Centre for Educational Research and Innovation - CERI

Questions & Answers (Questions et réponses)


NOTE: The following questions have been selected from questions posed by browsers who have registered by entering the Brain & Learning Club . The answers have been obtained from selected Scientists from our networks .

Questions are posted in reverse chronological order, so most recently received answers to questions appear first.

Q51: Is it possible to make a link between what we know about how the brain works and the school buildings that we put learners in ? - I'm interesting specifically in the implications of brain research for the design of classrooms
The Children in Europe magazine’s 8th issue is entitled “making space: architecture and design for young children” and is dedicated to this subject (visit for details).  There is an article in it by two Finnish neurophysiologists which examines the implications of research on brain develop which argues that nature’s empty space is the best environment for young children’s uninhibited learning.  It stressed the importance of play for the child’s brain and that this requires freedom and space providing nature inspired examples.  Although the authors stress that order and structure are necessary it should not be in the form of rigid four-walled classroom structures.  It concludes that school architects could benefit from knowledge about the brain.   Se also OECD's Programme on Education Building:

Answer provided by OECD Secretariat. 

Q50: Will there be, one day, lifelong viable human clones?
  As far as the viability of human clones, already stem cells can be cultivated to make up parts of the nervous system (on a Caribbean island a green vervet monkey known as XO47 has three million human brain cells injected into his cranium.   Judging from the results of previous experiments, the human neural stem cells inserted into their brains would soon take hold and begin to grow, their fibers reaching out to shake hands with their monkey counterparts, New York Times,2005.  And, in the US scientists say they have duplicated the generation of new adult brain cells in the lab in a controlled way.  It is hoped the technique, tested so far on animal cells, will eventually allow scientists to produce a limitless supply of a person's own brain cells, see: BBC News, 14 June. ) So, if brain tissue, cells and neurons can be successfully duplicated, then the possibility of human clones might one day be technically possible, however there are still a lot of uncertainties. Some species are not as yet clonable, or it might be more correct to say that  the clones are not "viable" for unknown reasons (which might not be related to brain cells or to the capacity to replicate or duplicate brain cells). This subject is, however, of course, a highly contentious ethical and political debate.  Our next publication due in 2006 will include information on neuroethical issues.  

Answer provided by OECD Secretariat. 

Q49: Do you have any research on autism?

A49: We do not at the current time have much information on autism on our website.  We had one presentation by Dr. Guinevere Eden who has done some interesting research with an autistic boy who is hyperlexic (opposite of dyslexia), to read more about this interesting case see this url:  You can also try the following site for more general information on autism:

Answer provided by OECD Secretariat. 

Q48: Is any is the emerging evidence of the role of the stomach in emotions?

A48: Indeed emotions are also experienced in the body.   David Servan Schreiber described this well

in the beggining of the third chapter of his book entitled “The instinct to Heal” , and wrote   that already in 1890 William James, a Harvard professor, stated that emotions are firstly felt in the body and then perceived in the brain.   The intestine and the heart have their own neuronal networks which act as “tiny brains” inside the body.

Answer provided by OECD Secretariat. 

Q47: The quality of the sensory environment of young infants is said to be primordial for determining an infants future. Listening to specific music, is said to favour the development of the left brain and establishing neuronal connections etc.  Without wishing to question the importance of giving infants approprite care, how does one explain the "success stories" of some premature babies who spent their first months in a very noisy environment for which incubators are responsible.  Has the emphasis on the importance of the first years of life not been exaggerated in literature for parents?  If so, for what reason?

A47: Hearing impairments in preterm very low birthweight babies have been detected at term in studies using brainstem auditory evoked responses.  Low-birth-weight premature infants are also known to be at risk for developmental delays.  Due to this some of these children are enrolled in early intervention programs which may help them to get up to speed to their peers, and hence might explain some of the success stories.  It is true that the emphasis of the first three years has been over popularised, please refer to our section on Neuromyths, see especially the neuromyth on critical periods and enriched environments.  For an in-depth reference on this subject, you should refer to the book by John Bruer: "The myth of the first three years".

Answer provided by OECD Secretariat. 

Q46. How can I memorize and recall information better?
There are many techniques that improve aspects of memory and ability to recall information.  One of many books on the subject is "The Memory Workbook: Breakthrough Techniques to Exercise Your Brain and Improve Your Memory" by Douglas J. Mason, Michael Lee Kohn, Karen A. Clark.  For a free website with a list of many methods try  Most of the methods that work well are quite specific to a particular type of memory problem.  There is little evidence of ability to make a general improvement in memory as a whole.

Answer provided by  Michael Posner, University of Oregon, New York City.

Q45.  I consider the theory underlying Concept Maps very relevant to the studies on learning and teaching. The work of Joseph Novack is for me a guide on issues.  My question is:  Are there already studies about the influence of working with concept maps on the brain? If the theory about Significant Learning is so relevant how can we demonstrate it from the influence that is has on the cognitive struture of the brain? How is it related to the process of Memory, Language and Cognitive Develpment?

A45: The idea of concept maps as a means of making learning more meaningful has been explored by Dr. Novak in many  articles and books.  His recent paper in Cell Biology and Eduation,<> symmarizes his research that has shown substantial increases in the problem solving ability of high school physics students using concept maps.  To my knowledge there has not been a neuroimaging study looking at differences in conceptual ability of students taught in different ways.  He cites none in his article. However, some of the basic work with neuroimaging has shown brain systems that are involved in associations between concepts  and also that high level expertise can activate brain systems not used by novices.  So it is entirely possible that future imaging studies might allow comparisons of different forms of conceptual learning.

Answer provided by  Michael Posner, University of Oregon, New York City.

Q44. What is the relation between connectionism and small worlds networks?

A44. If you mean by the small world's network the theory coming from Stanley Milgram that anyone can be connected to anyone else in six steps or less, this idea does not appear to realy on the principles of connectionism.  Connectionism is a name applied to computer programs that solve psychological problems based upon changing the connection weights between simple elements (neurons) as a function of experience.

Answer provided by  Michael Posner, University of Oregon, New York City.

Q43: Does scarring on white matter prevent or slow down messages being sent from one brain are to another?

A43: There is evidence in the literature that dyslexic children have problems with white matter tracts known to connect important areas related to language.  The authors of the following report suggest that this deficit may produce a difficulty in relaying messages, but this has not yet been proven to result.

Microstructure of temporo-parietal white matter as a basis for reading ability: Evidence from diffusion tensor magnetic resonance imaging. Author(s): Klingberg T, Hedehus M, Temple E, Salz T, Gabrieli JDE, Moseley ME, Poldrack RA. Source: NEURON 25 (2): 493-500 FEB 2000
Answer provided by  Michael Posner, University of Oregon, New York City.

