The English Learners' Blog

A blog for English learners and their teachers everywhere, initiated in 2010 with the contribution of students from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. More about me on the On-line Profile below. Welcome!

Brain expert Laurence Steinberg: Routine and boredom are anathema to plasticity

Teenagers are now back at school: back, we might imagine, to cramming their brains full of useful learning and life skills. Job well done?

Not nearly, says Laurence Steinberg, a world-leading expert in adolescent brains. He insists there’s much more that schools – and parents – should be doing to help young people build the best possible brains.

“Adolescence is our last best chance to make a difference,” the Temple University psychology professor says in his 2014 book Age of Opportunity.

Citing neurological research that has largely emerged over the past five years, he says adolescence is a second window – after the first three years of life – during which the brain is exquisitely sensitive to experience. In other words, it is remarkably plastic.

Steinberg has spent 40 years ­studying adolescents and their brains. He has more than 350 academic articles and 17 books to his name, and was adamant when he last spoke to the Listener. “The myth we now need to stamp out,” he says, “is that the way in which the brain develops during ­adolescence is all determined by ­biology and by genes. In fact, the ­plasticity of the brain makes it possible to influence the way it develops.”

There’s little point in drilling kids in calculus and grammar. Instead, “the capacity for self-regulation is probably the single most important contributor to achievement, mental health and social success”, he says. “In study after study of adolescents, in samples of young people ranging from privileged suburban youth to destitute inner-city teenagers, those who score high on measures of self-regulation ­invariably fare best … This makes ­developing ­self-­regulation the central task of ­adolescence, and the goal that we should be pursuing …”

Families have the most powerful effect here. “Practise authoritative parenting,” Steinberg urges. “Be warm. Be firm. And be supportive.” Set rules that make sense and explain them to your child. Be physically affectionate. Be consistent and fair, and as children mature, scaffold the risks you’ll allow them to take: push a curfew out in half-hour increments, for example. (Click here for a simple quiz to identify your parenting style, and tips on authoritative parenting).

Schools, too, have an important role. Steinberg says they should incorporate daily activities that strengthen self-regulation. He is pleased to hear that mindfulness is popping up in New Zealand schools. He bemoans the fact that physical education has been all but eradicated from the US curriculum. “That’s a terrible mistake, given what we know about the impact of aerobic exercise on the brain.”

And he wishes we would give all those plastic, revving-up teen brains a bit more of a workout. After his book went to press, he came across surveys that found only 15% of US high school students felt they’d ever taken a course that was difficult or challenging. “And that’s just an atrocity. I mean ever.”

What about adult brains?

Steinberg emphasises that the brain stays plastic throughout life – hence our ability to recover from brain injury, learn new skills and adapt to new environments.

Change will be much easier, though, if you catch your brain while it’s still in that adolescent surge of malleability. ­Steinberg says that because of the increasingly early onset of puberty, and the pushing back of harbingers of adult routine, such as children, marriage and careers, this window now lasts from about 10 until the mid-twenties.

Aged 26 when she started her brain-training regime, Barbara ­Arrowsmith-Young may have just managed to push that window open again as it was closing.

“There’s no way to tell whether you’re still living in [that] period of plasticity or not,” Steinberg says. Brain-scan ­technology can’t pick it up and there’s no diagnostic test – “although I think that you probably will be able to [diagnose plasticity] some day, because there are certain brain enzymes that seem to be related to a loss of plasticity that appear in adult brains”.

His advice mirrors the approach Arrowsmith-Young took all those years ago. Routine, boredom and ­complacency are anathema to plasticity. “Try to stay involved in novel and challenging activities,” he says. “If the brain is still plastic, you can make a difference.”

This article by Catherine Woulfe was first published in the February 25, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener. You can follow the Listener on Twitter, Facebook and sign up to the weekly newsletter.

Filed under: ■ Brain Matters, ■ Brain Plasticity, ■ Brain Rules

Brain Rules for Meetings

You can find out how you can apply the 12 principles in John Medina’s book, Brain Rules, in the context of a meeting by reading his answers to the questions below, first published in an interview for the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) magazine Convene, and later re-posted on his blog, on January 30th.

Which of the 12 Brain Rules has the most impact on meetings? 
Well, probably, the biggest one would have to be about attentional states. This rule is very simple: People don’t pay attention to boring things. So if you really want to have a lousy meeting, make sure it’s boring. If you want to have a lousy classroom, make sure it’s boring. And if you want to vaccinate against the types of things that really do bore the mind, we have some understanding of that.

