Bridging developmental cognitive neuroscience and education: insights from development of reading, math, and attention
Early elementary school is a time of transformation in which new cognitive abilities emerge in reading and mathematics that are foundational for future learning. How do such learning experiences lead to changes in functional brain systems? More specifically, how do differences among learners and differences among instructional approaches influence the process of linking symbolic systems with other pre-existing systems already functioning within the mind of the child? This talk will review findings from my lab using functional neuroimaging (i.e. fMRI, ERP) to examine the rise of these novel symbolic skills within early elementary school children. Central to this approach is the investigation of interactive specialization, by which new functions are shaped by activity patterns between domain specific brain systems-- as in the case of linking visual symbol systems to pre-existing neural systems involved in processing phonology or numerical magnitude. I will also review how this work incorporates neural observations at the level of the individual child that provides specific insights into differences among learners and may suggest pathways toward more effective interventions. In addition, this work investigates how cognitive neuroscience may help refine our understanding of how instruction influences cognitive mechanisms of learning. For example, recent experiments reveal how the way an instructor focuses a learner’s selective attention plays a substantial role in experience-based changes in brain activity associated with the material being learned. Taken together, these findings suggest several ways in which developmental cognitive neuroscience can contribute to research within educational domains, and may provide a basis for even deeper connections in the emerging trans-disciplinary field of Educational Neuroscience.