Monday, January 10, 2011

Making Connections: Connect and Reflect

Author Joseph Epstein stated that, "We are what we read." Neuroscience would contend instead that “We are what we experience,” neural circuits are constantly reorganized and rerouted based on the quantity and timing of our experiential transactions.

We have 100 billion neurons (the "gray matter" consisting of neural cell bodies). Their primary purpose is to link brain cells together into the circuits that represents who we are and what we know. Inside the brain, there are over 1,000,000 miles of nerve fibers (the “white matter” connections), linking together over one quadrillion neurons with one another. Through this process, we access a remarkable ability to make sense of an extraordinarily complex ever-changing world. In his book The Mind's Best Work, Harvard educator David Perkins says, "Good thinking is a matter of making connections, and knowing what kinds of connections to make."

As parents and educators, the sequence of “cognitive rehearsals” below shows that making connections is not just a useful description of the dynamic learning process, but is indeed quite a natural progression for constructing how we think. The distinguished educator John Dewey once said, “We don’t learn from experience, we learn by reflecting on it.” In the following series of learning events each sets the stage for the next level of thinking.

Doing is a rehearsal for thinking
• Thinking becomes a rehearsal for dialogue and discourse
Discourse becomes a rehearsal for writing
• Playing with objects and ideas, exploring and experimenting, thinking, talking, and writing become rehearsals (developing the necessary background knowledge) for reading comprehension.
• Writing and reading clarify one’s thoughts, generate coherent thinking, cultivate precision for expressing one’s thoughts, and prepares a youngster for abstract thinking
• Discourse, reading, and writing become rehearsals for eventual formal assessment

If we are to build meaningful conceptual links for students (and connect “meaning” with "print") we must make the most of opportunities to foster "good thinking" with logical connections. When students later hear the target word in context, or if they encounter it while reading, they are capable of relating that word back to the family of concepts and words to which it belongs based on the student’s experiences with the meanings, interpretations, and connections they have already learned.

The repeated use strengthens the verbal, visual, auditory, tactile and abstract interconnections that are physically represented by specific intricate brain circuitry.

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