World EduLead 2019: Dr. Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa

Dr. Tokuhama-Espinosa completed a review of the neuroscience literature in early childhood education in 2013. Upon this review she found that everything needed to learn early Mathematics and Literacy skills could be catergorised as one or more of the 'pillars' of the mind. She summised that each pillar correlated with a specific network and its growth can be measured and documented. The pillars are:

  1. Symbol

  2. A Pattern

  3. An expression or order

  4. A relationship

  5. A category

For example, in language, symbols include the letters and punctuation marks; the patterns included the rules used to conjugate verbs in the past tense; order os expressed in grammatical structures; relationships can be seen in subject-verb agreements; and categories include the way can can divide words into nouns, adjectives, verbs and so on.

Tokuhama-Espinosa identifies a number of eureka moments that led to her identifying the 'Five Pillars of the Mind'.

1. Neuro-constructivism is real. All the pieces are learning need to be in place for it to take place.

2. Curriculum alignment is successful when matched to neuro-constructivism. Tokuhama-Espinosa already acknowledges that the steps of the curriculum are already effective developmentally.

3. There are four broad categories of learning networks - Physiological & Cultural, Social & Emotional, Cognitive (General), & Cognitive (Domain).

4. Teachers lack the knowledge about what stimulates the learning networks and also recognising the gaps.

5. Networks in the brain are more important that school subjects. Everything learned is tied to the five pillars.

The five pillars are trans-disciplinary and easy to understand.

  • They work for soft skills and specific skills

  • Improve diagnosis and learning problems

  • Focused on mastery of learning

The downside

  • The curriculum needs a rethink

  • Standardised testing is inconvenient

  • Teacher preparation time is huge

  • There is disparity in how we qualify success in schools

Tokuhama-Espinosa finished by reminding the congress that sharing these five pillars with students will support them to understand the way they learn.

Ben Ward-Smith


Lytton Street School, Feilding

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