Q42: Are there resources to assist teachers working with students with disabilities? What adaptations should be made to resources and instruction, for students with brain impairments?

A42: All OECD countries provide additional resources in terms of equipment, extra teachers, modified facilities etc. to help educate children with disabilities. Resources in the form of software and hardware interfaces for keyboards e.g. the concept keyboard also are readily available, as are a large number of specialist teaching programmes for a whole range of learning needs - reading, maths, language, motor skills etc.

The adaptations needed to teach students with brain impairments depend on the type of impairment. Clearly children with visual impairment have different educational needs from those with hearing impairment. In general terms adaptations  need to be developed within the framework of the teaching and curriculum requirements currently preferred by a particular country and in careful consideration of the individual child' needs and preferences. Frequently the readily available resources do not meet an individual child's needs and will require adaptation by the teacher. Given the extent of the resources available we would not wish to recommend any particular text or source because the choice will depend on the needs of the individual user. An internet search would quickly reveal a range of possible resources.

Answer provided by OECD Secretariat. 

Q41: When should we start teaching a second language? How old should the student be?

A41: Infants start to lose their ability to discriminate speech in languages other than their own at about six months of age.  This is long before they actually start to communicate with language.  At this stage exposure to second languages might be useful in maintaining their ability to hear distinctions in the second language not used in the first.  There is little evidence that teaching second languages actually hurts the child and considerable evidence that bilingual fluency actually aids the child's executive function in other domains.

Answer provided by  Michael Posner, University of Oregon, New York City.

Q40: Is it true that tutoring a child can change their brain activity to resemble a more normal one?

A40: Under some circumstances this is true.  Children with low reading skills show little or no activity in posterior areas related to phonological processing.  Tutoring in reading using a phonetics based approach can increase activation in these areas.  In this sense brain processing can be changed by learning.  We just don't know as yet whether these changes merely reflect the fact that the child has learned to read, or whether there has been some more fundamental changes that improve the brain in other respects.

Answer provided by  Michael Posner, University of Oregon, New York City.

Q39: Which is the most important part of brain to learn music? the right or the left one

A39:  There is no part of the brain we call the ‘music region’ – no specific area we can point to that holds the key to learning music.

Is the right or left more important? It depends! When you learn to play the violin, you train your left hand in a special way and this makes the motor regions in the right hemisphere important. When you learn the piano you use both hands and the motor regions of both hemispheres become important.

But music is more than learning to move hands in a special way. Music is also rhythm, melody and bar. Where is the brain-location for these properties of music?

Comparing rhythm and bar:
Along with the layperson’s view on big differences between the left and the right side of the brain, scientists [1] had the hypothesis that rhythm as a detailed phenomenon could be in the left hemisphere while bar and tact with their holistic properties could be in the right hemisphere. The results didn’t confirm their idea: they found, first and foremost, huge differences among the people they observed.

Comparing melody and bar
Scientists [2] also looked at the differences between melody and bar. It seems that there are distinct areas for melody and bar, however, these areas are found in the right as well as in the left side of the brain. The difference is not so much left or right but bottom or middle.

Comparing rhythm and melody
If you want to stick with the difference of left and right: There is research [3] that indicates that melody is processed probably more right and rhythm (especially complex ones) probably more left.

In summary:
Back to the question about the important part of the brain for learning music. It’s neither left nor right. Many parts of the brain work together when you learn or listen to music. Some are maybe more right, some are maybe more left and some can be found in both sides. Crucial parts are for instance the auditory cortices in both hemispheres of the brain that play an important role in listening to music.

[1] Altenmüller E, Schuppert M, Kuck H, Bangert M, Großbach M (2000) Neuronale Grundlagen der Verarbeitung von Zeitstrukturen. In Müller K, Aschersleben G (eds) Rhythmus. Ein interdisziplinäres Handbuch. Bern: Huber, pp 59-78

[2] Liegeois-Chauve C, Peretz I, Babai M, Laguitton V, Chauvel P (1998) Contribution of different cortical areas in the temporal lobes to music processing. Brain 121: 1853-1867

[3] Peretz I, Kolinsky R, Tramo M, Labrecque R, Hublet C, Demeurisse G, Belleville S (1994) Functional dissociations following bilateral lesions of auditory cortex. Brain 117: 1283-1301

Answer provided by Katrin Hille &  Manfred Spitzer, Ulm Transfer Center for Neurscience and Learning.

Q38: Is there a technique that can be implimented to help with short term memory?
Improvement in short term memory may come about through three very different means.
The first is the use of semantic doing to aid retention.  The second exploits artificial means to improve retention. The third deals with more general issues of the effects of bodily state on memory.

1.  Much research shows that semantic coding of information is effective in both short and long term retention.  When meeting a new person one can relate facial features to names by codes that are unique to the name and facial features.  This will facilitate retaining the name as well as the face.  For lists of material it is often useful to think of them at particular location encountered during a familiar walk.  If each item is related to what would normally be seen at that location (method of loci) retention can be aided.  In one famous study the digit span for unrelated digits was increased from 7 to about 100 by systematically relating each digit unit (3-4 digits) to record running times for various distances.  This particular method will only work for digits, if tested with letters the same subject retained only 7 items.   We are all familiar with use of abbreviations to retain verbal information information.

2.  Writing notes with pencil or pocket computer can, of course, help you retain information.   Devices for rapid storage and retrieval of information are becoming smaller and more efficienct all the time.

3.  Memory  also is  better when the person is well rested, not under great stress, has good general nutrition etc. Thus a healthy program of diet, rest and exercise may improve short term retention.

Answer provided by  Michael Posner, University of Oregon, New York City.

Q37: Can we fairly say that current research indicates that when learning is
linked to a positive emotional event, or ocurrs as part of a positive
emotional event, the learner: pays closer attention is more likely to learn
and remember is more likely to be able to recall what was learned some months

A37: Studies in the field of social psychology (e.g. Fiedler, 2001) research the influence of positive and negative mood on learning and memory. Apparently, a positive mood during learning promotes associative information processing (facilitating free recall) while a negative mood is associated with a style facilitating passive recognition. Similar results have been found when learning takes place in a positive context. (Ashby & Isen, 1999). There is also research that shows that negative material is better remembered (Cahill et al. 1994), however, this might be due to a heightened arousal that the negative material was able to produce. Our own research (Erk et al., 2003) indicates that a positive emotional context benefits free recall and is associated with distinct patterns of brain activity. However, this is not to say that we now thoroughly understand the role of emotions on the processes of learning and memory.

See also the primer on emotions and learning .

