This is Part II of exploring Professor Brian Cambourne’s 7 Conditions of Learning. Read the intro here.
“Being flooded by, steeped in, saturated by and enveloped in language.”
Brain Principle #1: An enriched learning environment increases cell weight, branching of dendrites and synaptic responses within the brain.
Let’s dive into the theory for a second—bear with me. According to theorists that study that brain and mind, the brain is hardwired with basic survival networks such as breathing and circulation, fight or flight responses. Language developed as a way to interact with each other. According to Cambourne, a healthy infant has the ability to learn any of the world’s 3,000 languages. That’s true. Every child learns the language they hear.
So, if a child is exposed and immersed in more than one language, especially during the formative years (1-5), Cambourne’s theory continues, the developing weight and expansion of dendrites is increased. But, if one of the languages is not used as frequently, then there’s an occurrence of what’s called “neural pruning.”
This is not the only time I’ve read such a statement. Dana Suskind, MD, a pediatric otolaryngologist who specializes in hearing loss and cochlea implantation, states exactly the same concept in her book, Thirty Million Words: Building A Child’s Brain.
My son, Nicholas, had ear infections from ages 8-18 months. No medical doctor acknowledged that his lack of clear hearing would be a problem later in his life. But, his brain was not hearing words clearly, thus “pruning” what it could see as “unnecessary neural networks.”
An additional challenge: I’m Nicholas’s mother—a lifelong dyslexic. Does his brain have different wiring due to genetics? I suspect so.
These early years are critical for brain development and especially the development of language. Immersion in language must occur as we teach children to decode.
Immersion was a critical component for Nicholas’s lifelong learning. When I was teaching him in Oxford in 1995, poetry became my entry way into his learning and mode of operation. Repeating rhymes whenever we walked immersed Nicholas in language learning and the ability to recall poems.
I wrote poetry for Nicholas about places we visited both in and around Oxford: St. Nicholas’ Church or St. Mary’s Cathedral. Nicholas was able to make essential connections between the real world and the text in front of him and, above all, recalling the language.
When our focus shifted to Captain Cook and early explorers, we were visiting places, reading, discussing, and experiencing mapping and ships. Together, we were making sense of the world.
Learning was not just an abstract experience in our classroom or books, but everywhere. He was immersed in memorable experiences alongside learning language learning. His brain was changing and growing, giving him language to express himself.
Next post, we’ll discuss Demonstration.