by Claire Miller
In his lab at Vanderbilt University, Bruce McCandliss and his team of researchers are studying how children in kindergarten through third grade process words – what their brain activity is like when they look at a letter or hear a snippet of speech.
With the advent of brain imaging technology, McCandliss can observe what regions of the brain are at work when children are learning to read.
By bringing together two different disciplines – education and neuroscience – McCandliss and researchers like him believe that educators can develop a better understanding of how children learn and how educational experiences affect the brain’s ability to process information.
“We are starting to see these two areas come together to form a brand new subdiscipline of research called educational neuroscience, in which people are now taking questions that are at the forefront of education and linking those to what’s happening in the brain,” he told faculty, staff and students at the first Research Wednesdays of the spring semester. “Why is it so difficult for some children to learn to read while others take to reading like a fish in water? We can start to answer these questions by combining two different disciplines.”
As a child learns to read, the visual and auditory/language regions of his or her brain start to form new connections like never before.
In the lab, McCandliss uses several different kinds of brain imaging machines to get a visual picture of the brain and these new connections children make when they read. For example, students who read at an expert level can look at a word and understand its meaning within one-fifth of a second, he said.
With such advanced technology, McCandliss hopes to see more educators and neuroscientists work together to study how students respond to different teaching methods and solve other problems in the classroom.
“This is really an interdisciplinary field where we take the most perplexing parts of education and see if neuroscience can help,” he said. “We really need to go beyond treating the adult brain like it’s a clock and just looking at its parts. We need to think about how this clock developed and got to where it is today.”
The Research Wednesdays Speaker Series is designed to fulfill three goals: to provide a platform for explorations of new ways of conducting and disseminating educational research, to discuss new methods of mentoring doctoral students in an effort to enhance their development as researchers, and to fill a professional development need by providing access to cutting edge researchers at the state and national levels.
For more information about McCandliss and the Research Wednesdays Speaker Series, visit http://education.gsu.edu/main/news/res_wed.htm.