Brain and Learning Research: Implications for Meeting the Needs of Diverse Learners

Article excerpt

Teachers and administrators face enormous challenges to effectively prepare all students for a technological and global society. There is an ever-increasing diverse range of student abilities, as well as a multiplicity of intelligences, present in our schools. Each and every child has great capacity to learn when exposed to effective and relevant learning strategies. Current brain and learning research can lead to the identification of educationally meaningful differences among individuals and equal opportunities for academic success.

Overview of Brain and Learning Research

Brain Structure

Dramatic developments in brain research and imaging technology are rapidly advancing our conceptualization of the human brain. Sylwester (1993, 1994) discloses how modern studies of brain structure show incredible complexity of approximately 100 billion neurons, each connected to thousands of other neurons and forming more connections than there are atoms in the entire universe. Describing the brain as modular, Sylwester explains how a few standard nonthinking components combine information to form a complex cognitive environment. The brain is powerfully shaped by genetics, development, and experience while actively shaping the nature of our experiences and culture in which we live.

Current brain studies underscore the important role adults play in facilitating an early stimulating environment for children. Calling for classrooms that are closely related to real-world environments, Sylwester believes curricula must include many sensory, cultural, and problem layers that stimulate the brain's neural networks.

Multiple Intelligences

Teachers must be allowed to celebrate the richness of their students. Accordingly, all students must be given opportunities to express their varied talents and to apply complex problem solving that needs to follow any learning. Gardner (1993) presents a pluralistic view of the mind by recognizing different facets of cognition and acknowledging that people have many different mental strengths and contrasting cognitive styles. He suggests that most students who achieve academic success have done so because their strengths in critical reading and calculation promote higher scores on paper and pencil instruments. Gardner defines intelligence as the ability to solve problems or fashion products that are valued in one or more cultural or community settings. Another criteria for Gardner's definition of intelligence is that an ability must have a particular representation in the brain.

Gardner's initial research led to the identification of seven intelligences. Linguistic intelligence is the capacity to use language for expression and understanding other people: Logical-mathematical intelligence is logical and mathematical ability, as well as scientific ability. Spatial intelligence refers to the capability to form a mental model of a spacial world and to operate using that model. Bodily kinesthetic intelligence is the ability to solve problems or create products using the whole body or parts of the body. Musical intelligence is the capacity to think in music, to hear musical patterns, and create musical products. Interpersonal intelligence is the ability to understand other people and work cooperatively with them. Intrapersonal intelligence is the capacity to understand oneself and use that knowledge to operate effectively in life.

In an interview with Checkley (1997), Gardner discusses the identification of an eighth intelligence. The naturalist intelligence designates the ability to discriminate among living things, as well as a sensitivity to other features of the natural world. Each person is unique in his particular combination of intelligences. Making the case for the plurality of intellect, Gardner asserts the purpose of an education should be tied to an understanding of how minds differ from each other and calls for individual-centered schools geared to optimal development of each student's cognitive profile. …