Vision and Learning: A Guide for Parents and Professionals

 

Heike Schuhmacher, MD

Vision and Learning does an excellent job of explaining the complexities of vision. Dr. Heike Schuhmacher manages to do this with a light touch aided by wonderful illustrations. Continue reading

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How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens

Benedict Carey

We are particularly interested in learning due to the children we see who have learning problems and due to the vision therapy which we provide, but learning (consolidating, retrieving, applying, and forgetting) is important to all of us. We have evolved to learn. Continue reading

Age of Opportunity:Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence

 

Laurence Steinberg

My notes from reading this book are long due to the importance of the topic and the quality of the book.

It was once said that the study of genetics taught us just how important the environment is.

In this book, I use the term “adolescence” to refer to the period of from ten until twenty-five.IMG_2303

The United States lags far behind the rest of the developed world on most indices of adolescent achievement and health.

New research shows that the brain continues to mature well into one’s twenties.

In general, the earlier age at which children now mature physically is much more worrisome than most people recognize, because it doesn’t bode well for physical or mental health – earlier puberty places people at significantly greater risk for a host of physical, mental, and behavioral problems, including depression, delinquency, and even cancer.

The fact that the adolescent brain is malleable is both good and bad news, though. As neuroscientists are fond of saying, plasticity cuts both ways. By this they mean that the brain’s malleability makes adolescence a period of tremendous opportunity – and great risk.

The United States spends more per student on secondary and postsecondary education than almost any other country in the world, so it’s unlikely that our mediocre school achievement or worrisome college attrition is due to a lack of financial resources.

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And as the world’s leader in prison population, we spend nearly $6 billion each year incarcerating adolescents, many of whom have committed nonviolent crimes and who could be managed in the community at a fraction of the cost.

One-third of students who enroll in college never graduate; the United States has one of the lowest college-graduation rates in the industrialized world, despite the fact that the economic returns on college completion in America are among the world’s highest.

The birth rate among unmarried women increased by 80 percent between 1980 and 2007. In 2011, nearly one-third of the women who gave birth had never been married. Having a child outside of marriage increases the risk of young women and men curtailing their education, depresses parents’ lifetime earnings, and increases the odds of living in poverty.20010606-padilla-mw05-007-910

The United States has one of the highest rates of youth violence in the developed world, as well as the highest rates of violent deaths among adolescents.

Nearly two-thirds of our high schools have security guards who carry firearms.

The United States leads the world in adolescent obesity and diabetes.thX4BQH8CI

The rate of adolescent suicide in the United States is consistently higher than the international average, and suicide attempts and suicide ideation among American high-school students are both on the rise.

The capacity for self-regulation is probably the single most important contributor to achievement, mental health, and social success. The ability to exercise control over what we think, what we feel, and what we do protects against a wide range of psychological disorder, contributes to more satisfying and fulfilling relationships, and facilitates accomplishments in the worlds of school and work.Impulse-Control

In today’s world, though, where formal education is increasingly important for success, people who are bad at reasoning, planning, and self-regulation are at a serious disadvantage, and the fact that the development of these abilities is highly sensitive to environmental influence is a mixed blessing.

The adolescent brain is extraordinarily sensitive to stress. The average age of onset for serious mental health problems is fourteen.

In all cultures and times, the mortality rate among boys spikes a few years after they become adolescents. It’s called the “accident hump”, and it occurs because the rise in testosterone that takes place at puberty makes males more aggressive and reckless.

A large survey of American children born in the early 1960s found that the average age of breast budding was close to thirteen years. By the mid-1990s, it had fallen to a little under ten.

Melatonin levels are sensitive to artificial as well as natural light. That’s why people are discouraged from staring at illuminated screens (like computer monitors, smartphones, or tablets) before they go to bed – the light they give off suppressed melatonin production, which makes it harder to feel sleepy. It’s little surprise that today’s teenagers, nearly all of whom have 24-7 access to television, computers, and other devices with glowing screens, are having more sleep problems than past generations. Your genes predispose you to go through puberty around a particular age, but the more fat cells you have, and the more light to which you have been exposed, the more likely it is that you will go through puberty on the early side of your inherited propensity.

