Science of Learning and Development: A Synthesis

Pamela Cantor, Turnaround for Children; Harvard Graduate School of Education
Lily Steyer, Turnaround for Children

Human development derives from the continuous interaction between the individual and the context of each individual’s relationships and experiences. Development is shaped by a convergence of individual, biological, contextual, cultural, and historical factors.

This paper attempts to converge multiple areas of discipline and research and has four purposes:

  • To synthesize and align scientific literature from diverse fields while exploring the role of context and its positive and negative dimensions;
  • To provide a foundation to develop a research and development agenda attempting to translate science into practice to aid schools and child-serving systems;
  • To provide scientific background for a practice document; and
  • To catalyze the creation of supportive policy context in an attempt to enable widespread adoption of scientifically informed practices.

Some of the key themes that emerged from the analysis:

  • The ongoing, reciprocal relations between individuals’ biology, their relationships, and the ecologies and contextual influences in which they are embedded determine the expression of their genetic endowment and ultimately their development as individuals.
  • Resilience and thriving in the face of adversity is possible, and is a product of children’s internal assets and supports from individuals within a child’s social environment.
  • Adults’ buffering of stress plays a central role in healthy child development; therefore, building and supporting adult capacity are critically important tasks.
  • Schools and other child-serving systems are potentially powerful contexts through which stress can be buffered, neural integration and connectivity supported, and individual development nurtured.