See Inside Scientific American Mind Volume 23, Issue 4

New Classrooms Can Change Children's Brains


Children come to school with different aptitudes, many of which determine their ability to learn. Some are quicker at grasping the concepts and skills that form the core of most educational curricula. Others are better able to concentrate or make friends. Some seem lazy; others determined. As a result, we label children as smart, attentive, social and hardworking—or as slow, distracted, shy and lackadaisical. The labels suggest fixed traits, not teachable skills.

In recent years, however, researchers have begun to parse the basic brain functions that form the foundation for many of the qualities and abilities necessary to succeed in school—and in later life. These “executive functions” include the mental lifting and maneuvering that manifest as intelligence, as well as the behavioral control vital for qualities such as focus, persistence and restraint. New research now suggests that these essential brain functions are not immutable. They are rapidly developing in youngsters, and the environment can alter their course.

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