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How Do We Learn Languages?

The Brain Blogger – Viatcheslav Wlassoff, PhD

“The use of sound is one of the most common methods of communication both in the animal kingdom and between humans. Animals use vocalization and calls to communicate and share critical information about food, dangers and individual intentions. Vocalization in the animal kingdom, as far as we know, relies on relatively small vocabulary of sounds, and a newborn animal is ready to communicate with adult individuals almost immediately. In contrast, human speech is a very complex process and therefore needs intensive postnatal learning to be used effectively. Furthermore, to be effective the learning phase should happen very early in life and it assumes a normally functioning hearing and brain systems. In fact, the integrity of the hearing system seems to be very important to the language learning process. Children who lose hearing capacity will suffer a decline in spoken language because they cannot hear themselves and lose an important auditory feedback. Nowadays, scientists and doctors are discovering the important brain zones involved in the processing of language information. Those zones are reassembled in a number of a language networks including the Broca, the Wernicke, the middle temporal, the inferior parietal and the angular gyrus. The variety of such brain zones clearly shows that the language processing is a very complex task.”(more)

Tapping Teachers’ Intrinsic Motivation to Develop School Improvements

KQED News Mind/Shift – Katrina Schwartz

“The northern suburbs of Melbourne, Australia, are home to some of the city’s poorest residents, including about 80,000 schoolchildren. Many families are recent immigrants to Australia, moving to find work in factories located in the northern outskirts of town. Unemployment is high in parts of this region, but other parts are fairly affluent. If these conditions sound familiar, it’s because lots of school districts serve similarly divided communities and have similarly stagnant results from traditional approaches to improving education. For decades, the school system of this region tried traditional top-down approaches to improve student achievement in its schools, but saw few results. That pattern began to change when Wayne Craig became the region’s director (like a superintendent) and began emphasizing a simple message: Students should be literate, numerate and curious. From his work as a teacher and school principal Craig knew that lasting school change comes from teachers, so he focused the regional school improvement work on improving teacher instruction.”(more)

Research Shows Diverse Classrooms Improve Learning For Everyone

KQED News Mind/Shift – Anya Kamenetz

““Stronger Together” is not the name of the latest social-media fitness app. It’s a grant proposed in President Obama’s new budget, reviving an idea that hasn’t gotten much policy attention in decades: diversity in public schools. If the request is approved, $120 million will go to school districts for programs intended to make their schools more diverse. As a new pair of reports from the progressive Century Foundation shows, integration policies have seen a resurgence: In 2007, 40 districts pursued integration. Today that number has more than doubled, to 83, plus nine charter schools or networks. That adds up to a total of 4 million students in classrooms that are more diverse than they’d otherwise be.”(more)

Suppressing, Exaggerating Emotions May Be Harmful to Parents

Education News – Grace Smith

“When a parent holds negative emotions in and is overly effusive with their positive feelings, that can be damaging to his or her well-being, according to a new study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. University of Toronto psychology graduate student Bonnie Le and University of Toronto Mississauga assistant professor of psychology Emily Impett say their research shows that although raising children can be rewarding and fulfilling, it can also be stressful, frustrating, or mind-numbing. Because of this, parents are likely to be reticent to express their authentic emotions. Parents might keep negative emotions inside when in public with their children so their kids will not be embarrassed or develop low self-esteem. Or perhaps they will exaggerate their approval or pride to let their children feel supported, and so the family can share happy times together, says Pacific Standard Magazine’s Nathan Collins.”(more)

The biggest hole in the STEM pipeline starts before kindergarten

The Hechinger Report- Jill Barshay

“It’s a well-established problem that too few blacks and Hispanics, and too few women of all colors, pursue degrees and careers in the sciences. And much research has gone into why minority students aren’t taking as many science classes in high school, and later in college, as their white counterparts do. Wonks call it the “leaky STEM pipeline,” referring to all the students who leave science, technology, engineering and math as they progress through their educational careers. But a new study indicates that the STEM pipeline might have a giant hole in it far earlier than many of us ever thought: before kindergarten. It found that many minority children enter kindergarten with a low level of general knowledge of the world around them, and they tended to falter in science throughout their school years. Five-year olds who were able answer general questions like “What do firemen do?” and “What do planes and trains have in common?” went on to score much better on science tests in the third, fifth and eighth grades. But most who started behind stayed behind. Few caught up.”(more)