How the Brain Learns

Key Words to Know

The working memory is "the process of holding task-related information in mind while performing a task" (Farrar & Montgomery, 2015). This means that if you are on the phone with someone and they give you number and ask you to write it down, you are using your working memory to hold on to that while you look for a pencil or pad of paper to write it down on.
Attention is the system that retains our alertness, and synchronizes our emotions, thoughts. This means that its the system that we use in our daily lives; its what gets up in the morning, and gets us thinking about what needs to be done.
Executive Function, or otherwise known as EFs, are cognitive processes that controls our thoughts in order to achieve an end result. in other words, its what we use when we know we want something, and we need to think of a way to get it.

Relationship Among Executive Functions

All three of these functions operates together, as if they were a unit. For example, playing a game with an infant where an object is hidden. Infants use their working memory to keep an eye on the original hiding place. They use inhibitory control to control themselves when they want to reach for the hidden object. The last function is set-shifting. Infants will then use this one when they realize that the object has been moved to a different location and they must train their attention to the new hiding spot instead of the old one.

Development of Executive Functions

Over time, the children's working memory gets stronger,until they reach young adulthood, where then it begins to level out. An example of this would be the school aged children who show that they have a higher capability for solving math problems than those who don't show the same capability. This function differs with different age groups. For inhibitory control, this can be difficult for children just starting out in kindergarten. Teachers can identify "following directions" as a difficult transition. For example, if the students are told to stop working on something in class, and told to start their art projects, they must learn to stop working on the first task, and immediately start the second task. For set-shifting, it seems to be the same as it was in infancy. Children will often retain that same concept, for example, give the children a set of cards, and give them the instruction to sort them by color. Halfway through this task, tell them to start sorting them by shape. Children have to stop what they are doing, and try to start the new task that has been given to them.

Executive Functions and their Roles

The roles that each of these play in learning and development of children is crucial to the child's brain development. Young children have a harder time adjusting to set-shifting then older children. They find it harder to focus on the new task at hand, and find it easier to stay with what they were working on. From the very start, children's brain's have been working, and storing so much information that they will need in the future. Playing with infants can definitely get their minds working, as they try and figure out where their favorite was placed in a game of hide and seek. Inhibitory control is difficult for young children, especially if they are starting out in kindergarten. They must get their brains to understand doing more than one activity, and to get it to stop one activity and go straight to the next one without "collecting $200 at go". This can be very confusing to the children.

Neural Regions and Executive Functions

Prefrontal and the Ventral Striatum is apart of the dual systems theory. The prefrontal cortex is mainly connected to the inhibitory control. This cortex is still maturing through adolescence, and an extended amount of immaturity can lead to the adolescences' resistance to completing tasks and/or anything that has to do with inhibition. The ventral striatum is most connected with emotionally rewarding stimuli. This part will be lit up when a person receives a reward for accomplishing a task.

Delayed Gratification

Delayed gratification is when one reward is refused because a bigger reward is in the future, and that's what the children want. "When presented with tempting stimuli, individuals with low self-control showed brain patterns that differed from those with high self-control" (American Psychological Association). Two factors that can influence a child's willpower to delay gratification would be the promise of a bigger, or more rewards. If your offering a child one marshmallow, then tell them that if they wait a certain amount of time, then they can have two instead of one. Another factor would be that attention. Children who waited for the treats that were covered received more than the children who went right for the treats that were uncovered and in plain view.

Environmental Influences

Some environmental influences that can impact the executive functioning and the memory would be children who are diagnosed with learning disabilities such as ADHD. These children might find it hard to stay focused while completing tasks. Other factors would be if the child experiences a traumatic event; this can shut down memory. Children will chose not to remember something because its to painful, or they are just to young to remember the details. Another factor would be the parents, and the role they play. Parents, especially the mother, is a crucial part in the development of her child. If the mother is depressed, or wasn't taking care of herself during pregnancy, then this can result in the child being underdeveloped and may result in the child having disabilities when he or she grows up.

Training of Executive Functions

There are many ways to help the executive functions inside the classroom. Two ways that this can be done would be to use a planner, that way children know exactly what needs to be done that night as homework, or if they need to bring anything into class. "Most schools require students to use a planner these days, but they often don't teach children how to use them, and it won't be obvious to a child who is overwhelmed by—or uninterested in—organization and planning. This is unfortunate because kids who struggle with executive functioning have poor working memory, which means it is hard for them to remember things like homework assignments." (Ehmke, 2015). Another way would be to have children start homework everyday so that it establishes a routine. "This is particularly important for older kids, who typically struggle more to get started with their homework. Educational specialists recommend starting homework at the same time every day. Expect some resistance from older kids, who often prefer to wait until they feel like doing their work. Dr. Cruger strongly advises against waiting to start homework." (Ehmke, 2015).