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Resources on the ability to Learn

Note – this post is currently a work-in-progress. Once it’s stabilized, I’ll remove this note.

Probably the most accessible overview at the level of the brain is “The Brain that Changes Itself” by Norman Doidge. It’s really inspiring. But, I always caution people not to get seduced by the seemingly “scientific” nature of brain-based research - research at the psychological or social level is just as valid!

That said, continuing with a more cognitive neuroscience approach, Sylvia Bunge (also at Berkeley) has a great program on helping low-economic-staus / low-performing kids boost their cognitive abilities. Read more at her public Nora the Brain Explorer site. She has a nice metaphor - if you have plants with a certain potential, but don’t water them, they will be stunted. But happilly, it seems that kids can return closer to their potential even if they get “water” late. She’s also written a nice review of Paul Tough’s book, which provides a nice connection between Tough’s more social description, and a cognitive/neural level of description – including some clarification and critique.

Adele Diamond is another reesarcher I respect very much, and she emphasizes the importance of exercise and play on her public site.

Both Silvia and Adele focus on “executive function” - which is a cognitive-level description of some of the core features that I think are relative to “Grit” (though I still need to read up on that).

In terms of my own work, the best, most accessible summary is not actually published, so for now I must direct you to my thesis. (In the meantime, there’s other stuff I can point you to if you need a published reference.) But the basic idea is that you can indeed change people’s minds about climate change with education (even though some say it’s “culturally determined”).

Lastly, I also love Ellen Langer’s work (hmm… all female scientists). She has a very accessible book called “Mindfulness” that talks about changing people’s mindsets in a variety of ways. In some cases, adding years to life! But more relevant to education or tutoring, improving a child’s ability to reason effectively in more academic settings. To be clear, her notion of mindfulness is a little more general than meditative notions - and is better thought of (I think) as “not mindlessness.”


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