There is another post today, summing things up. It's here.
Links to previous posts:
Challenges in applying neuroscientific data to education.
Day 1: Basic architecture
Day 2: Single cell inspiration
Day 3: Reliable neuro-knowledge
Day 4: Confirm a Construct
Today's technique differs from the other four. Those concerned how you could use neuroscientific data to improve a behavioral theory, which you would then use to improve education outcomes.
Neuroscientific data also shows promise in helping with the early identification of learning problems. The best-studied of these is dyslexia.
It would be very useful indeed to know with confidence which children will have difficulty learning to read. The earlier the intervention, the better.
Traditionally, one would use behavioral measures like word attack or reading fluency, or phonological processing. Typically, a battery of tests would be used. (One intriguing new study suggests that a measure of visuo-spatial attention may be a good predictor of later reading difficulty: Franceschini et al, 2012)
But there is evidence that structural differences in the brains of children who will later have trouble learning to read are present before reading onset. (Raschle, Chang & Gaab, 2011; Raschle, Zuk & Gaab, 2012). dyslexia has a neural basis present before reading instruction begins, might you be able to identify children who will very likely have significant trouble with reading before instruction ever begins?
A number of laboratories have been working on this problem, and progress is being made. These researchers are not looking to toss out behavioral measures--they are looking to supplement them. The more successful of these efforts (e.g., Hoeft et al., 2007) show that behavioral measures predict reading problems, neuroscientific measures predict reading problems, and using both types of data provides better prediction than either measure alone. In other words, the neuroscientific data is capturing information not captured by the behavioral measures, and vice versa.
This is not an easy problem to solve, but progress seems likely.
Franceschini, S., Gori, S. Ruffino, M., Pedrolli, K. & Facoetti, A.(2012). A causal link between visual spatial attention and reading acquisition. Current Biology, 22, 814-819.
Hoeft, F., Ueno, T., Reiss, A. L., Meyler, A., Whitfield-Gabrieli, S., Glover, G. H., ... & Gabrieli, J. D. (2007). Prediction of children's reading skills using behavioral, functional, and structural neuroimaging measures. Behavioral neuroscience, 121, 602-613.
Raschle, N. M., Chang, M., & Gaab, N. (2011). Structural brain alterations associated with dyslexia predate reading onset. Neuroimage, 57, 742-749.
Raschle, N. M., Zuk, J., & Gaab, N. (2012). Functional characteristics of developmental dyslexia in left-hemispheric posterior brain regions predate reading onset. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(6), 2156-2161.