Cognitive therapy versus tutoring: Training the brain

“Not only can the brain learn new tricks, but it can also change its structure and function” (Begley 72).

In January 2007, Time magazine printed a “Mind and Body Special Issue” that focused on the ways in which science about the brain has changed over the past several years.  It was once believed that “the adult human brain is essentially immutable, hardwired, fixed in form and function,” but this is not so, according to recent research (Begley 74).  Harvard Medical School’s neuroscientist Alvaro Pascual-Leone tested brain plasticity by having two groups of people practice a simple, five-finger piano exercise. The volunteers practiced two hours each day for five days; one group of volunteers attempted to keep in time with a 60-beat per minute metronome and the others played at their own pace.  Each participant “sat beneath a coil of wire that sent a brief magnetic pulse into the motor cortex of their brain, located in a strip running from the crown of the head toward the ear” (Begley 72).  This transcranial-magnetic-stimulation (TMS) allowed scientists “to infer the function of neurons just beneath the coil” (Begley 72).  Scientists found “after a week of practice, the stretch of motor cortex devoted to these finger movements took over surrounding areas” (Begley 72).

Brainjogging enables the development of new neurons and the strengthening of neural connections.

Pascual-Leone showed that “greater use of a particular muscle causes the brain to devote more cortical real estate to it” (Belgey 72). Brainjogging believes that the key to success is training the brain to learn; if the brain is unprepared, new information will not assimilate with old information.  The brain has neuroplasticity, which is the ability to change its structure and function in response to experience.  Brainjogging capitalizes on the brain’s neuroplasticity: Brainjoggers train their minds to learn.  This, essentially, is the difference between Brainjogging, a cognitive therapy program, and tutoring.  Tutors coach children through information, and in some cases, this is immensely helpful; in others, children’s brains are not ready to learn and must be primed for learning prior to any degree of academic success.  Brainjogging founder Shirley M. Pennebaker, M.Ed., says, “When the pupil is ready, the teacher may teach.”  Oftentimes, pupils, particularly those with a learning disability, are not ready to be taught, and so information provided by teachers is “in one ear and out the other.”  Brainjogging, unlike tutoring, trains pupils’ brains to receive and assimilate new information.  Brainjogging’s computer exercises stimulate the creation of new neurons and, by repeated exposure to variations of the same exercise, strengthen neural connections.

Fifty million “Americans … suffer from neurological illnesses” of some type (Rosen 97). An estimated fifteen percent of Americans have “learning disabilities that affect their ability to listen, speak, read, reason, spell or perform mathematical calculations.  Most of these problems can be overcome with training” (Nash 110). Brainjogging is applicable to all learners, not merely those with diagnosed learning disabilities.

Begley, Sharon. “How the Brain Rewires Itself.” Time 29 January 2007: 72-79. Print.
Nash, J. Madeline. “The Gift of Mimicry.” Time 29 January 2007: 108-113. Print.
Rosen, Jonathon. “Who should Read your Mind?.” Time 29 January 2007: 96-101. Print.

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