The Mind as an Education Tool

Eduflack is a true disciple of the science of education.  Over the years, though, I’ve heard many people describe instruction as more art than anything else.  At a National School Boards Association national conference years ago, I actually got into an argument with an attendee who tried to explain to me that it was wrong to try and force kids to learn to read at any age.  His thought, they will eventually come along to the issue.  Instead, we should be encouraging them to play guitar or yodel or do whatever feels good, and once they were focusing on what they were enjoying, they may soon decide that reading could be a joyful activity as well.  Reading will come in time, through wishful thinking and pockets full of rainbows.

Perhaps that’s why we often hear that the reading wars are an issue of phonics versus whole language.  The only problem with that, though, is that phonics is an instructional approach (and but one piece of many instructional approaches needed for effective reading teaching), where whole language is a classroom philosophy.  Anyone who has attended a postsecondary institution knows there is a difference between science and philosophy.  But I digress.
During my work in scientifically based reading advocacy, I was most taken with a visit I made to Georgetown University and the time I spent with Professor Guinevere Eden.  Dr. Eden showed me how MRI machines can help diagnose reading skill struggles.  By studying the brain, we can literally see students struggling with phonics or fluency or vocabulary.  And with the right interventions, we can actually see the brain changing, with colors and activity evolving as students acquire the reading skills they need to become reading proficient and achieve in the classroom.
After all of these years, we know the brain science associated with reading instruction.  We also know that such approaches and such science applied to other instructional topics as well, particularly mathematics instruction.
Don’t believe me?  Then check out an upcoming summit here in Washington on October 21.  The MIND Research Institute will host a national summit on math education and brain research.  Consider it the perfect chaser to this week’s U.S. Department of Education’s implementation summit on the National Math Panel’s report.
We all know how important reaching multiple audiences is to promoting a good education idea.  The MIND Research Institute is not only promising the usual practitioners and policymakers, but they are bring neuroscientists to the fold, giving them the soapbox to talk about real, measurable, non-squishy research in instructional practice.  It is a little different for DC, yes, but different can be good, particularly as we struggle to identify the best ways to get proven instruction in our math classrooms.  Check out www.mindresearch.net for more information.
Doesn’t matter if it is reading, math, science, or even the arts.  Research-based practice is research-based practice.  Whatever we can do to better explain the research base, educate stakeholders on good versus bad research, and actually get scientifically based education research into practice is an action worth taking.  Hopefully, the MIND Research Summit will keep the discussion going, demonstrating that science tells us a great deal about instruction and doing what works shouldn’t be limited to reading instruction.

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