I have been to 2 talks this week on much the same theme. The first was Norman Doidge talking abut his research and book on ‘The Brian that Changes Itself’. The second was at the Scottish Learning Festival where Carol Dweck spoke about how we can develop resilience and the capacity to learn. Both emphasised the plasticity of the brain. Academics have caught up with practitioners in recognising that intelligence is no longer regarded as fixed, but rather like a muscle to be exercised.
Doidge talked about the ‘doctrine of the unchanging brain’ which, for 400 years, decreed that if you were born with neurological difficulties, then you were ‘hard-wired’, genetically predetermined, to mental dysfunction. This had significant effects on the provision, or not, of opportunities for those children who did not learn as efficiently as expected.

Because the brain was thought to be incapable of re-organising itself, nothing could be done. Intelligence was deemed to be fixed; therefore human nature itself was fixed. However, Doidge and fellows are now able to prove what many of us working with young people have known intuitively that people can change, can learn and surmount enormous difficulties with application, support and sheer determination.
Dweck’s depiction of the contrast between learners and non-learners, between those with a fixed and a growth mindset, reflected these points. She talked about the difference between ‘looking clever’ and real learning. She demonstrated the power of praise, both for good and for ill. Praise for effort (‘You really worked hard’) gives youngsters a recipe for recovering from failure; while praise for intelligence (‘You are really clever’) allows children to retreat to their comfort zones, blame others for lack of success or try to feel superior.dweck

Both speakers trod somewhat familar paths , and I take issue with some of Doidge’s conclusions for practitioners which I shall explore later. However, it was good to be stimulated by internationally known academics.