Summer and the Brain

As the days of summer dwindle, teachers and administrators are busy reflecting on growing their professional skills. Many are involved in advanced coursework, while others are reading books that are stacked ready for summer consumption.

While reading one piece of online professional literature, I could not help but wonder how summer was going for our students. This except by Judy Willis, MD struck me as pertinent while we all study the latest research in brain development:

During the school years, especially from ages 8-18, the most rapid phase of maturation is taking place in the prefrontal cortex. This is a critical time during which the brain is developing the individual’s executive functions. These include judgment, critical analysis, induction, deduction, delay of immediate gratification for long-term goals, recognition of relationships (symbolism, conceptualization), prioritizing, risk assessment, organization, creative problem solving. There are also emotional aspects to executive function, including the ability to identify one’s emotional state, exert emotional self-control, and reflect about emotional response choices.

The practice of writing can enhance the brain’s intake, processing, retaining, and retrieving of information. Through writing, students can increase their comfort with and success in understanding complex material, unfamiliar concepts, and subject-specific vocabulary. When writing is embedded throughout the curriculum, it promotes the brain’s attentive focus to classwork and homework, boosts long-term memory, illuminates patterns, gives the brain time for reflection, and when well-guided, is a source of conceptual development and stimulus of the brain’s highest cognition.”

It strikes me that this is the primary reason behind our investment in the IB PYP and DP program which are both linked to an integrated inquiry based methodology. We like connected themes and this matches the complex interaction between the functions listed above.

But, it also strikes me that this article in particular highlights the importance of writing as an integrating tool. Writing is a bridging process that links ideas together, but ONLY when the writing is constant, deliberate, and connected to personal interests. This is the simplicity behind the complexity. We know that learning and brain development is complex, but we also know that the simple infusion of regular and frequent writing opportunities is a simple way to encourage and sustain this growth and development.

So, I ask you – What are your kids writing about this summer? It’s not enough to talk about your adventures. Are they blogging? Writing notes and post cards home to family members? Is writing embedded in your home as a common and frequent practice?

As always, I’d be interested in your comments.