Bilingual Brains – Smarter and Faster

Psychology Today

Published on November 22, 2012 by Dr. Judy Willis, M.D., M.Ed. in Radical Teaching

By Judy Willis, M.D., M.Ed.

A Gift Parents Can Give Children that Money Can’t Buy

Recent studies of children who grow up in bilingual settings reveal advantages over single language children, including both increased attentive focus and cognition. The findings correlate with prefrontal cortex brain activity networks, which direct the highest levels of thinking and awareness.

 

Compared to monolinguals, the studied bilingual children, who had had five to ten years of bilingual exposure, averaged higher scores in cognitive performance on tests and had greater attention focus, distraction resistance, decision-making, judgment and responsiveness to feedback. The correlated neuroimaging (fMRI scans) of these children revealed greater activity in the prefrontal cortex networks directing these and other executive functions. (Bialystok, 2009; Kaushanskaya & Marian, 2007).

 

This increased executive function activation in the brains of children in bilingual settings extends beyond the translation of language intake and output. The powerful implications of the new research are about brainpower enhanced by growing up bilingual.

The Brain’s CEO is a Late Bloomer

 

The networks that appear more active in the brains of bilingual children are part of the brain’s CEO networks, called executive functions. These are a constellation of cognitive abilities that support goal-oriented behavior including directing attentive focus, prioritizing, planning, self-monitoring, inhibitory control, judgment, working memory (maintenance and manipulation of information), and analysis.

 

It is not during the first months or even years of life that the brain undergoes its greatest changes with regard to cognition. These neural networks of executive functions are the last regions of the brain to “mature” as recognized by the pruning of unused circuits and the myelination of the most active networks that as they become stronger and more efficient.

Executive functions such as selective attentive focus and the ability to block out distraction are typically minimally developed in childhood. These functions gradually become stronger throughout the years of prefrontal cortex maturation into the mid twenties. It is with regard to these executive functions that research about the “bilingual brain” is particularly exciting.

What is Happening in the Brains in Bilingual Settings?

 

This aspect of bilingual research has focused on bilingual upbringing with one language spoken at home that is not the same as the dominant language of the country. The interpretations of researchers, such as Ellen Bialystok who compared responses of 6-year olds from bilingual and monolingual homes, suggest the bilingual brain is highly engaged in the cognitive challenge of evaluating between the two competing language systems. This requires executive function attention selecting and focusing on the language being used while intentionally inhibiting the activity of the competing language system.

 

When bilingual brains evaluate language, control and storage networks of both their languages are active and available. This ongoing processing, that seems instantaneous, is not reflexive or unconscious. It requires deliberate focus of attention on specific input and withholding of focus from simultaneous distracting input to analyze the language being used. Their brains need to evaluate and determine not only the meaning of words, but also which patterns of sentence structure and grammar apply and recognize nuances of pronunciation unique to the language of focus.

 

Bialystok describes this massive activity as exercising the executive functions early in bilinguals at work to decipher these multiple codes within each language. These control networks make choices, such as which memory storage circuits are the language-correct ones to activate from which to select the correct word, syntax, and pronunciation. The choices are demanding of a CEO that can simultaneously direct where ongoing new input is sent for successful evaluation and activate the correct language storage banks to use for response. These executive functions simultaneously coordinate the evaluation of the content of the messages and direct the response to that information.

Implications for Brighter Starts

 

One of the most significant implications of the bilingual research is the recognition that even very young children’s executive functions appear responsive to exercise which strengthens them for future use. An example from the research is these children’s higher scores on cognitive testing.

 

This incoming research supports encouraging parents to retain use of their native language in the home, but too often, social pressures and mistaken beliefs often limit children benefiting from the bilingual brain booster.

 

One problem is parents concern that exposure to one language is less confusing for children. When I taught fifth grade in a school where most of the students’ primary language was Spanish, I recall recently immigrated parents of my students telling me that although they were just learning English, they tried to only speak English at home with their children. They felt that would help their children learn English more successfully and believed that exposure to two languages would be confusing and make the transition to their new schools more difficult.