The presence of chemicals in the environment that can accelerate puberty is so ubiquitous that children are exposed to them even when their parents are very careful about what they eat.

Menarche at twelve or earlier elevates a woman’s risk of breast cancer by 50 percent compared to menarche at sixteen.

Things that feel good, feel better during adolescence. A small structure inside the limbic system is the most active part of the brain for the experience of pleasure – it’s the center of the reward center – and it actually gets bigger as we grow from childhood into adolescence, but, alas, smaller as we age from adolescence to adulthood.

Although adolescents are relatively more attentive and responsive to rewards than adults, they’re actually less sensitive to losses. This bias is something that parents and teachers should keep in mind: it’s easier to change an adolescent’s behavior by motivating him with the prospect of a reward than by threatening him with a potential punishment.

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Being upset, excited, or tired interferes more with prefrontal functioning during adolescence than during adulthood because the relevant brain circuits are not fully mature.

According to statistics from the FBI, most crimes are committed by adolescents.

In other words, it’s not necessarily overt peer pressure that leads adolescents to do more reckless things with their friends. It’s that being around friends when you are a teenager makes everything feel so good that you become even more sensitive to rewards than you ordinarily are, which leads you to take chances you wouldn’t otherwise take.

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Risk taking is a natural, hardwired, and evolutionarily understandable feature of adolescence. It may no longer be especially adaptive in the world in which we live, but it is in our genes, and there isn’t much we can do to change that. We should devote fewer resources to trying to change how adolescents think, and focus on limiting opportunities for their inherently immature judgments to hurt themselves or others.

The marshmallow test seems to gauge something about people that stays with them as they grow up. More remarkably, the people who were delayers when they were four years old turned out to be more successful in life as well as in the lab. Life is constantly presenting us with choices between smaller immediate rewards and larger delayed ones.

From an earnings standpoint, going to college without getting a bachelor’s degree is now pretty much a complete waste of time.

Expanding opportunities to go to school without ensuring that people have the determination to take advantage of them is unlikely to succeed. IMG_2185

The United States spends more money, in absolute and relative dollars, on postsecondary education than nearly any other country. It has one of the highest rates of college entry in the industrialized world. Yet it is tied for last in the rate of college completion.

Matching former students and their careers with my recollection of their credentials at the time they applied, it struck me that the things we asked about on our admissions application were more or less useless in predicting future success in the field.

LittleEngineOnly about 25 percent of school performance is accounted for by intelligence.

The abilities needed in most jobs can often be acquired after one is hired, but capacities like perseverance and conscientiousness must be nurtured before adulthood.

At its core, more than any other capacity, determination requires self-regulation.

In order to develop competence, children must learn from their mistakes.

You might be surprised to learn that, despite the stereotype of the pressure-cooked Asian student, the teen-suicide rate is higher in the United States than in China, Korea, Japan – or, for that matter, Germany.

Without changing the culture of student achievement, changes in instructors or instruction won’t, and can’t, make a difference.

The fact that Asian American children in particular do so well in our putatively terrible schools and with our ostensibly terrible teachers has nothing to do with what goes on in the classroom. It has everything to do with how they are raised and what their parents expect of them.

Most teenage delinquents don’t become persistent adult criminals. People tend to grow out of crime, just as with other sorts of risky and dangerous behavior, which decline as people mature through their twenties.

We spend our time telling adolescents what they shouldn’t do, rather than guiding them toward what they should – and can – do.

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Book Review: Nuture Shock: New Thinking about Children

The Talent Code: Book review

Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? by Jean M. Twenge

The Power of Play

Boys Adrift Leonard Sax, M.D., Ph.D.

The End of Average

A More Beautiful Question:The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas

Will it break to the right?

