Position Paper--Spring 1999greenspun.com : LUSENET : M.Ed./International Falls : One Thread
POSITION PAPER Spring 1999
Sousa, Dr. David A. (December 16, 1998). Is the Fuss About Brain
Research Justified? Available: http. //www.edweek.org/htbin/fastweb?search
A great deal of media attention has recently been centered on the effects of early learning experiences in the area of brain development. Recent advancements in neuroscience have provided more detailed information about the brain. Various scans that were in the past routinely used for medical reasons now show "maps" of the human brain at work in different areas, including second language acquisition. According to Dr. David Sousa's article "Is the Fuss About Brain Research Justified?" one of the scientific discoveries revealed that a newborn's brain makes connections at an incredible pace as the child absorbs its environment. The richer the environment, the greater the number of interconnections that are made. As a result learning takes place faster and with greater meaning. (Sousa, 1998, par. 8) This fast paced neuron growth occurs between 0 and 11 years of age. These "windows of opportunity" are periods when the brain requires certain kinds of information to create neurological pathways for certain skills, such as language acquisition, learning to play music, and emotional control. Despite all of the new research and discovery of how the brain learns, Sousa claims that many educators question its significance.
Many second language programs begin in high school and college when students are between the ages of 15 and 20. If research claims that the window of opportunity for learning a second language begins at birth and ends at age 10, this would be optimal time for children to learn a second language. Numerous studies have shown that children who learn a language before the onset of adolescence are much more likely to have native -like pronunciation.
One concern that some educators express is that a young child who is learning a second language may have difficulty learning native English skills. According to author and researcher F. Genesee, learning another language enhances a child's English ability. Common vocabulary also helps children learn the meaning of new words in English. Experimental studies have shown that no long-term delay in native English language development occurs in children participating in second language programs. (Genesee, 1987).
Sousa makes an implied assumption that more neurological pathways and lit-up areas in the brain are a good thing. He interprets it to mean that learning is taking place and the pathways are creating the means for more learning to occur in the future. Unfortunately, technology is limited in its ability to prove beyond a doubt what exactly is going on in these areas of the brain. I believe that this scientific information on the brain should be combined with statistics on student achievement to present a stronger case. Perhaps a long-term study on the academic achievement of students who have had a second language at an elementary level would solidify the case for implementing early language programs.
I believe Sousa would like to see school systems use the information from brain-research as a basis for subject matter and teaching methodology. However, behavioral psychology has been a strong basis for educational practices up until now, and there is argument that many of these practices are still effective. To provide the best possible education for students, teachers should continue to use practical teaching methods while investigating what brain research has to offer, and how to utilize it for the benefit of students.
Sousa, Dr. David A. (1998, December 16). Is the Fuss About Brain Research Justified? Available: http. www.edweek.org/htbin/fastweb?search
Genesee, F. (1987). Learning Through Two Languages. Cambridge, MA: Newbury House.
-- Anonymous, May 14, 1999