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Neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity refers to the understanding that the brain is not a physiologically static organ but changes throughout life. New research shows that the brains and therefore the minds of children, youth and adults are plastic and that they are structurally affected (physically changed) by targeted and sustained interventions. A huge database is building, which includes studies that show we no longer need to accept that learning disabilities, developmental delays or disorders, or even low cognitive ability, cannot be changed or at least improved to some degree.

Advances in research and best practices in the area of improving brain function and learning outcomes have been reported in Journals of Psychology, Neuroscience and Education for more than three decades.

Most particularly, advances in thinking about neuroplasticity and the ability of the brain to heal and improve in response to specific interventions have been highlighted in the last half decade by advances in brain imaging technology (fMRI) that allow us to look at the living, thinking and even growing brain. This has provided evidence of the positive effect of these interventions on the physical brain, even when seriously injured or disabled due to trauma, disease or genetic factors.

Two disciplines, Education and Neuroscience, are beginning to collaborate on projects that use brain-imaging technology to measure the role that education experiences play in shaping the specific functional circuits in the brain that give rise to complex cognitive skills such as Reading or Math.

These interdisciplinary studies tackle questions that stretch beyond the boundaries of what either discipline could do alone. For example, this research is beginning to explore the earliest brain activity and activity changes associated with reading instruction. This allows researchers to compare the effect of different methods of teaching, and even to compare them to children’s normal school experience.

Neuroplasticity means that the brain can respond to new input, to change, improve, and become more competent. Until very recently it was thought that the brain if injured or compromised by learning disabilities, delay, dysfunction or injury was stuck with that result. For tht reason educational, medical and rehabilitation services were created to deal with the compromised situation, rather than expect and pursue change. While this situation was the mainstream view, and in some situations remains the view around which services were built, intensive theoretical work since the early 1970s is suggesting an alternative view.

Dr. Donald Hebb, considered by many the father of cognitive psychology at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, hypothesized that under certain conditions the brain was neuroplastic, that is, could change and improve in response to intervention. That perspective, while in many places a minority view even today, began to move into prominence as the exciting new imaging technology of watching the living brain (such as fMRI) began to show clear factual scientific evidence of neuroplastic brain function.

The research reported in the archived and upcoming newsletters on this website shows how the neuroplastic function of the human brain allowed humans to learn to read in the first place (See Vol. 1 No. 4, October 2011 Reading in the Brain: The New Science of How We Read, Part One). You can extend your understanding by reading Part Two (November 26, 2011: The importance of learning to read - Part 2).

Although some parts of the brain’s architecture are hardwired, it is also flexible (neuroplastic) enough if compromised to re-route the tasks we need to learn, if the following general rules are applied:

  1. We need sustained, systematic teaching (intervention) at a rate and pace that allows us to process the information and learn to mastery.
  2. We need enough practice. The number of trials to learn is variable; however, each learner needs enough trials for them to achieve mastery.

At the Vancouver Learning Centre we have understood neuroplasticity for three decades. Because we know that individualized targeted intervention and a system of intense and directed practice improves brain function and delivers changed learning outcomes, we have developed robust and reliable teaching programs to do that job; and we have trained our faculty to deliver these programs.

The new research, a tiny sample of which is reported below, validates that this improved function results in improved structural changes in the brain that allows for ongoing improved performance, and provides a platform for new learning.

The Vancouver Learning Centre has been an early and ongoing pioneer in the development of targeted individualized intervention programs for children, youth and young adults with learning disabilities and difficulties.

These programs have been used successfully with hundreds of clients who have been able to achieve educational outcomes well beyond expectations.

To discuss your particular situation and to access our complimentary first interview system, please see the next steps below.


Next Steps

  • If you would like to have answers as to what can be done, you can book a complimentary interview with Vancouver Learning Centre Director Andrew Taylor by telephone at 604-738-2277 or by e-mail.
  • If after you are fully informed through the interview and by reading this website you are interested in proceeding, Andrew will provide you with an assessment date to begin the process.
  • If you have further concerns or questions you can speak to VLC principal and senior psychologist, Dr. Geraldine Schwartz, either by telephone or by booking a further personal complimentary interview.
  • The assessment will provide a clear statement of the student’s cognitive and educational strengths and weaknesses along with a detailed program that is offered as a proposal. The program is delivered by the Vancouver Learning Centre’s highly qualified teaching faculty, one-to-one.

 









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