The Rise of Brain-Focused Teaching: Teachers Look to Neuroscience for Help in the Classroom

Article excerpt

The development of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in the 1980s revolutionized medicine, particularly neuroscience, by giving doctors a unique window into the workings of the brain. Now, fMRI technology, and our advanced knowledge of how the brain operates, is revolutionizing education.

"Neuroimaging can transform a real brain hidden within a skull into a virtual brain observable on a computer. This transformation has finally allowed scientists to observe how various brain processing systems collaborate when they develop a decision and then activate the appropriate behavior," writes education professor Robert Sylwester in the journal The School Administrator. He suggests that teachers acquaint themselves with the new neuroscience literature and the potential applications of brain science in the classroom.

"Teachers who continually ask students to sit still and be quiet seem more interested in teaching a grove of trees than a room full of students. Educational leaders who eliminate recess and reduce arts and physical education programs seemingly don't understand the purpose of the brain, and what it takes to develop and maintain one," he says.

One research project that applied neuromapping technology to teaching was the 2003 Fast ForWord Language study. In the experiment, a group of dyslexic students underwent fMRI scans while participating in various reading tasks. Some of the tasks dealt with sounding out words, while other tasks were concerned with reading. The study allowed the researchers to observe how the children processed the letters visually and aurally and then compare the findings to similar fMRI scans of children without dyslexia. The scientists discovered that the brain of the dyslexic subjects, specifically the portion of the brain associated with hearing and processing sound, was influencing the dyslexia. They used their findings to craft more visceral lesson plans. The result after eight weeks was significant improvement on standardized reading tests. …