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August 05

Gail Brown

More about practice: Neurological changes caused by DEEP learning, Part 1

  • Mon 7th Jan 2013
  • Gail

For those of you who read it - this builds upon last week’s post about explicit, systematic instruction – just more deeply… This learning is about making all those neurons (like our image for this post) strongly connected!

Just last month, some groundbreaking research was released about how our brains change with learning! I’ve included the reference to this scientific paper, but I have to admit that I had trouble reading and understanding this – simply because of the jargon about brain functioning AND how they write about learning. I really struggled!

I had to repeatedly read this paper, four or five times, and then refer back to the summary in an email that sent me to the research. That summary email was a new one that I’ve signed up to called “Science Daily”. And yes, I’ve signed up to too many email alerts, but I’m keeping this one!

This is the first research article that directly connects learning to changes in brains, at the neuron level, and in patterns of neurons across brain regions. The title of the Science Daily summary is:

How the brain changes when mastering a new skill: Research reveals new neural activity patterns that emerge with long-term learning

Let’s be clear, this research was NOT with human brains, because of the ethics involved in using such invasive methods on a human. Researchers at The University of Pittsburgh conducted their study on the brains and bodies of Rhesus monkeys, while they were learning. So, yes, let’s be clear: This is one limitation on these findings – that the study is not with human brains. Here’s a quote from one of the researchers:

"We think that extended practice builds new synaptic connectivity that leads directly to the development of new patterns of activity that enable new abilities," said Chase. "We think this work applies to anybody who wants to learn -- whether it be a paralyzed individual learning to use a brain-computer interface or a stroke survivor who wants to regain normal motor function.”

The important conclusion, building from ILA’s post last week is that it’s extended & deliberate practice that ensures effective learning – and I think that this conclusion definitely applies to reading – both to decoding and to reading comprehension! The important take-away question for teachers is "how can we organise this deliberate practice, and make it fun and motivating?"!!

Emily R. Oby, Matthew D. Golub, Jay A. Hennig, Alan D. Degenhart, Elizabeth C. Tyler-Kabara, Byron M. Yu, Steven M. Chase, Aaron P. Batista. New neural activity patterns emerge with long-term learning. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2019; 201820296 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1820296116

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