Answer provided by Susanne Erk, University Clinic, Ulm, Germany

Q36: What is being done to translate the findings of neuroscientific research into better primers for children and literacy materials for adults in less industrialized countries?

A36: One aspect of the OECD Brain and Learning project involves the question and answers  provided on this website.  Starting in January 2005  we hope to have the start of a prototype set of downloadable interventions for literacy and numeracy  which teachers and parents can use.  Moreover, we also plan to have available what scientific documentation supports these interventions.  These initial programs will be for early reading, arithmetic and attention training.  We hope to develop programs for more advanced scientific literacy in many languages in the future.  These intervention tools will be downloadable for free to users all over the world.  It may be difficult to get access to these interventions if you do not have a computer.  However, we are working to make them as accessible as possible.

Answer provided by OECD Secretariat. 

Q35: I read Dehaene's book, the Number Sense, when it first came out.  I recall a statement that, among female mathematicians, there is a disproportional number who are first born because of the impact of higher levels of testosterone in the womb with a first child.  This has proven true in a number of gatherings of math teachers over the years, but when I went to validate the information, I was unable to find it. Is this true and could you give me the resource for it?

A35: The exact citation from my book is not exactly as stated in the e-mail. Here is what I wrote: “We still do not have a satisfactory explanation for these mysterious links between gender, the X chromosome, hormones, handedness, allergies, birth order, and mathematics. All we can do today is paint an impressionist picture of some of the more plausible causal chains — which some scientists have dubbed “just so stories”! According to neuropsychologist Norman Geschwind and his colleagues, exposure to an elevated level of testosterone during gestation might simultaneously impact the immune system and the differentiation of the cerebral hemispheres. Testosterone may slow down the development of the left hemisphere. One can imagine that the likelihood of being left-handed should then increase, as should the ability to manipulate mental representations of space, a function which is more dependent on right-hemispheric processing. This refined sense of space, in turn, would facilitate the manipulation of mathematical concepts. Because testosterone is a male hormone, it is not unthinkable that this putative cascade of effects could have more impact on males than on females. Not implausibly either, it might be under the partial genetic control of the X chromosome, which may account for the heritability of mathematical and spatial dispositions.

Among the bundles of clues that gravitate around this still fuzzy scenario, one might mention that androgens are known to directly influence the organization of the developing brain; that alterations of the processing of space and mathematics have been demonstrated in subjects exposed to an abnormal level of sex hormones during development, as well as in females at various points in the menstrual cycle; that in rats, the spatial abilities of hormonally treated females exceed those of untreated females and catch up with those of untreated males; and finally, that the concentration in sex hormones in the womb is higher during the first pregnancy (remember that the majority of mathematical prodigies are first-born). Shaped in this variable hormonal bath, the male brain is probably organized slightly differently from the female brain. Neuronal circuits may be subtly altered in a manner which remains unknown so far but which may explain men’s slightly swifter motility in abstract mathematical spaces.”

As you can see this is a very speculative proposal. Two sources for these speculations are:

Benbow, C.P. (1988). Sex differences in mathematical reasoning ability in intellectually talented preadolescents: Their nature, effects, and possible causes. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 11, 169-232.(and associated commentaries)

Geschwind, N., & Galaburda, A.M. (1985). Cerebral lateralization: Biological mechanisms, associations and pathology. Archives of Neurology, 42, 428-259; 521-552; 634-654.

Answer provided by  Stanislas Dehaene , INSERM, France

Q34. Does the brain have complete control over the body or is it just a sensor device?

A34. According to the thinking of modern neuroscience the brain is the key organ of control.  Of course muscles, spinal cord and other peripheral systems are also important in the control of many bodily fuctions such as digestion, reflex responses etc.

Answer provided by OECD Secretariat.

Q33: Comment peut-on aider une enfant dyspraxique et dysphasique dans la récupération de l,information et dans ses apprentissages en lecture, écriture, mathématiques et autre? / How can a child with dyspraxia and dysphasia be helped in recuperating information, learning to read, write, do maths, and other?

A33. This is difficult to answer because these words are not always used in the same way.  However Dr. Usha Goswami  of Cambridge University provided the following suggestion:  To have both disorders sounds like what is often called a specific language impairment. Children with SLI usually have lots of problems in acquiring reading and spelling.  Intensive phonological instruction is the best bet, with lots of practice in analysing phonology and linking sound to print.

Q32. How can the Brain Drain be optimized to bring about brain gain for developing countries?

A32. This question goes well beyond the brain and eduation area to many national and international policies.   The world wide web has done a great deal already to bring the results of science to a wider range of countries.  Currently OECD is working to make findings in literacy and numeracy based on brain research available via the web to many countries.  This forum is a part of that effort.  In January we hope to have a preliminary version of interventions designed to improve literacy and numeracy available in English, and we hope to move forward to have translation in many language in the future.

Answer provided by OECD Secretariat.

Q31: Are there existing programs, e.g. parenting classes, pediatric training, early childhood education, that utilize Early Brain Development research in their implementation?

A31: I would point out that brain research has not yet formed the basis for any real programmatic curriculum development, yet the seeds of this are starting in many projects (e.g.  the interactive website that we hope to have on the OECD site scheduled for end 2004).  Some curricula, however,  seem to be consistent with insights of domain-specific brain developments in reading and number....for example a new study [Shaywitz, B.A., et al.  (2004)  Development of left occipitotemporal systems for skilled reading in children after a phonologically-based intervention.  Biol. Psychiat.55, 926-933 study (2004) ]  demonstrates that one form of reading intervention program (versus a comparable control group that engaged in another approach) demonstrated greater changes in left basal temporal area activation pattern that has been previously linked to reading skill development in typically developing readers. Also the book by S.E. Shaywitz "Overcoming Dyslexia" provides an introduction to this literature for a general audience. Another example could be drawn between the cognitive operations stressed in Rightstart, and the theory of functional organization of number sense laid out in S. Dehaene's book "The Number Sense" and supported by many convergent neuroimaging studies.

Answer provided by Bruce McCandliss , Sackler Institute USA

Q30: My 10 year old son has a visuospatial dyspraxia and is dyscalculic. He has a verbal IQ of 117 and a performance IQ of 84. This disparity poses major educational difficulties for him. 1. How unusual is such a disparity and what specific educational/other tools can we use to help him? 2. Given that this is likely to be a developmental anomaly, is it known if there is an increased  incidence of epilepsy with dyspraxia? 3. Would there be any advantage in, and is it possible to elucidate further the particular pathways that are affected in him?

