge and Education are closely related to each other. Role of Education in Success is same as the role of knowledge.

Defined as ‘the process of changing the behaviors in desired direction’, Education stands not only as a tool of success but a road towards it. Knowledge expands the vision that increases the probability of success, and education by changing the behaviors in desired directions (positive) provides a platform for that vision to get expanded, as a result of such one becomes able to outline the strategies in much better way.

Providing opportunities for minds to explore the arenas of different fields, Education brings up with the ultimate and updated knowledge that levels the ground for potentials to grow, determination to get stronger, confidence to get build and ways to get clear. And once all the components are arranged in an order the ultimate result is nothing other than success.

The important point to ponder here is that, whether ‘education’ means only and only ’ in this regard? Certainly not! It can either be academic or non academic. It starts from knowing, and knowing can be about anything. Yes, knowing about the things, useful and related to day-to-day matter has close connection with success in day-to-day concerns, knowing about professional matters leads towards the success in profession, knowing about relations helps to be socially successful and so on. In a nut shell, Education itself is a ‘success’ as a whole.

So, start knowing about things rounds you, and if nothing is there read and explore, analyze and derive your unique principle of success out of your own knowledge. Make the education best companion of yours and succeed!

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Parents of Aspergers Children, Don’t Be Intimidated by Medical and Educational Professionals

After raising children for sixteen years, I’ve learned to trust my instincts. In fact, one psychologist told me that I have a PhD in my children. In this particular case he was referring to my autistic son, who was five years old at the time.

He said, “You’ve been studying him for five years now. That’s how long it takes some psychologists to earn their PhD. You are an expert on your son. Don’t let anyone tell you different.”

Medical Personnel:

I wish I had this much confidence in myself when my middle son was an infant. I kept taking him in for his well baby check ups and complained about developmental delays. He was months behind his brother for smiling, babbling, crawling, walking, talking, etc.

I was intimidated into not looking for answers for three years by one simple comment from his doctor. “Oh, you had the perfect child first.” When my son was three and a half years old, I ventured to ask my own physician in the same family practice. She administered some developmental tests on the spot. Then she immediately handed me a referral to a children’s developmental clinic.

It turned out I was correct in my concern. My son received the diagnosis of Aspergers Syndrome from this clinic. Fortunately, my son was not adversely affected by the delay in a diagnosis and early interventions.

Educational Professionals:

When I took my son into preschool, the vice principal told me that my son was too young to receive a diagnosis of Aspergers Syndrome. When I requested my son be tested for speech and language disabilities, I was told that he had none. The Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) my son had at the beginning of preschool was withdrawn.

In kindergarten my son came home thirty-eight days in a row having had a wetting accident during class. I thought I had complained to everyone that something was wrong. Maybe I did and maybe I didn’t. All I know is after a meeting between my attorney and specialists and the school board’s vice superintendent, attorney and the school’s principal, my son was immediately moved to a different classroom and teacher. The wetting accidents stopped.

There was a discrepancy between the quality of work he was bringing home and what he was doing at home. I felt my son had a learning disability. The school did not. I went to the local learning disability advocates who confirmed that the school did not have to do anything more for my child. I hired an attorney and educational consultant who affirmed my position.

In the end, I did not continue with the services of the hired professionals. Once I had begun to trust in my own instincts, I began advocating on my own for my son. Eventually we did receive a new IEP for my son. He went from a child in the top two thirds of his class to earning straight ‘A’ report cards and being placed in the Honors program.

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