 

Another issue limiting the bilingual experiences was children’s desire to fit in. As my students’ English fluency improved, they would sometimes be asked by their parents to translate from English to Spanish during school conferences or meetings. When they did so, such as during “Back to School Night”, many were clearly embarrassed that their parents didn’t speak English and even tried to avoid having classmates hear them speak Spanish to their parents. When I would ask them about their reluctance, some would tell me that it made their parents seem “ignorant” when they did not speak English. My urging of parents to sustain the bilingual experience by speaking Spanish with their children in the home was thus resisted as children began to develop this bias against their native language.

 

The mistaken parental beliefs about confusing the brain with two languages and the response to their children’s negative responses to their native language cause these children to miss out on a unique and powerful opportunity to strengthen their highest cognitive brain potentials. One intervention educators and others in the community can do to avoid loss of the bilingual boost is to explain to new immigrants about the research and the strong impact they can have on their children’s academic success by retaining their native language in the home.

 

The other intervention is to lay to rest the mistaken assumption that the brain has limitations that are overwhelmed with duel language exposure. The more we learn about neuroplasticity, the more it appears the reverse is true. Experiences with new domains of challenge in general seem to strengthen the brain’s executive functions and cognition. This is evident on neuroimaging as well as in performance on the cognitive testing, reading comprehension, and success learning subsequent new languages. New challenges that include the use of judgment, analysis, deduction, translation, prioritizing, attention focusing, inhibitory control, delayed gratification, and pursuit of long-term goals are associated with increasing the number, strength, and efficiency of the executive function networks.

 

Just like our muscles become stronger with physical workouts, the developing brains of children in bilingual environments appear to build strength, speed, and efficiency in their executive function networks. This is the “neurons that fire together, wire together” phenomenon that in response to the electrical activations of messages traveling through them when used, executive function networks develop stronger connections – dendrites, synapses, and myelinated axons.

For now, it appears that when families have another language that can be spoken in the home where children are being raised it could be an opportunity to both enrich their language skills and also provide a cognitive boost for their highest brain networks of executive functions.

The implications of the bilingual research raise considerations of what other early exposures before and during school years can be designed to promote these executive function activations in all children. What are the implications regarding introducing second languages to young children from monolingual homes? Perhaps grandparents, nannies, friendships with families who speak another language could spend time with the children, or parents could participate in parent-child language classes suitable for youngsters such as learning and singing songs with movements in another language.

 

Does the bilingual benefit on cognition also work on older children and adults who learn second languages to the point of fluency? I’ll address some of these questions in my next blog, including the relationship of executive function activation and building new networks of learning with reduction in the manifestations of cognitive degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.

No Makeup Day

Read below for information on a Wisconsin high school’s “no makeup day” to celebrate the natural beauty of girls.  Thankfully, everyday in the Middle School at Sacred Heart is a “no makeup day!”  In addition, our Turn Beauty Inside Out Club is a great resource for our 7th and 8th graders to better appreciate their true beauty and understand how girls and women are portrayed in the media.

By Jacki at Babytalk

Middle and high school can be tough years for teenage girls and their developing self-confidence.

Photo: Courtesy Fox 11 NewsThree girls from New London High School in Wisconsin recently started a campaign to boost the spirits of their peers and get them to embrace themselves. Created by juniors Caitlin Schmidt, Cambria Fitzgerald, and Jenna Mytton the True Beauty Campaign began as an assignment for their enterprise marketing class and developed into much more.

More from Parenting: 9 unique holiday traditions

Their mission: to make all girls love their natural beauty instead of striving to chase some impossible standard of beauty. True Beauty’s most recent function was “No makeup day,” held at school on Nov. 15. Some 300 girls at New London pledged not to wear makeup for the entire day and 100 boys pledged to support their efforts.

It was a school-wide event, inspiring girls of all grades to let their natural beauty shine through. Girls were given stickers that said “Bare-Faced and Beautiful” and the boys were given stickers that said “I Dig Confidence.” They even sold t-shirts and bracelets to raise money for future events.

These girls have figured out what it truly means to be beautiful. Now their confidence is inspiring the rest of the New London teenage community.

How do you teach your children to embrace their natural beauty?