A30a: Children with this particular profile often have what is called either "nonverbal learning disabilities" or "developmental right hemisphere syndrome".  The core symptoms of this disorder are dyscalculia, visuospatial deficits, ADHD, emotional and interpersonal problems, paralinguistic communication problems (eg poor eye contact, monotonous speech) and excessive slowness. Knowledge and awareness of the various aspects of the syndrome and its neurological substrate is the first step in understanding the child's difficulties and coping with them. The ADHD, which is often the inattentive subtype, is often confused with emotional problems; psychostimulants can be beneficial. Guidance and behavioral modification can improve paralinguistic communication skills. It is often the better part of valour to avoid placing the child in embarrassing classroom participation. If there is a problem of slowness, particularly with writing, teachers can make allowances by reducing the amount of writing required, to depend upon outline-form answers, use of laptop computers if possible, lengthen time for tests or a combination of these. It is worthwhile to clarify what is the arithmetic problem, ie difficulty learning arithmetic facts by heart, lack of understanding of arithemetic procedures, inattention to arithmetic signs etc and try to work on the problem that way. For children with such a clinical picture, we often send for additional testing, ie EEG, neuroimaging. The literature, two articles listed below, does not link epilepsy to this disorder:

Voeller KKS. Right hemisphere deficit syndrome in children. Am J Psychiatry 1986:143:1004-1009.

Gross-Tsur V, Shalev RS, Manor O, Amir N. Developmental right hemisphere syndrome: clinical spectrum of the nonverbal learning disability. Journal of Learning Disabilities 1995;28:80-86.

Answer provided by Ruth Shalev , Israel

A30b: Regarding question 31, the verbal/performance IQ discrepancy is not that uncommon, especially among children with math disabilities. In our research, we found a number of children with similar IQ profiles in children who are poor at math but good in reading.  Although I would
need to know more information about this child's functioning in different areas of math and reading, he probably could use his strong verbal reasoning to mediate some of his math difficulties. For example, if he is having trouble mastering arithmetic combinations, an explicit approach that emphasizes principles and relations among operations may be more helpful than instruction that emphasizes rote learning.  You can refer the person to my website (listed below) if s/he is interested in references to our work in math difficulties.

Answer provided by Nancy C. Jordan University of Delaware, USA (Children's Math Project)

Q29: Are there teacher training courses available to make teachers aware of the problem of dyscalculia and more generally the cognitive difficulties encountered when learning mathematics.?

A29: In the US, there is much training provided for teaching students with mathematical disabilities, which may effectively be the same thing as dyscalculia.  However methods and background theory differ widely according to location/teaching college. In the UK, dyscalculia is now recognized on a national level (Department of Education and Skills), and a national screening tool is available (see for a link to the screener).

Answer provided by Anna Wilson , INSERM France

Q28:  Is Brain Science only aimed at understanding how brains react or is it also interested in understanding how brains can be manipulated? And in this case, how do you asses the importance of public opinion's reactions in the development of this particular science?

A28. Brain science studies how the brain reacts to stimuli of all sorts including the manipulation of others persons.  There have been recent efforts to understand the role of neuroscience in political decisions. You may want to consult a special issue Political Psychology. Vol 24(4) Dec 2003, 759-764. for articles on this topic.  For ethical reasons this project will not deal with how brains can be manipulated for learning (except by using safe brain-based learning or remedial tools), but will strive to make people aware of  the progress in this field and highlight the dangers.

Answer provided by OECD Secretariat.

Q27: How do you teach a dyslexic high school student to be successful enough in writing to pass general education classes in English and History?

A27.  Please refer to the following books as recommended by our Literacy Network's scientific members: Shaywitz, S.E. Overcoming Dyslexia, particularly Chapter 20 on Helping Adults Become Better Readers for an approach to this issue; Study Skills and Dyslexia in the Secondary School: A Practical Approach  by Marion Griffiths

Answer provided by OECD Secretariat.

Q26. I would like to know what you think about the metaphor of the brain as a "quantum computer", and how this might help to better understand the way humans learn?

A26. The brain can be approached at many levels of analysis.  Currently work on the OECD initiative has been attempting to relate views of brain activity based on networks of neurons to the problems of education.  While it is  possible to study the brain at other levels such as quantum physics we have not sought to do so.  See also the recent book by Eric Baum entitled  "What Is Thought?" which  proposes a computational explanation of thought. Just as Erwin Schrodinger in his classic 1944 work What Is Life? argued ten years before the discovery of DNA that life must be explainable at a fundamental level by physics and chemistry, Baum contends that the present-day inability of computer science to explain thought and meaning is no reason to doubt there can be such an explanation. Baum argues that the complexity of mind is the outcome of evolution, which has built thought processes that act unlike the standard algorithms of computer science and that to understand the mind we need to understand these thought processes and the evolutionary process that produced them in computational terms.
Answer provided by OECD Secretariat.

Q25. I am a special education teacher in Georgia. I recently read an article about a study done by Dr. Shaywitz about the effects of a reading intervention program's effects on the neural system. The article was in the Wall St Journal on 4/27/04 and referenced an article in the journal Biological Psychiatry. I would like to read the journal article or get information about the reading intervention program in order to compare it to what I have available. I work in a Title I school and we are extremely interested in raising our reading scores. I strongly support intensive, explicit teaching of phonemes as a remediation strategy.

A25. The Shaywtiz paper is published now in the journal Biological Psychiatry.  Shaywitz et al (2004),  Development of left occipitotemporal systems for skilled reading in children after a phonologically-based intervention. Biological Psychiatry 55, 926-933.  This article should provide all the information you need.

Answer provided by OECD Secretariat.

Q24. How will the findings of current brain research influence paedogogy?

A24. Of course there cannot be a complete answer to this question, but for the last century brain research has influenced educational decisions.  For example, Thorndike's studies of human and animal learning were instrumental in the development of the elective system for education in the United States.  Studies by Gardner on multiple intelligences and studies starting with Sperry on the split brain have also created educational movements. New results from brain imaging are sure to have influence. The goal of our project is to help educators see both the strengths and weaknesses of current brain research.  We are concentrating at the start on limited questions of word reading and elementary number processing.  In both of these areas,  imaging research has provided impetus to the design of interventions that might help children to acquire literacy and numeracy.  We are currently collecting examples of these efforts and hope to have a web site up later this year that will allow members of the public to use and evaluate these interventions.  Brain research may have implications for every aspect of education and we will try to keep abreast of them and comment on applications as they arise.

Answer provided by OECD Secretariat.

Q23. I am very interested in any information related to letter shapes in the learning process. I am developing a typeface for children books to be published in Spanish and I think any guideline will be very valuable.

