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

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Not ALL Screen Time IS Equal: Reflections and Perspectives on the Use of Electronics

 

In an article in the January 22, 2018, issue of The Wall Street Journal by technology columnist Christopher Mims entitled “Not All Screen Time Is Equal”, Mr. Mims suggests that it is time to stop worrying about limiting screen time and time to switch our focus to what children are doing on their screens. 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

The River of Consciousness

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Oliver Sacks

For those of you have been intrigued by Oliver Sacks and his writing, The River of Consciousness has just been released. The essays reveal the depth and breadth of his scientific curiosity and explorations and was put together two years ago, just before he died. You can sense the enthusiasm he had as you read, and it is contagious. I have chosen paragraphs which I found to be particularly interesting. Your favorite paragraphs may differ. Continue reading

Opinion Piece in the November 26, 2017, NY Times by Daniel T. Willingham

willinghamdThe following link is to an opinion piece in the November 26, 2017, NY Times by Daniel T. Willingham. The piece is an excellent illustration of the fact that reading comprehension is dependent on more than reading skills. It is also dependent on the information and experience that the reader brings to what they are reading. Comprehension is not an isolated skill independent of the reader’s familiarity with a subject. The factual gap that some readers will have in reading his opinion-piece is that, due to trying to teach all children to read at an earlier age, more classroom time is now devoted to drilling the basics of reading. The opportunity cost of this change is that students receive less experience with information in the sciences, social studies, decision-making, and character development in the classroom than in the past. Paradoxically, this, in turn, becomes an interference with comprehension as subject matter in reading becomes more complex. Students from less-advantaged backgrounds who tend to have less exposure to this information at home, are particularly at risk. Some of this information was presented in his previous book:

Why Students Don’t Like School  

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The Hidden Link Between Vision and Learning

The Effects of the Fear of Failure in Education

The Parents We Mean to Be How Well-Intentioned Adults Undermine Children’s Moral and Emotional Development

Reading in the Elementary School

A Mandate for Playful Learning in Preschool

The Heroism of Incremental Care

Atul Gwande is an unusually talented observer, thinker, and writer who is a surgeon. I have blogged about his books in the past. If you are interested in health and healthcare, I think that you will find his article on incremental healthcare to be intriguing. Although it is long, I think that it will hold your interest. It can be accessed through Google.

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The Heroism of Incremental Care/ The New Yorker

 

 

 

 

 

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