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Second in the Brain Week series: Developing brains and AVID

First segment of a three-part article

By William Madigan and Dr. Jacquelyn Gamino

Collaboration between education and the neuroscience field is an important step to advance understanding and application of principles of learning that support student growth, achievement, and brain health. Thus, inspecting AVID ideals under a neuroscience microscope helps us understand why AVID students thrive in the special environment. The following article, written collaboratively by a seasoned AVID instructor and a cognitive neuroscientist, provides a sketch of the importance of the AVID elective course for empowering students from a brain development perspective.

The ages in which students participate in AVID represent an epic in life when the brain is undergoing enormous change. In fact, during adolescence the brain is changing more dramatically than it does at any other time in life except for early infancy. This developmental period provides a window of opportunity for training students in ways that optimize brain function for the present and the future. The fundamental elements of the AVID elective closely align with cognitive neuroscience findings of brain development, underscoring the importance of this resource for academic success.

Primarily, the AVID classroom allows students the opportunity to use their brains in ways most tracked courses do not. All too often, schools emphasize enrichment for those who are identified as gifted but fail to offer enrichment to the “average” student. Seeing students as capable learners and exposing them to enriched, rigorous classes helps the brain develop optimally rather minimally. The encouragement to attempt rigorous intellectual pursuits is scaffolded with the key principles of the AVID elective that support success. 

One of the basic elements AVID provides is the organizational tools associated with the AVID binder, learning logs, and goal setting. Planning and organization are key executive functions that stimulate frontal lobe activity. Research in cognitive neuroscience supports early and regular use of planning strategies to enhance brain function. The regular practice of organization and planning supports optimal frontal lobe development. Evidence suggests that these functions are amenable to change and improvement with proper stimulation. Furthermore, optimizing executive functions has been shown to improve academic success. Thus, through reliance on organization and planning, students in the AVID elective are entrenched in a brain healthy environment.

In addition to executive functions such as planning and organizing, frontal lobe function is important for reasoning, critical thinking, and other higher-order thinking skills. Frontal lobe development continues throughout adolescence and into early adulthood, with full maturation reached at around 25 years of age. Frontal lobe development is optimized in an environment that promotes planning, critical thinking, reading, inquiry, and writing.

One of the foundations of inquiry in AVID is the practice of Cornell notes. Cornell notes allow the student additional frontal lobe exercise, as the student has to engage in deeper thought processes. Questions build thought processes and their answers enhance world knowledge. Formulating questions induces frontal lobe development through the synthesis and analysis of information. A brain that is stimulated primarily through the regurgitation of isolated information is a very underutilized brain.

The Socratic Seminar engages the frontal lobes of the brain by allowing the students to puzzle over and solve their own questions and problems by engaging in reasoning.  Thus, the questioning strengthens the neural networks by the exercise of synthesizing answers other’s input with analysis and reasoning.  These exercises enable greater problem solving and reasoning ability in the future, because the student has learned to question and think.

Brain Week continues tomorrow.  How do AVID tutorials improve brain function?

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