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Cognitive Neuroscience And Its Influence On Teaching Reading At The Elementary Grade Level

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Cognitive Neuroscience and its influence on Teaching Reading at the Elementary Grade Level

Prof. Alexander

REED 504

June 4, 2006

At first glimpse, the extensive discipline of cognitive neuroscience may seem completely unrelated to the field of education. However, there are many practical implications to this field of research that can be applied within a typical classroom setting. The art of effective teaching requires educators to not merely understand and appreciate the varying personality differences and learning styles of their students, but to comprehend the brain and its functions. The implications of neuroscience are crucial for any teacher seeking to make a lasting impression on a student's mind. In order to teach the mind, one must access the brain. This is particularly true at the elementary level, where young students are learning critical components that will be their basis for learning for years to come. In order to effectively teach a subject like reading, for instance, a teacher should understand the neuro-cognitive systems that enable students to succeed in phonetics, sentence structure, and language development. Knowledge of cognitive neuroscience can aide reading teachers to know which neuron connectors are stimulated during reading, and thus be able to focus in on reading activities that enable better reading. Yet before this can happen, educators must develop an understanding of what cognitive neuroscience is.

Essentially, neuroscience is concerned with understanding how mental processes take place in the brain, and studies the neural mechanisms triggering cognition. Some areas of interest under investigation in the field of cognitive neuroscience are decision-making skills, memory, consciousness, visual perception, and attention. Neuroscience is the study of the human nervous system, the brain, and the biological basis of consciousness, perception, memory, and learning. The nervous system and the brain are the physical foundation of the human learning process. Each of our brain cells can grow up to 20 dendrites, which store millions of pieces of information. These dendrites also affect our acquisition and loss of behaviors. Neuroscience links our observations about cognitive behavior with the actual physical processes that support such behavior. It is currently theorized that the cortex of the human brain is made up of two sides: the left "scholastic brain"; and the right "creative brain". Each side is joined by a corpus callosum which sends millions of messages between the left and right sides. The more you use both sides together, the easier it is to learn. These messages make up the construct we call learning, and when engaging in reading, a students' brain uses both sides. Educators who can find a way to stimulate these cortexes can help facilitate learning in elementary students. Cognitive neuroscience is a relatively new field of research, and as it is further explored, more educational implications of this field will certainly develop.

Knowing this information about the study of the brain and its mental processes, educators can determine how to use this to more effectively teach reading at the elementary level, a time period in which children are developing rapidly both physically and physiologically. Elementary children are gaining new insight into the world, expanding their social base to extend beyond their family, and taking ownership over their bodies. Cognitively, they are growing and budding as well, and it is during this time period that they must be presented with appropriate foundations which will aide them for the duration of their lifespan. Neuroscience affects problem solving and reasoning, emotion and motivation, high-level cognition, and even language, reading, and text processing. When reading teachers take this into account in terms of student education, they must develop a curriculum around real experiences and integrated, complete ideas, despite the subject matter being taught. Educators using these tools will better engage pupils, stimulate their neural connectors, and facilitate learning in their classrooms. In addition, teachers at the elementary level should give attention to instruction that pushes complex thinking and the growth of the brain. Children at the elementary age are experiencing a series of several transformations, both physically and developmentally. One of the most important physical developments during childhood is the ongoing contraction of the brain and nervous system. The changes in the brain that occur during early childhood enable children to plan their actions, attend to stimuli more effectively, and make considerable strides in language development. Some developmentalists believe a process called myelination is important in the maturation of several children's abilities. For example, myelination in the areas of the brain related to hand-eye coordination is not complete until around age four. The increasing maturation of the brain, combined with opportunities to experience a widening world, contribute to children's emerging cognitive abilities.

Yet another implication of understanding cognitive neuroscience when teaching young students reading is the affect of neural transmitters

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