So how do you design a good meeting?
Here are the top three “brain gadgets” that probably have a bearing on the question. First, the human brain processes meaning before it processes detail. Many people, when they put meetings together, actually don’t even think about the meaning of what it is they’re saying. They just go right to the detail. If you go to the detail, you’ve got yourself a bored audience. Congratulations.
Second, in terms of attentional states, we’re not sure if this is brain science or not, but certainly in the behavioral literature, you’ve got 10 minutes with an audience before you will absolutely bore them. And you’ve got 30 seconds before they start asking the question, “Am I going to pay attention to you or not?” The instant you open your mouth, you are on the verge of having your audience check out. And since most people have been in meetings – 90 percent of which have bored them silly – they already have an immune response against you, particularly if you’ve got a PowerPoint slide up there.

How do you then hold attention?
This is what you have to do in 10 minutes. You have to pulse what I just said – the meaning before detail – into it. I call it a hook. At nine minutes and 59 seconds, you’ve got to give your audience a break from what it is that you’ve been saying and pulse to them once again the meaning of what you’re saying.

What is the third “brain gadget”?
The brain cycles through six questions very, very quickly. Question No. 1 is “Will it eat me?” We pay tons of attention to threat. The second question is “Can I eat it?” I don’t know if you have ever watched a cooking show and have loved what they are cooking, but you pay tons of attention if you think there’s going to be an energy resource. Question No. 3 is highly Darwinian. The whole reason why you want to live in the first place is to project your genes to the next generation – that means sex. So Question No. 3 is “Can I mate with it?” And Question No. 4 is “Will it mate with me?”

It turns out we pay tons of attention to – it actually isn’t sex per se, it’s reproductive opportunity. [It is also] hooked up to the pleasure centers of your brain – the exact same centers you use when you laugh at something. Oddly enough, I think that’s one of the reasons why humor can work. If you can pop a joke or at least tell an interesting story, it’s actually inciting those areas of the brain that are otherwise devoted to sex. You don’t become aroused by listening to a joke. I’m saying those areas of the brain can be co-opted. You can utilize them, and a good speaker knows how to do that.

What are Questions 5 and 6?
“Have I seen it before?” and “Have I never seen it before?” We are terrific pattern matchers. There is an element of surprise that comes when patterns don’t match, but the reason why that happens is because we are trying to match patterns all the time.

Is there a Brain Rule that addresses whether you should try to control the use of laptops and phones during a meeting session?
I have this rule response, based on data, and then I have a visceral response, also based on data. In other words, I’m about ready to tell you a contradiction. Are you ready?

Yes, I am.    

Alrighty. I do believe what you can show is that there are attentional blinks. The brain actually is a beautiful multitasker, but the attentional spotlight, which you use to pay attention to things, [is not]. You can’t listen to a speaker and type what they are saying at the same time.

What you can show in the laboratory is that you get staccato-like attentional blinks. Just like you come up for air: You look at the speaker, then when you’re writing, you cannot hear what the speaker is saying. Then you come up for air and hear the speaker again. So you’re flipping back and forth between those two, and your ability to be engaged to hear what a speaker is saying is necessarily fragmented.
At the same time, if your speaker is boring, you could have checked out anyway. So you see, in many ways it depends upon the speaker.

How so?
If the speaker is really compelling and is clear and is emotion- ally competent, and has gone through those six questions, letting you come up for air every 10 minutes, I’ve actually watched audiences put their laptops away just to pay attention.

I have a style that is purposely a little speedier. And the rea- son why is that it produces a tension that says, “I need to pay attention closely to him or I’m going to lose what he’s saying.” I don’t make it so fast that it’s unintelligible – at least I hope I don’t. But I do make it fast, and occasionally I see comments that say, “Great speaker, but you know, you were too freaking fast.”

Filed under: 3►SPEAK▼, ■ BM Brain Matters, ■ Brain Matters, ■ Brain Rules, ►10.IN PRINT▼, TOPICS▼

Fun Ways to Develop Your Brain Power

Do microbiology and bioengineering sound like fun?

Some of you may have studied either or both, while to others these fields may still be in the “uncharted” category.

To John Medina, affiliate Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Washington School of Medicine and director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University, these fields have been a source of inciting discoveries in the field of the human brain.

