By Sam Piha
Dr. Judy Willis is a board certified neurologist, who turned her attention to becoming a classroom teacher. Her goal was to apply what she knew about the brain and learning to strategies that could be developed for the classroom. She is now an educational consultant who speaks to groups of people from around the world about the interface between the new knowledge of neuroscience and learning. We were particularly interested in her work regarding why collaborative learning works.
What does new brain science tell us about collaborative learning?
“When youth participate in engaging learning activities in well-designed, supportive cooperative groups, their affective filters are not blocking the flow of knowledge. When you plan your group such that each member’s strengths have authentic importance to the ultimate success of the group’s activity, you have created a situation where individual learning styles, skills, and talents are valued and youth shine in their fortes and learn from each other in the areas where they are not as expert. They call on each other's guidance to solve pertinent and compelling problems and develop their interpersonal skills by communicating their ideas to partners.
The brain scans of subjects learning in this type of supportive and social learning situation show facilitated passage of information from the intake areas into the memory storage regions of the brain. This is consistent with the original cognitive psychology research and theories of Steven Krashen about the affective filter - that learning associated with positive emotion is retained longer and visa versa.
Many of the motivating factors that have been found to release dopamine are intrinsic to successful cooperative or collaborative group work such as social collaboration, motivation, and expectation of success or authentic praise from peers. Because dopamine is also the neurotransmitter associated with attention, memory, learning, and executive function, it follows that when the brain releases dopamine during or in expectation of a pleasurable experience or reward, that this dopamine will be available to increase the processing of new information. That is what occurs when a young person enjoys a positive cooperative learning experience, and even when s/he anticipates participation in that type of activity sometime during the class or program.
Successfully planned group work can help to support adolescent youth by reducing a fear of failure that can cause them to avoid academic challenges. Well-structured cooperative group activities build supportive peer communities, which in turn increase self-esteem and academic performance.”
– Dr. Judy Willis, Neurologist and Classroom Teacher
By Sam Piha
Angela Duckworth’s "grit" has captured the imagination of educators, youth program leaders, and policymakers alike, leading many to agree that we should seek to cultivate grit in our youth. According to The Character Lab, grit is correlated with success and defined as "perseverance and passion for long-term goals”. It was further popularized by author Paul Tough (How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, 2012) and others.
Like others, we have written a lot about grit in our LIAS blog. But others have called on us to look more closely at the notion of grit and how it intersects with issues of bias, poverty, inequality, deficit thinking, and race.
"Educational outcome disparities are not the result of deficiencies in marginalized communities' cultures, mindsets, or grittiness, but rather of inequities."
- Paul Gorski in Reaching and Teaching Students in Poverty
We believe that we can think more deeply about grit by reviewing these writings below:
By Sam Piha
Afterschool programs are now a part of the community landscape. Afterschool has been around for over a hundred years, making important contributions to families and the larger society.
This next year, under President Trump, federal support of afterschool is again threatened. According to our partners at the Afterschool Alliance:
“President Trump’s budget calls for eliminating federal funding for local afterschool and summer programs. If the funding is not maintained, nearly two million children and families would be left without reliable afterschool choices.
More than 19 million families want and need more afterschool and summer learning opportunities. For every child in a program, two are waiting to get in. Closing 10,000+ afterschool programs will hurt families and children in every part of the country.
You can make a difference: call on Congress to protect funding for afterschool and summer learning programs.”
According to the Trump Administration budget summary, the justification for eliminating the 21st CCLC is, “This program (21st CCLC) lacks strong evidence of meeting its objectives, such as improving student achievement.” Research has shown that this is patently untrue.
The Afterschool Alliance has made it easy to tell your representatives in Congress to stand up for the programs America's children and families rely on. CLICK HERE
By Sam Piha
Afterschool programs are now a part of the community landscape, with over 10.2 million young participants. Few are even aware that afterschool has been around for over a hundred years, making important contributions to families and the larger society.
Afterschool professionals, numbering over 850,000, are often not acknowledged. But we can change that! Afterschool Professionals Appreciation Week is April 22-26.
According to the National AfterSchool Association (NAA), “this is a joint effort of community partners, afterschool programs, youth and child development workers and individuals who have committed to declaring the last full week of April each year as a time to recognize and appreciate those who work with youth during out-of-school hours.”
There are a number of ways organizations, schools, parents and program leaders can recognize and appreciate afterschool workers:
Join in the celebrations and display your appreciation of afterschool professionals who make a difference in the lives of young people. NAA has developed a toolkit and a number of ideas for AfterSchool Professionals Appreciation Week.
Sam Piha is the founder and principal of Temescal Associates, a consulting group dedicated to building the capacity of leaders and organizations in education and youth development.