What I'm Reading, 2016

With my new concentration superpowers from meditating, my consumption of books has rocketed from one a month to one a week. My goal in 2016 is to read 50.

I track my reading on Trello. Here’s my bookshelf board. But here’s a list of my favourites so far:

The Brain that Changes Itself, Norman Doidge

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I chose this book to help me understand one of my students, who has a learning difficulty that makes reading comprehension extremely difficult. In researching ways to teach her to comprehend the language she’s reading and hearing, I watched a TED talk by Barbara Arrowsmith-Young on how she rewired her brain and overcame a similar learning difficulty.

I was inspired, and she led me to Doidge.

Doidge taught me as much about my own brain as he did about my student’s. Not only was it possible for my student to overcome her neural impairment through cognitive exercises like Fast Forword and the Lindamood Bell Visualising and Verbalising method, but I could make my own brain better at learning.

The brain is plastic. It’s constantly changing. It isn’t hardware, it’s more like a muscle that can be strengthened and can recover from impairment. Neurons, like worker bees, are assigned to tasks and they get good at performing those tasks. Doidge’s phrase ‘use it or lose it’ describes how skills we don’t use gradually fall away as the neurons that perform them get reassigned to new skills, or just die off.

Further, we can create new neurons by exercising. We can make ourselves smarter.

The final takeaway is that rewards activate neurotransmitters, effectively priming the brain to learn, while emotions like fear and shame shut down neurotransmitters and make it difficult to learn. This might sound like common sense, but I witness teachers every day shaming pupils who haven’t done homework or have misheard an instruction in front of the whole class, effectively condemning the most vulnerable students to even more barriers to learning.

Having solid empirical evidence for the above has transformed my mindset. Our brains are vast and limitless. Lean into your cognitive weaknesses and strengthen them.