A23. There may not be an exact answer to your query, but it is a field in which there is some progress. At  one level designers have tried to summarize some  considerations in choosing the design of a font (see, for example, suggestions by Geoffrey Fletcher:  A very different approach is to examine the visual spatial frequencies needed for letter recognition see, for example Solomon & Pelli The visual feature mediating letter identification, Nature (1994), 369, 395-397).  Creative use of these ideas plus some testing might be helpful in making your decision.

Answer provided by  Michael Posner , University of Oregon, New York City.

Q22. DYSGRAPHIA. How can we help a child who has a dysgraphia problem?

A22. Disorders of written expression are defined as a combination of difficulties in the individual's ability to compose written text that are manifested by dysgraphia, grammatical errors and poor paragraph organization.  The term dysgraphia, which is one component within the broad definition of disorders of written expression, refers to illegible handwriting and spelling errors. Possible reasons for dysgraphia are 1) insufficient exposure to the written word, 2) impaired linguistic skills, 3) impaired short term memory for written representations (graphemic buffer), necessary for retention of specific orthographic representation, 4) impaired spatial representation of letters that may result in inability to maintain writing on a horizontal line and 5) motor deficits (dyspraxia, increased arm stiffness), causing inefficient writing. Some children with dysgraphia may have primary language problems, others ADHD, still others motor deficits or a combination of the above. Thus, when approaching a child with illegible handwriting and multiple spelling errors, a neurological and neuropsychological assessment is indicated to attempt to identify which factors (linguistic, attention, motor) may be contributing to the writing problems.  Certainly learning how to type and use sophisticated word processing programs will help those with sloppy handwriting and/or spelling errors.  It may be useful for you to examine material available on the website of the National Institute of Health:
Neurologists and neuropsychologists who specialize in language might be useful people to consult with regard to this question.

Answer provided by  Ruth Shalev , Neuropediatric Unit, Shaare Zedek Medical Center, Jerusalem, Israel.

Q21(a). "What kinds of reasoning are there?"

A21(a). This question is rather tricky, in that it assumes that there are more than one type of reasoning. What I mean to say is that, in order to answer the question there are two possible approaches. The first assumes that there is one type of reasoning mechanism, but that it is adaptable to suit a variety of contexts. The second assumes that there are mutiple reasoning systems which have different functional properties in order to cope with the different types of information (formal, contextual) that is present in the world. The first assumes that the mechanism of reasoning is simply like a hypothesis testing function. The second assumes that reasoning is comprised of a heuristic system which is suited to pragmatic everyday problems, is quick, implemented automatically and intuitive, whereas the second system is slow, analytical and methodical and suited to the hypo-deductive type of thinking, typical of science. It is unclear as yet which of these two positions best captures what we know of reasoning, but on a more general level, in attempting to understand other forms of cognition such as learning, and memory, we have a better idea of which of these two positions is consistent, because these areas have also developed theories that adopt similar approaches (i.e. a single vs. a dual system). As it is, I would propose that there is more evidence to suggest that there is a single reasoning system, and the types that are hinted at in the question, refer instead to the contexts in which the system is applied.

Q21(b). How can we understand informal and plausible reasoning? 

A21(b). I think it might be important to first identify what seems to be a problem with the above questions, which is the tendency to draw dichotomies, everyday vs logical thinking, abstract vs contextual reasoning, analytical vs pragmatic reasoning. These, to my mind, can be distinctions that get in the way of trying to understand what kind of reasoning individuals apply to a particular problem space. A quick answer to the first question is that, in trying to understand how informal reasoning operates, it is important to look at the kinds of inferences people make in a variety of contexts, be that abstract logical reasoning, everyday framings of the same problems, mathematical problems, probabilistic problems and judgment and decision making problems. And, in so doing, try to identify what are the aspects of these problems that actually relate to each other, - which in turn will help to understand better where people deviate from 'normative models' of rational behaviour, and actual reasoning which is suited to a variety of complex and simple contexts, and which has adapted to accommodate these different types of contexts.

Q21(c). What kind of reasoning underpins thinking in the humanities and social sciences?"

A21(c). Again, in answer to the second question, it is first necessary to identify what kinds of thinking is necessary for humanities and social sciences. What seems to be key to these subjects, seems to be fundamental to all areas - at some level, namely to evaluate information, identify testable hypotheses, to contrast competing theories and to relate specific findings to general claims, and vice versa. Ultimately all this boils down to a form of hypothesis testing, or alternatively named 'problem solving', and the basic operations are the same: represent the problem space, find the appopriate strategy, manipulate the information, begin to draw conclusions from this, evaluate conclusions in relation to the goal.

Answers to Q21 a,b and c, were provided by Magda Osman, Department of Psychology, University College, London, UK.

Q20. Hi, I'm just at the end of my rope and looking for help. I was just told that my fourth child may be dyslexic. That would mean 4 out of 5 dyslexics! I don't know what to do, my school system does not have any qualified teachers in this area. My dyslexics range in age from 17 to 5. I have read "Overcoming Dyslexia" by Sally Shaywitz, but I am overwhelmed with the amount of knowledge. How can all this wonderful research be brought down to the school level?

A20. Why not try sharing your copy of  "Overcoming Dyslexia" with the teachers of your children?   Using the book and your knowledge of your child's problem you may be able to come up with a program of help that could be useful.  Check out the OECD website around October/November 2004. We plan to have some programs available which will help children acquire skills in literacy.

Answer provided by OECD Secretariat.

Q19. Is neurolinguistic programming a proven and scientifically accepted learning technique?

A19. Neurolinguistic programming does contain some useful ideas about how to deal with language learning. However, like other commerical efforts there is no convincing evidence that it is an effective therapy for any particular disorder.

Answer provided by OECD Secretariat.

Q18. How can I study better and what should I be eating to improve mental performance

A18. Follow a good nutritious diet to foster the best in mental and physical development. See also the A Report of the Brain Research and Learning Sciences 'Emotions and Learning' Symposium, OECD, 2003 , pp.10-11.

Answer provided by OECD Secretariat.

Q17. Have you heard of the success of Neuro-Developmental Therapy with children with dyslexia and what is your opinion on this therapy?

A17. The term neuro-develomental therapy may refer to a variety of different techniques none of which has really been subjected to careful scientific scrutiny. You might want to refer to the book "Overcoming Dyslexia" by Sally Shaywitz for information on things you might do to help your child.

Answer provided by OECD Secretariat.

Q16.  I'm a primary school teacher teaching 7 & 8 year olds. The school timetable is structured so that, when teaching language & mathematical concepts and skills, review/practice tends to occur at 24 hour intervals- in the next lesson. I remember reading an article suggesting that with physical skills more frequent practice, possibly several times within a few hours of introduction to the skill, was more effective. I wonder if 'a little & often' is the right approach in other areas of learning too. What is the ideal timing for rehearsal/practice of new concepts and skills when teaching children?

A16. Most of the literature on practice of skills favors fairly distributed practice, with sufficient time, so that reinstating the previous lesson involves some sustained effort. In this way one practises recalling the material.  Most of these data involve long term memorization.  Much of languge learning would fit this idea, but some practice in sustained effort may be needed for overcoming difficulties in mathematics learning.

Answer provided by OECD Secretariat.

Q16. I need some advice for stimulating the mind of a two-year old and also advice on natural foods.

A16. A balanced diet of foods is likely to be best for brain as well as body development.  Stimulating the mind can be accomplished by reading, listening to music, face to face conversation and social stimulation with adults and other children. See also the A Report of the Brain Research and Learning Sciences 'Emotions and Learning' Symposium, OECD, 2003 , pp.10-11.

Answer provided by OECD Secretariat.

Q15. 1. Is the heart of the mind something tangible or is it just a component of the thought process? 2. Where exactly in the brain/mind is the spirt of man found? 

A15. The mind is what the brain does.  Thus mental processes are tangible neural activity.
What we call spirit, has many components that involve our memories and emotions.  The brain areas or networks underlying some of these components have been studied, but we do not know of any brain area that corresponds fully with the general notion of spirit.

Answer provided by OECD Secretariat.

Q14. What are the 3 most effective pieces of research / writing that prove the importance of nurture on learning and brain development?

A14. For a good overview of brain plasticity see: Ramachandran & Blakeslee, "Phatoms in the Brain",  London: Fourth Estate. Of course it is arbitrary to choose what are the best examples of plasticity research.  However, three major contributors to brain plasticity relevant to humans are Pat Kuhl, Michael Merzenich and Helen Neville.  Below are three recent works, one from each of them:

Kuhl, Patricia K; Tsao, Feng-Ming; Liu, Huei-Mei; Zhang, Yang; Boer, Bart De. "Language/culture/mind/brain: Progress at the margins between disciplines." [Chapter] Damasio, Antonio R. (Ed); Harrington, Anne (Ed); et al. (2001). "Unity of knowledge: The convergence of natural and human science." Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, vol. 935. (pp. 136-174). xii, 289pp.

 Merzenich, Michael M; Wright, Beverly A; Jenkins, William; Xerri, Christian; Byl, Nancy; Miller, Steve; Tallal, Paula. "Cortical plasticity underlying perceptual, motor, and cognitive skill
development: Implications for neurorehabilitation. "[Chapter] Johnson, Mark H. (Ed); Munakata, Yuko (Ed); et al. (2002)." Brain development and cognition: A reader" (2nd ed.). (pp. 292-304). Malden, MA,US: Blackwell Publishers. xiv, 544pp.
Neville, Helen J; Bavelier, Daphne. "Specificity and plasticity in neurocognitive development in humans." [Chapter] Johnson, Mark H. (Ed); Munakata, Yuko (Ed); et al. (2002). "Brain development and cognition: A reader "(2nd ed.). (pp. 251-271). Malden, MA, US: Blackwell Publishers. xiv, 544pp.

Answer provided by  Michael Posner , University of Oregon, New York City.

Q13. My son has been diagnosed with dyspraxia and dysgraphia. He is intelligent but he has a problem at school with his handwriting. Which part of the brain controls eye-hand movement and processes the use of our hand in relation to handwriting. How can I help him? What kind of food should I give him?

A13.  The following references should answer your question:

DYSLEXIA, DYSPRAXIA and ADHD - CAN NUTRITION HELP? (pdf file) by Alexandra J. Richardson, Senior Research Fellow in Neuroscience, Imperial College School of Medicine, MRI Unit, Hammersmith Hospital, London; and University Lab. of Physiology, Oxford. A Report of the Brain Research and Learning Sciences 'Emotions and Learning' Symposium, OECD, 2003  (refer to section on P. 10: "Brain Development, Nutrition and Cognitive Performance"). See also the International Journal of Psychology, 2004, 39 for a special issue on the impact of literacy on the anatomic and functional organization of the adult brain, see especially pp. 27-35 "Can learning to read and write change the brain organization? An electrophysiological study."

Answer provided by OECD Secretariat.

Q12. Have you heard of the success of Neuro-Developmental Therapy in children with dyslexia and what is your opinion on this therapy?

A12. The evidence on the applicability of Neuro-developmental therapy to the treatment of developmental dyslexia is not convincing. It is difficult to find much scientific support from respected research literature. However, because dyslexia is not a unitary syndrome this does not necessary mean that such a method would not sometimes be helpful. A therapy called by this name is often used to treat Cerebral Palsy. See critical review.  Some therapists who market themselves by way of the web seem  mention dyslexia as one of the target conditions in which a therapy that goes by this name could be used. We, however, know that developmental dyslexia is a "neurodevelopmental" problem, i.e. a problem which has different expressions during development and has a neural - often genetic - basis. Slight language-related differences can be seen before reading age from which the main expressions appear during reading and spelling acquisition - and in the accuracy and/or speed reading during later ages.

Answer provided by  Heikki Lyytinnen , Professor of Developmental Neuropsychology , University of Jyväskylä, Finland. 

Q11. How does fMRI distinguish between poor readers who are not dyslexic and those who are truly dyslexic? In her book "Overcoming Dyslexia", Dr. Shaywitz mentioned that there were differences between these two groups based on the scanning done by fMRI, but she did not explain  how these difference were discovered or what they were.

A11. This question refers to a study "Neural Systems for Compensation and Persistence: Young Adult Outcome of Childhood Reading Disability" by Sally E. Shaywitz, Bennet A. Shaywitz, Robert K. Fulbright, Pawel Skudlarski, Karen E. Marchione, Jack M. Fletcher, G. Reid Lyon, and John C. Gore, that was published in  Biol. Psychiatry in July, 2003 . In brief, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine the neurobiological outcome(s) of childhood reading disability in two groups of young adults who were poor readers as children, a relatively compensated group and a group with persistent reading difficulties, and a third group who were always good readers. We found that brain activation patterns during reading real words differed significantly between compensated and persistently poor readers, but surprisingly, not between persistently poor readers and good readers. Examination of early cognitive and school factors suggest the compensated group may represent a predominantly inherent type of reading disability and the persistently poor group, one more environmentally influenced.

The study took advantage of the availability of a cohort who are participants in the Connecticut Longitudinal Study, children who have been prospectively followed since 1983 when they were age 5 years and who have had their reading performance assessed yearly throughout their primary and secondary schooling. Poor readers were identified by word reading tests in second grade; by ninth grade some children had improved in reading accuracy (compensated poor readers) while others continued to be poor readers in ninth grade (persistently poor readers).  Nonimpaired readers who had never been identified as poor readers in any grade served as controls.

FMRI was carried out when the subjects were young adults (ages 18.5 -22.5 years); subjects were imaged as they performed two different tasks: 1) sounding out pseudowords and 2) getting to the meaning of real words.  While sounding out pseudowords, both compensated and persistently poor readers demonstrated a relative underactivation in posterior neural systems for reading located in left parieto-temporal and occipito-temporal regions. In contrast, while getting to the meaning of real words, fMRI findings between compensated and persistently poor readers diverged, with persistently poor readers as well as nonimpaired readers activating posterior reading systems.  Further analysis, using connectivity techniques, indicated that while the posterior reading systems in nonimpaired readers were connected to components in the reading pathway related to analyzing the words sound by sound, the same systems in the persistently poor readers were connected to areas in the right frontal region related to memory.  Thus, the posterior reading systems in the persistently poor readers were functioning but connected very differently from the same systems in nonimpaired readers.  These fMRI findings suggest that non-impaired readers develop this system through phonologically-based word analysis; in contrast,  persistently poor readers rely more on rote memory for recognizing real words. As early as first grade, compensated readers demonstrated higher verbal ability and attended less disadvantaged schools than persistently poor readers.

These findings of divergent neural outcomes for compensated and persistently poor readers as young adults are both new and unexpected.  Furthermore, these findings have important educational implications and are of special relevance for teaching children to read.  Consistent with our knowledge of the components of reading, children need to be able to sound out words in order to decode them accurately and then, they need to know the meaning of the word -- to help decode and comprehend the printed message. Both the sounds and the meanings of words must be taught. These findings suggest that it may be beneficial to provide early interventions aimed at stimulating both phonologic and verbal abilities in children at-risk for reading difficulties associated with disadvantage.  Finally, for the first time, results from functional brain imaging studies distinguish two potential types of reading disability. These are consistent with the suggestion of two possible etiologies for childhood reading disability: a primarily genetic type with higher verbal ability (compensated poor readers) and a more environmentally influenced type who attend more disadvantaged schools and who are less skilled verbally (persistently poor readers).

Answer provided by Sally E. Shawitz , Professor of Pediatrics, Co-Director, Yale Center for the Study of Learning and Attention, USA.

Q10. I am currently studying for a degree in Professional Language Studies. I am undertaking some research for my dissertation. I would like to ask if anyone has any opinions on what is the Best age to learn a language? Obviously this can be based on language learning and the brain, or any other opinions?

A10. There is a lot of evidence, both behavioural and brain based, that clearly indicates earlier is better for language learning, people who learn later (after 5-7 for second language learning) have significant and enduring deficits in the grammar and phonology of the late learned language.  The brain systems associated with grammar and phonology for the second language do not look normal.  This is quite parallel with the development of the visual system where early visual input is also necessary for normal behavioural and neural development.   Now it is also interesting that other aspects of language, e.g. vocabulary learning, can go on quite normally throughout life!  These are different brain systems that appear to retain plasticity (modifiability) forever.  But without the grammar one is functionally illiterate for example.  This also applies to first language learning and is very relevant to issues of education of the deaf.  Many deaf people are not allowed to learn a signed language. In America many educators tell parents they should not allow the child to sign “because it will serve as a crutch and impede their acquisition of spoken language”.  This has been shown to be false.  Deaf kids who learn ASL early actually do better on learning English because they have a language (ASL) which they can then use to learn written English. So, many deaf people in fact do not learn any language at all until they meet other deaf people who will teach them sign.  When this occurs later than 10 years those individuals never acquire good proficiency.

Answer provided by Helen Neville, Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, Robert and Beverly Lewis Endowed Chair, University of Oregon, USA.

Q9. What can be done about severe problems with reading fluency?

A9. Please refer to the article by McCandliss, B.D., Beck, I., Sandak, R., & Perfetti, C. (2003). Focusing attention on decoding for children with poor reading skills: A study of the Word Building intervention. Scientific Studies of Reading.7(1),75-105. This article is published on the Sackler Institute website  [download pdf]

Answer provided by OECD Secretariat.

Q8. I'm working with brain biologist James Zull on an interactive web module on brain science and learning, as described in his book and my book chapter co-authored by TRW's retired top scientist, Pete Staudhammer in my book Unique Value (forthcoming 2004) for students and teachers.

1-is any of your reading and phonemes work available on the web, ideally for teachers, and for students, also ideally available 24/7?
2-Prof. Zull's application of brain science to learning in his book in my view has profound and extensive implications for education, eg, the ineffectiveness of subject driven education and rote learning.  What other aspects of education and learning beyond reading has your group addressed and published?

A8. For N° 1 you may refer to the article by McCandliss, B.D., Beck, I., Sandak, R., & Perfetti, C. (2003). Focusing attention on decoding for children with poor reading skills: A study of the Word Building intervention. Scientific Studies of Reading.7(1),75-105. This article is published on the Sackler Institute website  [download pdf]

For N° 2 you may refer to the OECD Report on the Literacy and Numeracy Network Deliberations, Brocton, 2003. [download pdf] , and the OECD Publication, Understanding the Brain 2002.

Answer provided by OECD Secretariat.

Q7. I am teacher of the visually impaired working in southern NH and I have had a lot of referrals regarding students, ages 7-12, who have problems with sustained reading, keeping their place while reading, and written expression among many issues. I have attempted to help the various schools who are making these referrals, however I feel I am seeing students who have dyslexia or a form of dyslexia. Unfortunately some of the families of these students have latched on to an optometrist who runs a "behavioral optometry" practice in our area. This doctor evaluates these young students, then concludes that they have ocular motor dysfunctions, convergence insufficiencies, accomodative errors (these are the typical diagnoses), then he further recommends vision therapy or vision training treatments at his office or to be developed at home through a computer based vision training program. I do not agree with this type of approach to treatment for these students, mostly boys, and I feel that vision exercises are ludicrous and have nothing to do with what these individuals are dealing with. In some cases I have had the chance to observe the boys in class doing a variety of educational activities. These boys have 20/20 vision at near and far points and I have yet to see any problems with eye misalignment as I observe them doing visually directed tasks all around the room and in front of the computer. I am curious to know what your opinion is of "behavioral optometry" and if there are any significant studies that attest to its claims.

A7. We have heard of the use of eye exercises as a treatment for dyslexia.  However,we are not aware of any studies validating this treatment.  Moreover, the nature of the language deficit found for most dyslexics suggests that they do not have a visual deficit that might benefit from this kind of exercise, and we are not aware of any studies validating this treatment. 

