Basically, a study by Leiden University as reported in ScienceDaily (27 September 2008) revealed that kids below the age of 12 do not learn from their mistakes. How many times have you scolded your 9-year-old for making a particular mistake in his work, only to find, to your vexation, that he repeats his mistake once again? Apparently, this is not a case of bad memory or a callous attitude towards work.
Using fMRI research, Dr Eveline Crone and her colleagues from the Leiden Brain and Cognition Lab compared the brains of three different age groups: children aged 8 and 9, children aged 11 and 12, and adults aged 18 to 25. They found, to their surprise, distinct differences in the brain activity of the parts of the cerebral cortex that are responsible for cognitive control for the 8-year-old group vs the 12-year-old group.
In children of eight and nine, these areas of the brain react strongly to positive feedback and scarcely respond at all to negative feedback... Twelve-year-olds are better able to process negative feedback, and use it to learn from their mistakes. Adults do the same, but more efficiently... Their 'control centres' in the brain are more strongly activated by negative feedback and much less by positive feedback.This article was very enlightening for me. If you are like me and most other parents, we tend to scold our children for getting answers to questions wrong. And I believe primary school children are scolded the most for academic matters because they seem to keep making the same mistakes and need constant repeating to get information "drummed into their heads". Well, if this research is to be believed, we parents are actually impeding, not helping our children to learn!
Children below the age of 12 encompass the bulk of primary school kids in Singapore. The research shows that the brains of this group of children function very differently. Mistakes don't actually register, perhaps due to immaturity or lack of experience. More importantly, what registers most is positive feedback. I know this from my own experience. Eg. if I praise Andre for doing a particular sum right, he almost never gets the same type of sum wrong again. When he saw that his smiley face answer for a maths question had garnered so much positive reaction from the mothers here, he kept trying to replicate it in all subsequent papers!
This means that we have to re-think the way we teach our children, as Crone mentions:
These surprising results set Crone thinking. 'You start to think less in terms of 'good' and 'not so good'. Children of eight may well be able to learn extremely efficiently, only they do it in a different way.'... She is able to place her fMRI results within the existing knowledge about child development. 'From the literature, it appears that young children respond better to reward than to punishment.' She can also imagine how this comes about: 'The information that you have not done something well is more complicated than the information that you have done something well. Learning from mistakes is more complex than carrying on in the same way as before. You have to ask yourself what precisely went wrong and how it was possible.'This is my interpretation of what we should do as parents: instead of scolding our children for mistakes, we should approach the situation in a different manner. Correct the mistake but instead of focusing on what they did wrong, show them how to do it right and praise them when they get it right. They will remember it better.
It could be loosely related to something I read yonks ago, that if you focus your brain on an activity, you get subconsciously drawn towards it, whether it's positive or negative. Let me elaborate: if you keep telling yourself, "I must not eat that ice-cream", chances are you will cave and eat that ice-cream because all your brain can think about is that ice-cream! (It has conveniently tuned out the "I must not eat" part). Why do you think so many diets fail?
So if you instruct your child to keep telling herself, "I will not make careless mistakes", it might actually backfire because the brain has "careless mistakes" right on Priority No.1! Instead, I usually tell Lesley-Anne when going into an exam to tell herself, "I can do this well" or something like that. In other words, focus on the positive - what you want to achieve, not the negative - want you want to avoid. (Note: I have no evidence on whether this actually works, but I'm not going to risk the other!)
Going back to the article, I don't know if this new-found knowledge will enable me to help Andre learn better, but at least I know now what NOT to do (yah, I know it's hard, scolding is like second nature to us!) Or at least just until he turns 12, haha. (I mentioned to Ad, wah must be exactly 12? Macam like Cinderella like that!)