Dr Medina  has studied the genes involved in human brain development and the genetics of psychiatric disorders and wrote two books that soon became well-read, acclaimed bestsellers. I would like to thank Mr Steve Lever for having recommended the Brain Rules books at the recently held conference for English teachers, “Leading the Way in Digital Education.” If you want to read more about these books, visit the Brain Rules site, an excellent compendium for anyone interested in putting  brain research results to practice.

As for the fun part, watch the video below about the role of schema in learning, as an example. Feel free to add your comment if you are not in hysterics by the time you reach the end:

Ok, now as the laughing subsides, let’s invstigate some of the topics you can read about on the Brain Rules site and the related blog:

From Rule 1 to Rule 12, you will find out what can make your brain more effective.

There is no secret that exercising the brain increases its power. People can continue their professional and personal development on a regular basis, regardless of age; they may choose to start one or, why not, several degree courses online, and keep fit physically and mentally.

There is no doubt that each and every one of us would like nothing more than to figure out what they don’t know, to explore.

Dr Medina illustrates rules like “exercise” or “explore” with graphs, charts and (links to) videos or audio recordings, which make the site dedicated to the Brain Rules all the more useful and accessible to anyone.

Here is one last example to enjoy for the time being: the blog post Kids Lie Every 90 Minutes – And That’s a Good Thing. I wonder why…

Filed under: 9►EXTRA, ■ Brain Matters, ■ Brain Rules, ■ Self Development Links, ►11.ON LINE▼

A big WELCOME to all ELB visitors, from Europe and elsewhere!

Bloguri, Bloggeri si Cititori

Enter your email address

ELBlog Stats ■ THANK YOU for your interest & inspiration!

  • 42,489 visits

Browse by Category

0►TRUST 1►LISTEN▼ 1►TO DO 2►READ 3►SPEAK▼ 3►STYLE 4►LIFE 4►WRITE 5►LEARN MORE FROM: 5►On-line Assignments 6►THEME CHEST 6▼ Questionnaires 7► DIY 7►NET WORKS 8►BUSINESS 9►EXTRA TOPICS▼ ■ About Organisational Cultures ■ African-American History ■ Arts/ Music/ Dance ■ BBC ■ Biology ■ BM Brain Matters ■ Books ■ Brain Matters ■ Brain Plasticity ■ Brain Rules ■ Campuses ■ Celebrations ■ Charity ■ Christmas ■ CNN ■ CNN Money ■ Colour Vocabulary ■ Comics & Doodles ■ Communicate ■ Compassion ■ Conference Speakers ■ Creativity ■ Dream Jobs ■ Empathy ■ EU ■ EurActiv ■ Facebook ■ Food & Travel ■ Forbes ■ Fortune ■ Gabriel Garcia Marquez ■ Geeks ■ Generations ■ Giving ■ GLOBAL ■ Global Issues ■ Good Old Student Life ■ GOOP ■ Graduation ■ Ha, ha, ha! ■ Happiness ■ Harvard Business Review ■ Harvard Law School ■ How to Learn Languages ■ How to Live ■ How to Tell a Story ■ India ■ Inspiration ■ Intelligent Life ■ Kids ■ Leadership ■ Luxury ■ Lyrics ■ Meet my friends ■ Movies ■ Nationalities and Stereotypes ■ News ■ Open Letter ■ Perfumes ■ Photos that Speak ■ Physics ■ Podcasts ■ Poland ■ Polandia ■ Punctuation Marks ■ Races ■ Radio Shows ■ Relation ships ■ Romania ■ Running ■ School ■ Science & Technology ■ Self Development Links ■ Sept. 11 ■ Site Scout ■ Spring Cleaning ■ Stanford University ■ Talks & Conferences ■ Technology & Our Generation ■ TED ■ The Economist ■ The Next Web ■ The Path of Metaphor ■ The Teacher ■ The World ■ They say... & what they mean is... ■ They write... & what they mean is... ■ Thinking Space ■ TIME ■ Tongue Twisters ■ Travel ■ TV & Radio ■ Voice Matters ■ W. E. B. Du Bois ■ Week of Mourning 2010 ■ World Myths & Mythologies ■ Writing Samples ■ YouTube ►10.IN PRINT▼ ►11.ON LINE▼ ►12.OFF THE MAP▼ ►13.WHAT DO THEY MEAN?▼ ►META PHORS▼

Twitter Updates

%d bloggers like this: