Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Brain Metaphors

New technologies, like functional MRIs, have made brain research more accessible to neuroscientists and cognitive psychologists, and they've made it more accessible and interesting to curious novices like I've become. I'm now an avid reader of neuroscience books and articles. I've got a lot to learn, but I'm really into it. I've even got multiple neuroscience news feeds on my iGoogle home page.

This reading has prompted me to reflect back on the assumptions I had as a beginning social studies teacher in the late 1970s about how my high school students' brains incorporated what I was teaching them. As I recall, I pictured the brain as something of a filing cabinet with a complicated cross-referencing system. That metaphor had a substantial impact on how I structured my instruction. I figured that each new bit of information I taught my students got filed somewhere in their brains. It was easier, I thought, if they already had a file under which to add something new. That led me to emphasize themes and narrative that might become headers for file folders. It also led to me imagine each bit of information residing in a solitary place in the brain.

My image of the brain and how it works is very different today. Now I picture an incredibly complex network of distributed information and skills. I have much greater respect for the role of emotion and affect. And I acknowledge that as much as we've learned about cognitive neuroscience in the last two decades, we still have a long way to go to fully understand how the brain works as we learn.

In any case, I'm curious how other teachers past and present imagine the brain at work and how those models may influence their teaching. I've started searching for research in this area, but so far I'm not finding anything. I think there's a good thesis topic in here. I don't think I'll have the time to pursue it, but I'd be happy to advise.

1 comment:

Anthony said...

I highly recommend you check out Brain-Based Learning by Eric Jensen. He will have some thoughts and ideas that I believe you would really appreciate.