Original article

Mature-Rated Video Games May Lead Teens to Reckless Behavior

Risk-Glorifying Video Games May Lead Teens to Drive Recklessly, New Research Shows

Certain games may increase rebelliousness, sensation seeking among adolescents, study finds

September 11, 2012

WASHINGTON—Teens who play mature-rated, risk-glorifying video games may be more likely than those who don’t to become reckless drivers who experience increases in automobile accidents, police stops and willingness to drink and drive, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

“Most parents would probably be disturbed to learn that we observed that this type of game play was more strongly associated with teen drivers being pulled over by the police than their parenting practices,” said study lead author Jay G. Hull, PhD, of Dartmouth College. “With motor vehicle accidents the No. 1 cause of adolescent deaths, popular games that increase reckless driving may constitute even more of a public health issue than the widely touted association of video games and aggression.”

Researchers conducted a longitudinal study involving more than 5,000 U.S. teenagers who answered a series of questions over four years in four waves of telephone interviews. The findings were published online in APA’s journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture®.

Fifty percent of the teens reported in the first interview that their parents allowed them to play mature-rated games and among those, 32 percent said they had played Spiderman II, 12 percent had played Manhunt and 58 percent had played Grand Theft Auto III. Playing video games such as Grand Theft Auto III, Manhunt and Spiderman II was associated with increases in sensation seeking, rebelliousness and self-reported risky driving, the study said. Higher rankings in sensation seeking and rebelliousness were directly linked to risky driving habits, automobile accidents, being stopped by police and a willingness to drink and drive, according to the analysis.

Between the second and third interviews, teens who said they had been pulled over by the police increased from 11 percent to 21 percent; those who said they had a car accident went from 8 percent to 14 percent. In the third interview, when the teens were about 16 years old, 25 percent said “yes” when asked if they engaged in any unsafe driving habits. In the final interview when the teens were about 18, 90 percent said “yes” to at least one of the same risky driving habits: 78 percent admitted to speeding; 26 percent to tailgating; 23 percent to failure to yield; 25 percent to weaving in and out of traffic; 20 percent to running red lights; 19 percent to ignoring stop signs; 13 percent to crossing a double line; 71 percent to speeding through yellow lights; and 27 percent to not using a seatbelt.

The researchers determined the teens’ levels of sensation seeking and rebelliousness by asking them to rate themselves on a four-point scale following questions such as “I like to do dangerous things” and “I get in trouble at school.” The study controlled for variables such as gender, age, race, parent income and education and parenting styles described as warm and responsive or demanding.

“Playing these kinds of video games could also result in these adolescents developing personalities that reflect the risk-taking, rebellious characters they enact in the games and that could have broader consequences that apply to other risky behaviors such as drinking and smoking,” Hull said.

The initial sample was 49 percent female, 11 percent black, 62 percent white, 19 percent Hispanic, 2 percent Asian/Pacific Islander and 6 percent multiple ethnicity. The surveys began when the average age of the participants was about 14; at the second survey, they were about 15; at the third, 16; and at the fourth, 18. Eight months separated the first and second interviews; one-and-a-half years separated the second and third interviews; and two years separated the third and fourth interviews. As is typical in longitudinal surveys, some participants dropped out. The number completing the questions for this study totaled 4,575 for the second interview, 3,653 for the third and 2,718 for the fourth.

The information regarding the teens’ driving habits was based on their own reports during the interviews, and therefore interpretation of the causes of their driving habits was speculative, the authors noted. “At the same time, because the study began when the participants were playing video games but were too young to drive, it is clear that the videogame exposure preceded the risky driving,” Hull said.

Article: “A Longitudinal Study of Risk-Glorifying Video Games and Reckless Driving;” Jay G. Hull, PhD, and Ana M. Draghici, BA, Dartmouth College; James D. Sargent, MD, Dartmouth Medical School, Psychology of Popular Media Culture, Vol. 1, No. 4.

Jay G. Hull, PhDcan be contacted byemail or by phone at (603) 646-2098.

The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world’s largest association of psychologists. APA’s membership includes more than 137,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people’s lives.

Original article

An interesting NY Times article on the need for computer programmers.

