On July 29th, on Twitter, our colleague, @DrTeresaSanders[i], shared information about neuroplacticity, a concept of which every education policy-maker, administrator, teacher, and professor of colleges of education should be aware. The dictionary defines neuroplacticity as:
“The capacity for continuous alteration of the neural pathways and synapses of the living brain and nervous system in response to experience or injury.”[ii]
What neuro-scientists are learning about neuroplasticity is confirmation of our belief that a child’s brain is programmed to learn, even after deprivation or injury. Just because a child grows up in a family-environment with fewer experiential enrichment opportunities than other students does not mean the child will be unable to learn as well as their classmates. That child’s brain learned everything there was to learn in the environment in which its owner resided. With the proper time and support, each child’s brain will allow its owner to learn whatever we are able help it learn and more.
The brain learns by processing sensory information from the world via an incessant process of creating new connections along the neural networks and synapses of the brain. An article in Psychology Today writes:
“Research has firmly established that the brain is a dynamic organ and can change its design throughout life, responding to experience by reorganizing connections—via so-called ‘wiring’ and ‘rewiring.”[iii]
This is especially exciting for children with dyslexia and other learning disabilities, and for their parents and teachers. Dyslexia, for example, does not diminish a child’s intelligence or creativity rather, learning difficulties have to do with the way their brain perceives and processes stimuli from their environment. Research has found the brain can reorganize itself, with a little help from its friends, allowing the child to overcome the obstacles their disability presents. Many accomplished adults, probably people we know, are dyslexic and have had to learn how to process sensory data they perceive differently than others do.
Our granddaughter was nine years of age when her parents learned she was dyslexic. We had believed her to be a good reader not realizing she was not reading at all. Instead, she had been reciting from memory stories we had been reading to her, which demonstrates both intelligence and a remarkable memory. Since the recognition of her dyslexia and the special help she has received, she has made wonderful progress. We can only lament the time and opportunities lost before she received the help she required. The importance of diagnosing and treating such disabilities as early as possible cannot be overstated.
Not beginning an assessment of each child’s capabilities, when they arrive for their first day of school, is one of the flaws of the existing education process; a flaw The Hawkins Model© has been designed to address. The current education process—the tool teachers and schools have been relying on for generations—was designed to ensure teachers and students conform to schedules embedded in academic standards as well as to the standards, themselves. The process demands teaching whole groups children, thus limiting a teachers’ ability to adapt what they do to the unique needs of individuals. For all this time, while being asked to shoulder the blame for the disappointing outcomes of their students, teachers have been doing exactly what they have been taught and expected to do. It is the education process that is failing to meet the needs of our children, not their teachers.
What we require is an education process that exhibits the same plasticity as the brains of the children it exists to serve, and this is exactly the kind of learning environment The Hawkins Model© is intended to provide for both teachers and their students.
The reluctance to exchange the existing education process for a new model would be understandable if everyone was happy with the outcomes students are getting, today. The reality is, hardly anyone is happy with the way things are, but it has proven oh so difficult to change. However much we might admire the effort of education leaders who are introducing a steady stream of innovative initiatives, outcomes for students across the nation have not altered the reality that is education in America.
The question for education policy makers, school administrators, and teachers is: how long will they choose to endure a reality in which the outcomes for students in the aggregate never seem to change no matter how hard they are asked to work or how many new methodologies and technologies they are asked to employ. In the existing education process, new ideas and approaches are exceptions a few schools have been able to carve out of the process, not expectations for all.
Once they overcome inertia and embrace the need to reimagine the education process, what educators and policy makers will discover is how easy implementation of The Hawkins Model© will prove to be and how cost-effective genuine success will be.
Our thanks to Dr. Teresa Sanders for tweeting information about neuroplasticity and for the important work she and Safari Small Schools are doing. The reader is encouraged to learn more about the micro-school concept. In essence, The Hawkins Model© is a way to do for an estimated 53 million American children what Dr. Sanders and her Safari Small Schools are doing for five students in each of its micro-school. Her philosophy is “do what you can” rather than wait for the education system to change.
[i] Dr. Sanders is a leader of Safari Small Schools, in Canton, Texas. Her schools are described as “an innovative micro-school serving students in grades Pre-K through 3rd”. Such schools are designed to serve a maximum of five students. Here is a link to her website if you would like to learn more: Safari Small Schools:Texas – Safari Small Schools
[ii] Merriam Webster Dictionary