Eric Jensen is a former teacher in middle school and adjunct professor at several universities, including the University of California San Diego. We interview him today to learn valuable lessons for parents and educators. He co-founded the Learning Brain Expo conference for educators and has published 21 books about learning and the brain. Parents and educators alike will enjoy his most recent book, entitled Enriching the brain: How to Maximize Every Learner’s Potential (Jossey-Bass 2006).
Alvaro Fernandez AF: Eric, thanks for taking the time. Could you please explain the role you and your organisation play?
Eric Jensen (EJ),: We are translators between neuroscience and education, helping to create a Brain-Based Education Movement. In 1998, we launched the first conference to attempt to bring these two worlds together. Learning Expo was a conference that allowed scientists and educators to meet.
Critics claim that neuroscience research is not able to improve educational practices. We believe that while there is much to be clarified, there is already clear evidence from brain research that educators need to be aware. Educators often overlook four key elements, due to their obsession with academic scores. These are nutrition, exercise, stress management and overall mental enrichment.
AF: Since 1998? What would you call the progression so far?
EJ: The good thing is that educators are now more educated than ever about the brain. There are a number of academic programs, such as Harvard’s Masters Program in Mind, Brain, and Education, and peer reviewed journals like the Mind, Brain, and Education Journal.
There are still areas that need to be improved. Too many staff developers lack knowledge of science. Too many books that say “brain” aren’t based on brain research. When shopping for books, I recommend that you check the References section. Make sure the book refers to specific studies from credible journals starting in 2000.
AF: These are mainly awareness-related initiatives. What are the implications for daily teaching and learning in schools, if any?
EJ: This is still a new field. Many private charter schools and public schools that are independent and forward-thinking have started to implement specific initiatives. These include brain-based teaching strategies, nutrition, and exercise. These are more difficult for public schools that have limited resources and flexibility. to implement. A growing number of parents are becoming more educated and learning the principles discussed, and then applying them at their homes.
AF: Do you see any change at the policy level? What do you think of the current debate over the merits and demerits to No Child Left Behind?
EJ: I support the movement towards accountability. The question now is: accountability for what? For creating narrow, specific test results? to help nurture better human beings. There has been very little policy activity in the US. However, there have been some initiatives in Asia countries like Singapore and China that examine how to improve the curriculum for children aged 5-10 years old. The US saw a lot of music enrichment programs in the late 1990s. However, this was misguided. It is difficult to quantify the impact of enrichment because it takes time for most of the benefits to develop. Long-term measures must temper the short-term “stock-market” mentality of measuring student growth in a matter of weeks or months.
It seems obvious that there are many skills that can be learned that will make you a more successful person. These include the ability to delay gratification, sequence, emotional intelligence, working memory, vocabulary, processing skills, and sequencing. These skills are not covered in the current assessments that measure schools’ performance. To allow educators to concentrate on the long-term skills that are important, we need more comprehensive assessments.
One area that is going from bad to worse, is the stress level in the system and the lack of knowledge and resources to manage it.
AF: You mentioned processing skills as well as other cognitive abilities. You recently highlighted Scientific Learning’s computer program to train auditory processing in your column. Your opinion on computer-based programs and their role?
EJ: It’s encouraging to see programs that are based on extensive research like Scientific Learning’s. These programs can be tailored to meet the specific needs of children, which I find very valuable. These programs have a tremendous potential.