Warren Berger

I read this book a few years ago and put the summary aside. I went back to look at my review to see how it held up to the test of time; a test that we don’t have as much time for today. Reading – or just scanning – the excerpts is what we will tend to do. But they would be better on a page-a-day calendar. Turn the page and think for a moment. As we all feel the urge to move on, I hope that these questions about questioning cause you to pause. Continue reading

The Power of Habit:Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business

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Charles Duhigg

We cannot change behaviors – including visual behaviors – without changing habits. Habits are behaviors which have become so automatic that they require little or no conscious thought. We can override a habit through conscious attention but this exhausts our available working memory. We have all experienced the errors that we tend to make when our working memory is taxed, such as not being able to remember why we opened the refrigerator. Continue reading

Grit

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We can hypothesize that John Irving may have undiagnosed and untreated visual problems which contribute to his dyslexia but that is not the most important message in the following excerpt from Grit by Angela Duckworth. Our patients who have worked successfully to remediate their visual problems have some advantages over those who have found everything to be effortless to this stage in their lives. If you wonder about grit, I suggest that you read this well-written story.

“Garp was a natural storyteller.”

This is a line from John Irving’s fourth novel, The World According to Garp. Like that novel’s fictional protagonist, Irving tells a great story. He has been lauded as “the great storyteller of American literature today.” To date, he’s written more than a dozen novels, most of which have been best sellers and half of which have been made into movies. The World According to Garp won the National Book Award, and Irving’s screenplay for The Cider House Rules won an Academy Award.

But unlike Garp, Irving was not a natural. While Garp “could make things up, one right after the other, and they seemed to fit,” Irving rewrites draft after draft of his novels. Of his early attempts at writing, Irving has said, “Most of all, I rewrote everything…. I began to take my lack of talent seriously.”

Irving recalls earning a C- in high school English. His SAT verbal score was 475 out of 800, which means almost two-thirds of the students who took the SAT did better than him. He needed to stay in high school an extra year to have enough credits to graduate. Irving recalls that his teachers thought he was both “lazy” and “stupid”.

Irving was neither lazy nor stupid. But he was severely dyslexic: “I was an underdog…. If my classmates could read our history assignment in an hour, I allowed myself two or three. If I couldn’t learn to spell, I would keep a list of my most frequently misspelled words.” When his own son was diagnosed with dyslexia, Irving finally understood why he, himself, had been such a poor student. Irving’s son read noticeably slower than his classmates, “with his finger following the sentence – as I read, and I still read. Unless I’ve written it, I read whatever ‘it’ is very slowly – and with my finger.”

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Since reading and writing didn’t come easily, Irving learned that “to do anything really well, you have to overextend yourself…. In my case, I learned that I just had to pay twice as much attention. I came to appreciate that in doing something over and over again, something that was never natural becomes more second nature. You learn that you have the capacity for that, and that it doesn’t come overnight.”

Do the precociously talented learn that lesson? Do they discover that the capacity to do something over and over again, to struggle, to have patience, can be mastered – but not overnight?

Some might. But those who struggle early may learn it better.

Dr. Gary J. Williams

DrWilliams@GWilliamsFamilyEye.com

 

 

Smart Moves:Why Learning is Not All in Your Head

    Carla Hannaford

After hearing Carla Hannaford quoted many times, I decided that it was time to read this book and I was not disappointed. I started summarizing and excerpting books years ago to share with staff, but one of the primary benefits was to slow down my reading and to allow me the time to think more deeply about the implications of the author’s words. If you follow our blog, you have come across the understanding that thinking is not all in your head. We would have little difficulty with that if we didn’t already “know” that that all learning takes place in our brains. Changing our thinking, our beliefs, and our actions is much more difficult than learning when it does not require unlearning. I hope that the following excerpts cause you to pause as they have me.

Dr Williams for COVD

We have missed a most fundamental and mysterious aspect of the mind: learning, thought, creativity and intelligence are not processes of the brain alone, but of the whole body. Thinking and learning are not all in our head. On the contrary, the body plays an integral part in all our intellectual processes from our earliest movements in utero right through old age. It is our body’s senses that feed the brain environmental information with which to form an understanding of the world and from which to draw when creating new possibilities.