Sacred Heart Greenwich Middle School Faculty Blog

It’s the Economy

Skills Don’t Pay the Bills

Illustration by Peter Oumanski
By ADAM DAVIDSON
Published: November 20, 2012

Earlier this month, hoping to understand the future of the moribund manufacturing job market, I visited the engineering technology program at Queensborough Community College in New York City. I knew that advanced manufacturing had become reliant on computers, yet the classroom I visited had nothing but computers. As the instructor Joseph Goldenberg explained, today’s skilled factory worker is really a hybrid of an old-school machinist and a computer programmer. Goldenberg’s intro class starts with the basics of how to use cutting tools to shape a raw piece of metal. Then the real work begins: students learn to write the computer code that tells a machine how to do it much faster.

Deep thoughts this week:

1. There is no skills gap.

2. Who will operate a highly sophisticated machine for $10…

View original post 1,213 more words

Struggling to Talk to Your Teenager? The Greatest Lesson I Ever Learned.

Struggling to Talk to Your Teenager? The Greatest Lesson I Ever Learned.

 

By Andy Braner, President/CEO of KIVU

So many of my friends with teenagers complain about the one-word answers they get when they attempt to communicate. They find it incredibly difficult to cultivate meaningful conversations with the very people who live under their roofs. I’ve heard hundreds of parent/teen conversations that sound something like this:

“Hey Honey, How was school?”
“Fine.”
“Did you have a chance to do your homework?”
“Yea.”
“What did you think about the movie you went to last night?”
“Good.”

And those of us with teenagers understand how complex it is to crack open a conversation with our teens. It seems like just yesterday they were running through the house longing for our attention, and then one day they woke up and turned into the one-word Zombie clan. I know several parents who ask themselves, “Why should I even try?”

Not long ago, I learned a valuable lesson about talking with my kids. I have to approach their world where they are.

So often, I counsel frustrated parents who feel “Well, he should do this,” or “she should do that.” We all quickly forget that NOBODY wants to have someone tell them what to do. Why should our teenagers feel any different?

A long-time mentor friend of mine said once, “if you want to talk to your kids, you have to meet them where they are.”

So… I started to work this out in real time.

When my youngest son was growing through elementary school, I noticed he had a gift for engineering. He loved building things. Blocks, Forts and especially LEGOS were his passion. He loved doing math, following instructions and watching his creation emerge from the box of 1,000 pieces.

Can you imagine?

What do you do when you have a 5-year-old who can sit for hours on the kitchen floor putting together the Death Star Lego set with 5,000 pieces? If you have a kid like this, let me be an encourager for a minute and say you have a kid with a gift.

I remember hearing my mentor’s words echo in the stillness of my own desire to connect with my son: “If you want to talk to your kids, you have to meet them where they are.”

Now, for a little background, I graduated with a degree in Theater Performance. I’m an artist. One thing you must know about artists — we don’t do Legos! Our brain functions differently. Sitting down to count the number of nipples on a block to make sure it fits in another is the farthest thing from what I think is a good time. But for the sake of my son, I started sitting amongst his piles of Legos with him.

For years, I forced myself to sit and learn to be interested in what he was interested in, and guess what? Today we have an incredible friendship. All those hours I spent meeting my son where he was and trying to be interested in the things he found valuable are paying off now. Sure, we have our fights. I have to correct, mentor and parent him. But for the most part, we’re good friends. He knows I love him and value his opinion. I know better how his mind functions and what makes him tick. He knows I’m in his corner and am his biggest cheerleader and I know he respects what I think. This is the bottom line of what it means to develop meaningful connections in families, with friends and certainly with people we work with.

If you’re having trouble connecting with your teen today, step back, take a deep breath, begin to notice the things they find valuable and start to engage.

You’re never going to understand the heart of your student by just letting them “figure life out.” After all, we’re parents, right? It’s our job, our duty and our incredible responsibility to teach, to train and to mentor our teens so they can go on to have long-term healthy relationships. If you can model for your teen what it means to connect, they will take this lesson with them wherever life unfolds.

Be encouraged today.

There are answers to helping parents connect with their kids, even when it seems like you don’t.

Follow Andy Braner on Twitter: www.twitter.com/braner

 

28 Days of Gratitude (With Kids) This Thanksgiving

28 Days of Gratitude (With Kids) This Thanksgiving

Posted: 11/21/2012 12:36 pm
By: , Executive Vice President and Chief Creative Officer of Books, Kids and Family, National Geographic

I am on a Gratitude Jihad.

