Thinking cap records electrical signals from the brain of one-year-old Elise Hardwick, who is helping scientists figure out how the youngest children process sounds that make up the building blocks of language. Image: Photograph by Andrew Hetherington
- The technology and research methods of the neuroscientist have started to reveal, at the most basic level, what happens in the brain when we learn something new.
- As these studies mature, it may become possible for a preschooler or even an infant to engage in simple exercises to ensure that the child is cognitively equipped for school.
- If successful, such interventions could potentially have a huge effect on educational practices by dramatically reducing the incidence of various learning disabilities.
- Scientists, educators and parents must also beware overstated claims for brain-training methods that purport to help youngsters but have not been proved to work.
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Eight-month-old Lucas Kronmiller has just had the surface of his largely hairless head fitted with a cap of 128 electrodes. A research assistant in front of him is frantically blowing bubbles to entertain him. But Lucas seems calm and content. He has, after all, come here, to the Infancy Studies Laboratory at Rutgers University, repeatedly since he was just four months old, so today is nothing unusual. He—like more than 1,000 other youngsters over the past 15 years—is helping April A. Benasich and her colleagues to find out whether, even at the earliest age, it is possible to ascertain if a child will go on to experience difficulties in language that will prove a burdensome handicap when first entering elementary school.
Benasich is one of a cadre of researchers employing brain-recording techniques to understand the essential processes that underlie learning. The new science of neuroeducation seeks the answers to questions that have always perplexed cognitive psychologists and pedagogues.
This article was originally published with the title How to Build a Better Learner.