October 19, 2010

Learning & Intelligence

Intelligence is expressed in the ability to learn. Smart people learn faster and learn more than not so smart people. Intelligence is manifest in the ability to acquire complicated skills and excel in performance by practice and progressive improvement. Competent people are smart people who have the discipline to practice and improve their performance. In demanding, professional environments the nicest people tend to be the smartest and most competent. There are exceptions.

Bodybrainmind is an open-ended system that will evolve a unique identity in the lifetime of each individual. Individuation occurs as experience modifies some brain structures and coexists with old programs that persist regardless of the individual experience, because the older brain structures resist modification.

Here are simple insights into the learning process:
Learning is the process of modifying brain structure and function.
Learning is dependent on the availability of innate programs that organize and support the acquisition of skills and knowledge.
Learning is mimetic and spontaneous. Infants and children copy the sounds and behaviors they see and hear.

The ability to learn can be equated to the construction of the brain and to the ongoing chemistry of life. I always instructed my young patients with above average IQs who were not learning well in school that they were somewhat like a shiny new car with a turbo-charged engine, but someone put the wrong gas in their tank and now we are disappointed with their performance. You could get a badly constructed car and be disappointed or you could be dealing with the wrong gas; the food supply and the physical environment determine how well the child's brain is going to work.
A biological view regards mental states and behavior as products of brain function. Teaching is an intentional effort to constructively alter the brain function of students in a lasting fashion. While information is the pedagogical input to the student's brain, food, water and air may be regarded as the main input of chemical information into the student's body-brain system. If the food supply is biologically inappropriate or a child is hypersensitive and reacts inappropriately to food, dysfunction and disease are the result.

The increased presence of non-nutrient molecules in the blood stream in the form of additives, contaminants, toxins, drugs and intoxicants makes brain dysfunction more likely and more difficult to interpret. Whenever humans are sick or influenced by food and/or airborne chemicals, their brain function is compromised and symptoms include disturbances of sensing, feeling, remembering and acting. Their learning is impaired and their behavior may be disturbed.

Different Paths?

The answer to the question should students follow different educational paths? is simple – yes they should. Should teachers and school administrators reply on IQ test to assign students to different paths? The answer is no, they should not rely on IQ tests alone. You can argue that children with high scores on tests of intelligence tend to learn more of what is taught in school than their lower-scoring peers but there are limitations to what can be predicted about individual students.

IQ scores sort a student population in a standard bell curve distribution and after years of use and have known correlations with scholastic accomplishment and employability. Intelligence tests predict school performance about half the time. The correlation between IQ test scores and school grades is about 0.5. Correlations between IQ scores and total years of education are about 0.55. Better, more comprehensive intelligence and aptitude tests are highly desirable. Intelligence goes beyond reading, writing and math. I am not a fan of general education, conformity or standard algorithms for education. Some of our most gifted children are oppressed, they face unnecessary obstacles and discrimination in schools that fail to appreciate and develop their special abilities. The task for better education is to appreciate a range of abilities that are valued, admired, and rewarded in adult society.

Children with special aptitudes for athletics, music, art, drama, design should be identified early and sent to schools that support and encourage development in these specialized areas. Rare children have special abilities in mathematics, physics, design and creative ideas. These children will thrive if they are introduced to brilliant adults who can act as mentors. In an ideal school, gifted, well informed teachers would have a close and personal relationship with each student and would evaluate their interest and abilities individually.

According to the Task Force of the American Psychological Association: "What children learn in school depends not only on their individual abilities but also on teaching practices and on what is actually taught. Recent comparisons among pupils attending school in different countries have made this especially obvious. Children in Japan and China, for example, know a great deal more math than American children even though their intelligence test scores are quite similar. This difference may result from many factors, including cultural attitudes toward schooling as well as the amount of time devoted to the study of mathematics and how that study is organized…

"There are a number of reasons why children with higher test scores tend to get more education. They are likely to get good grades, and to be encouraged by teachers and counsellors; often they are placed in "college preparatory" classes, where they make friends who may also encourage them. In general, they are likely to find the process of education rewarding in a way that many low-scoring children do not."

From Intelligence and Learning by Stephen Gislason
Also read Neuroscience Notes.

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