Review by Carol Ann Baily
Director, Off-Campus Student Services
Middle Tennessee State University (Murfreesboro, TN)

The popular press frequently highlights new discoveries regarding how the brain works without including the research behind these discoveries. Many advisors find these scientific discoveries fascinating. But where can a reader find a comprehensive view of the latest brain research and its implications for creating better learning? The Jossey-Bass reader on the brain and learning is one excellent source.

To introduce the latest research on the way the brain works, this book offers material from Restak’s The Naked Brain and Sylvester’s How to Explain a Brain and from Italian researchers Rizzolatti, Fogassi and Gallese who discovered mirror neurons, where neurons in our brains start to fire as we observe others doing a new activity. Our brains can be altered by the observation of the actions of others, even by the sound of those actions. Speaking action verbs stimulates the areas of the brain that would be activated by performing that action.

They introduce neuroscience, a new discipline that combines the lessons from neurology, psychology, and biology and that is informed by neuroimaging which allows researchers to look at the human brain while it is working on a variety of tasks. It then outlines how neuroscience can help us understand how learning takes place by making connections in the brain through the synapses. Goswami asserts that when used creatively “Cognitive neuroscience methods have the potential to deliver important information relevant to the design and delivery of educational curricula as well as the quality of teaching itself” (p. 47).  It remains for educators to find out how these neuroscience techniques can help develop different approaches in the classroom.

Bransford, Brown, and Cocking warn that educators should not adopt “faddish concepts that have not been demonstrated to be of value in classroom practice” (p. 89). They conclude that research should be available to educators as long as they are “interpreted appropriately for practice – identifying which research findings are ready for implementation and which are not” (p. 102).

The editors go on to present the work of some of the leading experts on memory, cognition, and intelligence, the emotional and social foundations of the feeling brain, and how the brain learns language, reading, math, and the arts. This provides the reader with the best resource for an exploration of learning in a specific discipline.

A final section focuses on the exceptional brain with chapters on the gifted, gender differences, and those along the autism continuum.  It is interesting, for example, that one theory about autism involves those mirror neurons from Rizzolatti’s research. Those neurons “may enable humans to see themselves as others see them, which may be an essential ability for self-awareness and introspection” (p. 438).  Researchers have produced findings that “provide compelling evidence that people with autism have dysfunctional mirror neuron systems” (p. 440). This discovery opens new approaches for diagnosing and treating the disorder. 

This book provides a thorough look at the latest in brain research and its implications for educational practice. It draws from thirty-six of the best authors and their published books and articles. It provides a glossary for technical terms that might be confusing to a reader new to neuroscience. This primer on the topic of the brain and learning will facilitate the discussion of improving education through educational neuroscience.

The Jossey-Bass Reader on the brain and learning (2007) Jossey-Bass Publishers (Ed), Review by Carol Ann Baily. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 480 pp. $32.00, (paperback), ISBN # 978-0-7879-6241-8
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