Answer provided by OECD Secretariat.

Q6: My father is 100 years old, he is very forgetful and the doctors say he has dementia...My question is when does dementia become  Alzheimers?

A6: The term dementia refers to a mental disorder characterized by problems with memory and at least one other cognitive domain (for instance calculations, drawing....) that represents a change compared to usual self (to differentiate it from mental retardation) and that is severe enough to interfere with activities of daily living (to differentiate it from normal everyday forgetfulness).  Dementia can be caused by many medical conditions including stroke, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, alcoholism, nutritional deficiency, environmental toxins such as lead,or Alzheimer disease.  Alzheimer disease is a brain disease that occur mostly in older people. It is the most common cause of dementia in older person in whom it is estimated to account for about 70% of cases of dementia.  Thus, to answer the question directly, dementia does not "become" Alzheimer disease, but Alzheimer disease is one cause/type of dementia, the same way the flu is one type of infection or a hip frature is one type of traumatic injury.

Answer provided by  Benoit H. Mulsant, MD, MS, Professor of Psychiatry
University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, USA

Q5: What are the implications of brain research for lifelong learning, in particular what learning infrastructure should the state provide? What is the role of the state and the individual?

A5: The whole project, and particularly the Lifelong Learning Network, seeks to if not answer this question, at least to shed new light on it (and on other policy issues). This is not something we can answer in briefly but step by step, as part of the goals of our project, we aim at delivering elements of response. We cannot hope to definitely and above all completely solve all educational issues thanks to brain research, but that we know for sure brain research is and will further be in a position to shed new light on old issues. Please just follow the delevopments on this website and you will learn about it, as we do, in real time or almost.
Answer provided by OECD Secretariat.

Q4: For more then 5 years I have been working on the subject of "translating" the 5 steps which H.A.Simon 1960 defined in his book the "New Science of Management Decision" as the process of management decision and execution,namely: 1.Intelligence; 2.Design ;3.Choice; 4.Action; 5.Review, into area-specific faculties of the brain. My question: is it correct to regard the prefrontal/anterior prefrontal cortex as the area where the 1st step - Intelligence - takes place ?

A4:It is probably an overstatement to associate intelligence as a whole with any brain area, even a large one.  Intelligence covers many domains as Howard Gardner has pointed out in his book Frames of Mind.  However, there does tend to be correlations among intelligence tests involving different domains, leading many theorists to consider a common "g" factor as a core of measured intelligence.  John Duncan has related a particular anatomy to "g" by use of neuroimaging.  His paper <Duncan, J., Seitz, R.J., Kolodny, J., Bor, D., Herzog, H. Ahmed, A., Newell, F.N., Emslie, H.  (2000).  A neural basis for general intelligence.  Science, 289:457-460> identifies an area of the prefrontal cortex and of the anterior cingulate with "g".  In this more restricted sense your  identification may be correct, although certainly not all researchers would agree.  If there is a common brain network that subserves "g",  as Duncan argues, one may ask why this might be so.  One possibility is that common to all problem solving tasks, of the sort that load on the "g" factor is the need to hold information in a temporary store while other parts of the brain retrieve related information.  Many researchers would argue that working memory is a close correlate of measured IQ and the areas Duncan finds active are frequently found in working memory studies.

Answer provided by  Michael Posner , University of Oregon, New York City.

Q3: What is the difference between brain and mind?

A3: In the words of Stephen Kosslyn and Olivier Koenig, "the mind is
what the brain does." Wet Mind: The New Cognitive Neuroscience by Stephen Michael Kosslyn, Olivier Koenig, Free Press, August 1995.

Q2: What is the most recent and relevant research development that is likely to impact upon primary school education?

A2: OECD has chosen three areas of research especially relevant to early childhood education. All of them have substantial developments which are likely to impact primary education. One is the early acqusition of literacy. Brain research has supported cognitive studies in showing the importance of a brain area devoted to phonological analysis of words.  In brief, phonology  is the ability to sound out letters into whole words.  Intervention programs with children having reading difficulty have shown that, at least in some cases, training can improve the ability to decode words and allow children previously unable to activate this area while reading to do so.  There is much to learn about how to turn this decoding capability into fluent reading and how best to remediate difficulties in phonology, but a substantial start has been made.

A second area of importance is in processing numbers.  Research has shown that even at birth there is a crude representation of quantity.  It is the problem of education to make this innate representation effective in appreciating  the meaning of a number.  Research suggests that there are many children who cannot effectively understand the meaning of quantity when they enter school and thus fail in early numerical education.  Some remedial methods are available to remedy this deficit and they have proven effective.  Active research is ongoing to see how remediation improves the brain's access to quantity.

A third area of importance is attention.  Research has clearly shown that the ability to attend develops over the years prior to school entry and during the early school years.  Attentional networks important for literacy and numeracy develop strongly in the preschool and early school years. Efforts are being made to develop methods to improve this development through training and thus ready the person for success in a variety of school subjects.   We have much to learn about how to administer attention training,  when  it is most effective and what influence attention  training has on the success of school learning.

Answer provided by Michael Posner , University of Oregon, New York City, USA

Q1: What theories of education are based on knowlege gained in neurosciences research? What practices of education use results of neuroscience research?

A1: The state of the art is such that there is little validated work available (either theoretical or practical) that is based in any direct way using the results of neuroscience research.  It should be recognized that neuroscience is in its infancy, though the three OECD networks are beginning to point to research that may, in time, impact educational theories and practice.  The most compelling examples involve models of dyslexia and dyscalculia. The tenuous link between neuroscience and educational applications has not hampered enthusiastic claims for"brain-based" interventions (many such programs are available commercially).  Most of these should be greeted with skepticism and often are built upon superficial understandings of the brain or erroneous or outdated models (i.e., neuromyths).

The interested reader is referred to the OECD publication, "Understanding the Brain ". Of particular interest are the articles and the book in the citations from John Bruer, who argues, convincingly, that the near-term gains will be found by linking educational theories and practices to cognitive science not (yet) cognitive neuroscience.  Another fruitful path is to look at the work of John Anderson at Carnegie Mellon University (USA), who has National Science Foundation funding to begin to bridge the brain-education "bridge too far" discussed by Bruer.

Finally, it should be noted that emotions and the affective sides of learning have been ignored in the cognitive revolution.  The products of the OECD interest group on brain research and emotion (including the importance of physiology and diet) should be considered by anyone wishing to have a comprehensive view of the relationship between neuroscience and learning.  This area of research is, itself, in its infancy.  Like all infants, of course, it holds great promise.

Answer provided by Anthony E. Kelly, George Mason University, USA.


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