The Principles of Neuroplasticity
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s capacity to continue growing and evolving in response to life experiences. Plasticity is the capacity to be shaped, molded, or altered; neuroplasticity, then, is the ability for the brain to adapt or change over time, by creating new neurons and building new networks.Historically, scientists believed that the brain stopped growing after childhood. But current research shows that the brain is able to continue growing and changing throughout the lifespan, refining its architecture or shifting functions to different regions of the brain.
The importance of neuroplasticity can’t be overstated: It means that it is possible to change dysfunctional patterns of thinking and behaving and to develop new mindsets, new memories, new skills, and new abilities. Neuroplasticity encompasses how nerve cells adapt to circumstances—to respond to stimulation by generating new tendrils of connection to other nerve cells, called synapses, and to respond to deprivation and excess stress by weakening connections.
Neuroplasticity underlies the capacity for learning and memory, and it enables mental and behavioral flexibility. Research has firmly established that the brain is a dynamic organ and can change its design throughout life, responding to experience by reorganizing connections—via so-called “wiring” and “rewiring.” Scientists sometimes refer to the process of neuroplasticity as structural remodeling of the brain.
The Science of Reading
The Science of Reading (SoR) is a comprehensive body of research that encompasses years of scientific knowledge, spans across many languages, and shares the contributions of experts from relevant disciplines such as education, special education, literacy, psychology, neurology, and more.
The way the brain learns to read is backed by decades of research. Our brains are hardwired to learn to speak, but not to read. To learn to read, students need to be able to do two things: decode written words and comprehend what those words mean. This requires explicit, systematic instruction and practice over time.
In the field of education and teacher preparation, the science of reading is important because understanding the cognitive processes that are imperative for successful reading acquisition has the potential to translate into successful reading instructional practices.
Decades of scientific research have identified five essential components of effective reading instruction for young children: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and reading comprehension. Research has also demonstrated the importance of content knowledge and writing on students’ reading success.
Dr. Louisa Moats, Ed.D., has been a teacher, psychologist, researcher, graduate school faculty member, and author of many influential scientific journal articles, books, and policy papers on the topics of reading, spelling, language, and teacher preparation. She began her professional career as a neuropsychology technician and teacher of students with learning disabilities. Dr. Louisa Moats has given a voice to the Science of Reading movement and continues to make literacy a priority for all of our kids. Dr. Moats is the author of Language Essentials of Teaching and Spelling (LETRS). Brenda Armstrong (M.Ed., Remediation Specialist, Owner) was personally trained by Dr. Moats in 2006, and the experience was life changing and changed the trajectory of her educational career.
“LETRS provides the knowledge of current research on how language skills, including reading, are developed. It is designed to enhance teacher knowledge on the subject and the ideas presented can be used with any high-quality reading program. As a state framework quotes LETRS author Louisa Moats, “teaching reading is rocket science,” we need to know and understand the science behind reading to be successful reading instructors.
“Orton-Gillingham is an approach to reading instruction that encompasses best practices for students with dyslexia and has been found to be beneficial for all students. These practices are multi-sensory allowing for activation of the senses which activates multiple areas of the brain. Like LETRS, this approach can be used with any high-quality reading program.￼” Simply stated, The Science of Reading is the “why” and systematic reading instruction is the “how”.
You may have heard the term “primitive reflexes” thrown around before but do you know and understand what they are and why they’re important? If not, that’s ok! Many people have no idea what primitive reflexes are, much less why they are so important to childhood development.
We Are All Born With Primitive Reflexes
At birth, primitive reflexes are present to assist in survival - most develop in utero. These involuntary movement patterns are designed to keep the newborn alive and help with development throughout infancy. They are essentially the foundation for higher-level learning and development. The kicker here is that these primitive reflexes do not stay forever; they should integrate - go away - typically around 12 months of age, some closer to two or three years old.
When a primitive reflex integrates, it makes way for new, more mature movement patterns and higher-level learning to develop.
To be more scientific, when a new movement pattern is developed, it creates new neural pathways in the brain, thus prompting higher-level skill development. For example, an infant must first develop head and neck control before learning to sit upright independently. If the infant does not develop head and neck control, he/she will be unable to sit upright without assistance.
If a reflex does not integrate, development may be hindered, and the infant may not gain higher-level skills.
What Are Retained Primitive Reflexes?
If a primitive reflex is retained - that is, still present - after 12 months of age, challenges may arise. Each primitive reflex comes with its own set of movements and leads to new and different developmental milestones. If a specific reflex is retained, it may affect a specific area of development.
Additionally, many reflexes are directly related to another. Therefore, if one reflex is retained, we can assume that others will be retained.