Neuroplasticity and SGP: A Lesson on Brain Growth
“Regardless of age, your brain has the ability to make new neurons and construct new neural pathways throughout your life. When you engage in new experiences or think in novel ways, new pathways are forged. Every time you think a specific thought, a specific pathway of neurons fires up, neurotransmitters are released and synapses are subtly altered. With repetition this pathway is strengthened. Even as you read this very sentence, your brain is changing. In this way, your brain’s structure is a culmination of all the thoughts and experiences you have had up to this very moment.”
-from “Nurture the Miracle of Neuroplasticity” from Huffington Post by Marie Pasinski
Tim Starkey and I have been exploring the connection between student growth (SGP specifically), grit, and growth mindset (see this post for an overview).
Beginning this process, Starkey had students read an article about brain growth from Mindset Works. I couldn’t post this resource, so instead here are a couple of links to articles and resources about brain “growth” (or neuroplasticity). In addition, the three minute video in this post is an excellent introduction to the science of brain growth and change.
- “The Brain: How the Brain Rewires Itself” from TIME Magazine; This article negates the outdated concept that the brain is a static organ, stating, “The first discoveries of neuroplasticity came from studies of how changes in the messages the brain receives through the senses can alter its structure and function.”
- “Nurture the Miracle of Neuroplasticity” from The Huffington Post; This article describes the experience of Dr. Jill Bolte as she recovers from a stroke and how her life provides an illustration for the brain’s ability to change.
In conjunction with reading and answering questions about the article, each student was given his or her STAR Growth Report and asked to reflect upon it. They answered questions such as:
- Do you think STAR is an accurate measure of your capabilities and growth in reading?
- How do you believe that you could improve your growth and achievement in reading?
During the discussion that followed, some students said they felt that STAR was not an accurate measure of their growth for a number of reasons. They are listed below:
- Vocabulary: Students said it was unfair to be tested on unfamiliar vocabulary, so we spent some time talking about use of context clues and additional strategies to identify the meaning of words. In addition, we discussed defining unfamiliar words as a “skill” while reading complex texts.
- Level of Challenge: Some students felt the second test was “harder.” To address this concern, we explained to students how the STAR test will “learn” to meet them at the level to which they are prepared. This means that the test will get harder for them as it understands where they should be.
- Effort: Part of the class stated they had not given the test their complete effort. To address this, we asked them if they felt as though their effort would change for the next test based upon this reflection.
This last point resulted in a conversation with students about their capabilities. Many students felt as though they could do better than the test had indicated. At the end of the conversation, 3/4 of students raised their hands when asked if they believed they could improve their score for the next test.
When asked how they thought they could go about the process of trying to improve skills, one of the major points of discussion was how time spent reading impacted students ability to comprehend overall. In addition, we also discussed how ATOS levels could be used to choose texts that would appropriately meet their needs, all the while stressing the importance of challenging themselves with material that would help build the skills needed to grapple with complex texts.
This conversation paired with a text about students’ ability to grow seemed to be an effective means of student reflection. We continued this process though a discussion of growth and grit which I will outline in additional posts.