Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Intentionally Developing Learners

It is interesting to me that we have learned more about the brain and how it works in the past 20 years than we have learned in the previous 2 centuries.  Brain scans using MRI imaging, DNA analysis and a plethora of research has contributed to the formation of some valuable information and strategies that we can use to help our children develop into happy, successful young adults.

At the forefront of this emerging research is the concept of neurogenesis, or the growth of new brain cells, and neuroplasticity or the making and strengthening of new neural connections as we engage in learning experiences. Yes, we can actually become smarter and the belief that intelligence is fixed is a false assumption. Carol Dweck has written about the importance of a “growth mindset”1 which supports the idea that we can become smarter when we put effort into learning. 

Marcus Conyers and Donna Wilson develop this idea even further in their book Positively Smarter. Neurogenesis and neuroplasticity are at the center of their work but they further highlight that much of our achievement, happiness and well-being depends on us.  We have the ability to expand our knowledge, skills and intelligence to achieve our goals. We can nurture a positive, optimistic attitude by increasing our focus. They share research that supports the idea that worrying, daydreaming or allowing our minds to wander contributes to an unhappy mind. Conversely, true focus and being present in the moment leads to greater happiness.

Conyers and Wilson share the “Focused Fifteen,”2 listed below which allows us to intentionally channel our minds to become happier, more successful and more likely to achieve our goals.

  1. Savor the wow of now.
  2. Work at consciously maintaining an upbeat attitude.
  3. Picture a positive future.
  4. Actively commit acts of kindness.
  5. Acknowledge and appreciate the good things in your life.
  6. Recognize and set aside negative thoughts and worries.
  7. Take time to relate to others in positive ways.
  8. Achieve a state of flow or find yourself “in the zone.”
  9. Set and monitor your progress toward positive goals.
  10. Respond with resilience to tough challenges.
  11. Look past other’s real and imagined transgressions to let go of anger and resentment.
  12. Move your body to boost your mood.
  13. Smile frequently and naturally.
  14. Play to your peak strengths.
  15. Identify and share the treasures in your life.

The correlation between thinking and feeling should be acknowledged. Psychologist Richard Davidson shared, “Emotions works with cognition in an integrated and seamless way to enable us to navigate the world of relationships, work, and spiritual growth.”3

In education, we are starting to realize the importance of helping children develop their selective attention and to concentrate on their studies or other important tasks. We often refer to this as “Mindfulness training.”

As parents and educators, we should realize that with the exception of those children with severe learning differences, 95% have the potential to increase their potential by developing critical reasoning and problem solving skills. If we communicate and act on that belief and provide opportunities for our children to practice skills, set positive goals and learn cognitive and metacognitive skills to take control of their learning, they will develop into successful, happier learners.

1 Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House.
2 Conyers, M., & Wilson, D. (2015). Positively smarter: Science and strategies for increasing happiness, achievement, and well-being. UK: John Wiley & Sons.
3 Davidson, R, & Begley, S. (2012). The Emotional Life of Your Brain (P.89). New York: Hudson Street Press.