Implications for educational practice of the science of learning and development

This article draws out the implications for school and classroom practices of an emerging consensus about the science of learning and development, outlined in a recent synthesis of the research. Situating the review in a developmental systems framework, we synthesize evidence from the learning sciences and several branches of educational research regarding well-vetted strategies that support the kinds of relationships and learning opportunities needed to promote children’s well-being, healthy development, and transferable learning. In addition, we review research regarding practices that can help educators respond to individual variability, address adversity, and support resilience, such that schools can enable all children to find positive pathways to adulthood.Educational research and development
As knowledge regarding human development and learning has grown at a rapid pace, the opportunity to shape more effective educational practices has also increased. Taking advantage of these advances, however, requires integrating insights across multiple fields—from the biological and neurosciences to psychology, sociology, developmental and learning sciences—and connecting them to knowledge of successful approaches that is emerging in education. This article seeks to contribute to this process by drawing out the implications for school and classroom practices of an emerging consensus about the science of learning and development (SoLD), outlined in a recent synthesis of the research .

Using these articles as a foundation, we synthesize evidence from the learning sciences and several branches of educational research about well-vetted strategies that support the kinds of relationships and learning opportunities needed to promote children’s well-being, healthy development, and transferable learning. In addition, we review research regarding practices that can help educators respond to individual variability, address adversity, and support resilience, such that schools can enable all children to learn and to find positive pathways to adulthood.

This work is situated in a relational developmental systems framework that looks at the “mutually influential relations between individuals and contexts” (Lerner & Callina, 2013, p. 373). This framework makes it clear how children’s development and learning are shaped by interactions among the environmental factors, relationships, and learning opportunities they experience, both in and out of school, along with physical, psychological, cognitive, social, and emotional processes that influence one another—both biologically and functionally—as they enable or undermine learning (Fischer & Bidell, 2006; Rose, Rouhani, and Fischer, 2013). Although our society and our schools often compartmentalize these developmental processes and treat them as distinct from one another—and treat the child as distinct from the many contexts she experiences—the sciences of learning and development demonstate how tightly interrelated they are and how they jointly produce the outcomes for which educators are responsible.

Key insights from the science of learning and development are that the brain and the development of intelligences and capacities are malleable, and the “development of the brain is an experience-dependent process” (Cantor et al., 2018, p. 5), which activates neural pathways that permit new kinds of thinking and performance. As a function of experiences, the brain and human capacities grow over the course of the entire developmental continuum and across the developmental spectrum (physical, cognitive, affective) in interactive ways. What happens in one domain influences what happens in others. For example, emotions can trigger or block learning. Emotions and social contexts shape neural connections which contribute to attention, concentration, and memory, to knowledge transfer and application. Understanding how developmental processes unfold over time and interact in different contexts can contribute to more supportive designs for learning environments.

Furthermore, general trends in development are modified by interactions between unique aspects of the child and his/her family, community, and classroom contexts. As a result, children have individual needs and trajectories that require differentiated instruction and supports to enable optimal growth in competence, confidence, and motivation.
A central implication for educators is that this integrated and dynamic developmental system is optimally supported when all aspects of the educational environment support all of the dimensions of children’s development. This calls for a deeply integrated approach to practice that supports the whole child in schools and classrooms that function coherently and consistently to build strong relationships and learning communities; support social, emotional, and cognitive development; and provide a system of supports as needed for healthy development, productive relationships, and academic progress. This holistic approach must necessarily connect with family and community contexts: developing strong, respectful partnerships to understand and build on children’s experiences and, as needed, to strengthen any aspects of the developmental system where there are challenges to children’s health and well-being.

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