In a recent interview with The Dallas Morning News, Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D., founder and chief director of the Center for Brain Health at The University of Texas at Dallas and author of the new book "Make Your Brain Smarter," discusses research she and her colleagues are conducting into how the brain develops. Based on their findings, Chapman’s team has identified strategies to train students how to better process information.
Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D., chief director of the Center for Brain Health at The University of Texas at Dallas.(Image: Cheryl Diaz Meyer/63083, The Dallas Morning News)
Particularly striking to Chapman are observations in her studies that the teen brain is undergoing more developmental change during adolescence than any other time in life, except the first two months of life.
"The frontal lobes and rich connections to other brain areas are where the development is rapidly taking place. The key frontal lobe networks support higher-order learning, planning, decision-making and judgment," said Chapman.
"Seventh and eighth grade is when the brain is particularly primed to develop higher-order reasoning skills, which will advance an individual’s success in obtaining high school diplomas, college degrees and set the stage for acquiring meaningful employment in young adulthood. Girls in seventh and eighth grade perform higher in higher-level reasoning and frontal lobe function. The gender gap is particularly wide in poverty."
Because the brain is the most adaptable, regenerative and trainable organ in the body, notes Chapman, her researchers went into a Dallas public school and trained students in strategies that allowed them to better process information.
"The strategies taught students how to think strategically, instead of teaching them what to learn. We focused on improving the efficiencies within the brain through techniques that help students organize their thoughts, synthesize data, think abstractly and interpret meaning from the information presented them.The training resulted in students doubling their commended scores in reading, math, science and social studies. Performance at commended levels means that these strategy-trained students were performing at Advanced Placement levels — not simply passing," said Chapman.