News Herald – Juliann Talkington
Over the past thirty years there has been a great deal of debate about different learning styles and what is the best way to get boys and girls to reach their maximum potential. During this same period, there has been tremendous advancement in the science of the brain, specifically how the brain develops from infancy to puberty.
Boys and girls enter the world wired in different ways. According to Michael Gurian, a family therapist and award winning author, “Boys show more areas in the brain dedicated to spatial-mechanical strengths, whereas girls generally demonstrate a focus on verbal-emotive processing.” Girls are generally less impulsive, enabling them to sit still, focus, read and write more easily. However, girls are often quickly confused when presented with spatial problems and instruction.
There are many viewpoints on how to address these gender differences. One popular viewpoint is that boys and girls should be in separate classrooms and the teaching should be geared to the learning styles that are easiest for that gender. Another viewpoint is that children should be able to choose when and how they learn material.
We now know that the human brain is not hardwired, but can be molded between birth to puberty. According to Dr. Lise Elliot with the Chicago School of Medicine, “… an infant’s experience can have permanent effects on the wiring of the brain.” At birth the brain contains the cells necessary to handle trillions of processes. If signals are sent between brains cells, the connections become hard-wired. However, if signals are not sent between cells, the connections are discarded. Most researchers believe the hard-wiring/discarding process is complete at the beginning of puberty, leaving adults with many fewer brain connections than infants.
If the goal is to maximize the number of brain connections that are preserved, it is probably not wise to encourage boys and girls to attend classes that cater to their genetically predisposed learning styles. In addition, it does not make sense to allow students to move at their own pace through material or to choose their own focus.
Instead it can be argued, that the best solution is to blend teaching approaches that encourage girls to think more spatially and boys to refine their verbal-emotive processing abilities. After all, the 21st Century rewards broad thinkers who can easily cross disciples and tackle problems in new and different ways.