For years, Oprah has been extolling the virtues of her Gratitude Journal. I knew I should do this, but the truth was I didn’t want to add one more thing to my To Do list.

Then, two weeks ago, I felt really down. There was no particular reason; I was probably just tired and overwhelmed with responsibility. I picked up a pen, and on the back of a bill, I found myself scribbling down five things I’m grateful for. This is not generic “Health, Kids, Family,” stuff. I’m keeping myself real. Here’s a sample list.

1. I’m grateful I didn’t lose my temper once today with my kids. No Mean Mommy, a personal if invisible victory.

2. I’m grateful for my bedroom, (I recently painted half of it peach), and the fact that I’m in my bed.

3. I’m grateful to my ex-husband for all that he does to support our family. Most married couples don’t get along as well as we do, despite the fact we’ve been divorced for three years.

4. I’m grateful for my friend Rebecca, who prevented me from adopting an irresistible pooch from a rescue site. “An untrained 60-lb dog that makes poops the size of Dachshunds is not what your family needs right now,” she said bluntly. She’s right.

5. I’m grateful that I don’t have to walk a dog in the morning.

Writing down my gratitude is part of the 28-day gratitude course in Rhonda Byrne’s The Magic. I have been doing this daily for two weeks and can honestly say it is working. I mean, I just found half a million dollars. Seriously! I refinanced my house, and that will be my debt reduction. And I got a parking spot right in front of North Face when I had to return a jacket.

In Byrne’s sequel to The Secret, she reminds us that all the major religions have gratitude at their core. Maybe this is why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday — because gratitude is such a universal theme, something everyone can embrace. The only gift it requires is being present — and grateful.

This Thanksgiving, I’m taking her advice and helping my kids participate by expressing their gratitude for the things that make their lives special. Magic for minis. Every night, I lie in bed with each kid and ask them to be thankful for something, anything. It is also a good reminder for me to pause and be present with my own children after a long, tiring day.

Last night, I was lying in bed with my 6-year-old daughter Mackenzie. When I asked her what she was most grateful for, she thought for a long time. Finally she said “Parmigiano cheese.”

I tried not to let her see me cracking up.

But she’s right, it always comes down to the simple things.

So this Thanksgiving we’re keeping it simple, and we’re remembering what Thanksgiving is about – being grateful.

One of the projects we’re really looking forward to is decorating the table. Mackenzie is an artist at heart and is looking forward to designing Thanksgiving placemats — the National Geographic Kids site even shows you how to make awesome hand-print turkeys — for each guest. With twelve guests coming this year, that is a lot of turkeys to draw. Her real task, though, is to write or draw why she is thankful for each guest. This exercise not only gives her a LOT of practice with her turkey decorating technique, it also helps her focus on her relationships with her relatives, some of whom she only sees a few times a year. And talk about something that will melt the hearts of each guest when they sit down!

The ability to acknowledge and express gratitude is a gift. In my 28-day practice, I can honestly say that that when you look at your cup half full, it always is.

If You’ve Got the Skills, She’s Got the Job

The New York Times, OP-ED COLUMNIST

If You’ve Got the Skills, She’s Got the Job

By 
Josh Haner/The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman

TRACI TAPANI is not your usual C.E.O. For the last 19 years, she and her sister have been co-presidents of Wyoming Machine, a sheet metal company they inherited from their father in Stacy, Minn. I met Tapani at a meeting convened by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development to discuss one of its biggest challenges today: finding the skilled workers that employers need to run local businesses. I’ll let Tapani take it from here:

“About 2009,” she explained, “when the economy was collapsing and there was a lot of unemployment, we were working with a company that got a contract to armor Humvees,” so her 55-person company “had to hire a lot of people. I was in the market looking for 10 welders. I had lots and lots of applicants, but they did not have enough skill to meet the standard for armoring Humvees. Many years ago, people learned to weld in a high school shop class or in a family business or farm, and they came up through the ranks and capped out at a certain skill level. They did not know the science behind welding,” so could not meet the new standards of the U.S. military and aerospace industry.