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Neural connections can be altered and grown only if there is full attention, focused interest in what we do. In three weeks we can get ten times more proficient at anything if we are emotionally engaged with focused interest. Self-initiated movement, exploration, interaction and physical experience for the joy and challenge of it, facilitates neurogenesis (nerve growth) for a lifetime. (This has been proven over the last decade when it comes to treating amblyopia. Intensive visual tasks for 20 minutes are more effective than hours of patching without a challenging, engaging activity.)

What we know, feel, learn, and think is shaped by how we know, feel, learn, and think. How we do these things is in turn dependent on the sensory-motor systems though which all our experience of the world and of ourselves is mediated. These sensory-motor systems shape our experience, and are shaped by it. So the story of how these systems unfold is a vital key to understanding learning.

Our proprioceptive sense constantly sends feedback to the brain that readjusts the balance of our shoulder and neck muscles in order for the eyes to remain level while reading.

Touch, hearing and proprioception are important organizers of the visual aspects of learning. Vision is a very complex phenomenon, with only a small percentage (less than five percent) of the process occurring in the eyes. The other over ninety-five percent of vision takes place in the brain from the association with touch, hearing, and proprioception.

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It’s easy to forget, or ignore, how much of vision is learned. We have to train ourselves, through books, movies, and art to see three dimensions in a two-dimensional space. We could call this visual literacy.

The eyes must be actively moving for learning to occur.

Words can only be understood when they provoke some kind of image in the mind of the learner. If students cannot access the underlying images, the words are not comprehensible; there is no context or visual understanding.

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Computer scientist David Gelernter makes this point emphatically: “Emotions are not a form of thought, not an additional way to think, not a special cognitive bonus, but are fundamental to thought.” Gelernter goes on to assert that emotions are also “inextricably tied up with bodily states. The bodily state is part of the emotion, feeds it and helps define it. This means that ultimately you don’t think just with your brain; you think with your brain and body both.”

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One of the most important things a teacher can do, especially with students with disabilities, is to bond with them. CAT scans show that children process information through their emotions first, and information that is the most emotional and emotionally relevant to them, is what students will learn. On the other hand, insecurity and fear can bring learning to a screeching halt by shutting down higher brain connections.

Another unnatural challenge has to do with learning to print block letters as the first step in writing. Printing is a highly linear process that takes us away from the more continuous rhythmic flow of language, both as it is experienced in the mind and as it is expressed through the hand – as in cursive…. Part of the problem is hand development, and asking children to perform the complex process of printing, way too early. In order to print the child must first crawl for a good long time with hands forward, to develop the bones in both the hand and to gain upper arm strength…. If you look at an X-ray of hand development, you will notice that the very intricate bones of the area near the wrist – the carpals, are not fully developed until about age twenty. The more developed these bones, the easier to hold a pen or pencil to print. If the child has had a lot of sensory-motor activation of the hand, printing can be more easily taught at about ages eight to ten.

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Children who have looked at books in the home may have already acquired some foveal focus if the process was their choice and free of stress and pressure to perform, however, most children are not physically ready to read at age five as is now mandated in our schools.

Having been flooded a number of times, flood analogies come to mind. Trying to rush development is like trying to pump the water out of your basement before the level of the ground water goes down. You waste a lot of time and effort if you start too soon because the water keeps coming back in. You are eventually successful when the water (or the child) is ready. It is easy to fool yourself about the influence that you had be starting early. If we try to push children too early, we can also create failures as some children become confused and frustrated who would have done fine when they were ready and interested. Combined with this is the opportunity cost of what these children could have been doing and learning to enrich their experiential background prior to the vicarious experience that we get through reading. There is so much that can be experienced and learned in an interesting, interactive classroom. They can even go outside the classroom where most real learning takes place.

You may think that it is a contradiction for me to disparage in any way the potential to learn through reading but we learn very little when we read about things we don’t already know quite a bit about. This book is a good example. It would have glossed off me forty years ago when I knew that all learning took place in the brain. Decades of experience has enabled me to take information from this book that I could not have understood earlier in my career.

Welcome to Your Child’s Brain

Thinking Goes to School:Piaget’s Theory in Practice

Tummy Time

Visual Factors in Reading

When will identifying vision problems that affect learning become a new standard of care?