“They could make beautiful welds,” she said, “but they did not understand metallurgy, modern cleaning and brushing techniques” and how different metals and gases, pressures and temperatures had to be combined. Moreover, in small manufacturing businesses like hers, explained Tapani, “unlike a Chinese firm that does high-volume, low-tech jobs, we do a lot of low-volume, high-tech jobs, and each one has its own design drawings. So a welder has to be able to read and understand five different design drawings in a single day.”

Tapani eventually found a welder from another firm who had passed the American Welding Society Certified Welding Inspector exam, the industry’s gold standard, and he trained her welders — some of whom took several tries to pass the exam — so she could finish the job. Since then, Tapani trained a woman from Stacy, who had originally learned welding to make ends meet as a single mom. She took on the challenge of becoming a certified welding inspector, passed the exam and Tapani made her the company’s own in-house instructor, no longer relying on the local schools.

“She knows how to read a weld code. She can write work instructions and make sure that the people on the floor can weld to that instruction,” so “we solved the problem by training our own people,” said Tapani, adding that while schools are trying hard, training your own workers is often the only way for many employers to adapt to “the quick response time” demanded for “changing skills.” But even getting the right raw recruits is not easy. Welding “is a $20-an-hour job with health care, paid vacations and full benefits,” said Tapani, but “you have to have science and math. I can’t think of any job in my sheet metal fabrication company where math is not important. If you work in a manufacturing facility, you use math every day; you need to compute angles and understand what happens to a piece of metal when it’s bent to a certain angle.”

Who knew? Welding is now a STEM job — that is, a job that requires knowledge of science, technology, engineering and math.

Employers across America will tell you similar stories. It’s one reason we have three million open jobs around the country but 8 percent unemployment. We’re in the midst of a perfect storm: a Great Recession that has caused a sharp increase in unemployment and a Great Inflection — a merger of the information technology revolution and globalization that is simultaneously wiping out many decent-wage, middle-skilled jobs, which were the foundation of our middle class, and replacing them with decent-wage, high-skilled jobs. Every decent-paying job today takes more skill and more education, but too many Americans aren’t ready. This problem awaits us after the “fiscal cliff.”

“We need to be honest; there is a big case for Keynesian-style stimulus today, but that is not going to solve all our problems,” said the Harvard University labor economist Lawrence Katz. “The main reason the unemployment rate is higher today than it was in 2007, before the Great Recession, is because we have an ongoing cyclical unemployment problem — a lack of aggregate demand for labor — initiated by the financial crisis and persisting with continued housing market problems, consumers still deleveraging, the early cessation of fiscal stimulus compounded by cutbacks by state and local governments.” This is the main reason we went from around 5 percent to 8 percent unemployment.

But what is also true, says Katz, was that even before the Great Recession we had a mounting skills problem as a result of 25 years of U.S. education failing to keep up with rising skills demands, and it’s getting worse. There was almost a doubling of the college wage premium from 1980 to 2007 — that is, the extra income you earn from getting a two- or four-year degree. This was because there was a surge in demand for higher skills, as globalization and the I.T. revolution intensified, combined with a slowdown in the growth of supply of higher skills.

Many community colleges and universities simply can’t keep pace and teach to the new skill requirements, especially with their budgets being cut. We need a new “Race to the Top” that will hugely incentivize businesses to embed workers in universities to teach — and universities to embed professors inside businesses to learn — so we get a much better match between schooling and the job markets.

“The world no longer cares about what you know; the world only cares about what you can do with what you know,” explains Tony Wagner of Harvard, the author of “Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World.”

Eduardo Padrón, the president of Miami Dade College, the acclaimed pioneer in education-for-work, put it this way: “The skill shortage is real. Years ago, we started working with over 100 companies to meet their needs. Every program that we offer has an industry advisory committee that helps us with curriculum, mentorship, internships and scholarships. … Spanish-speaking immigrants used to be able to come here and get a decent job doing repetitive tasks in an office or factory and earn enough to buy a home and car and put their kids through school and enjoy middle-class status. That is no longer possible. … The big issue in America is not the fiscal deficit, but the deficit in understanding about education and the role it plays in the knowledge economy.”

The time when education — particularly the right kind of education — “could be a luxury for the few is long gone,” Padrón added.