When Harry Giles founded his first French immersion school (The Toronto French School) in 1962, he stumbled upon a fascinating phenomenon. He found that when he exposed very young children to a second language, they became better learners across all academic subjects.
When Torsten Wiesel and David H. Hubel were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1981, he felt his notions were justified. Wiesel and Hubel proved that without appropriate and targeted stimulation, neural pathways die. The study proved that if an eye is not used during the formative time of brain development, it will never be able to see even if there is nothing physically wrong with the eye.
Strengthened by these findings, Harry Giles went to work. He hypothesized that it was not just a second language that stimulated the neural pathways of his students, but all mentally stimulating activities. Adding math, science, art and music to his early learning curriculum (starting at age 2.5), the outcome was extraordinary. As a framework to discuss the results, Harry Giles coined the phrase “operating intelligence”. He used it to define the level at which a child functions in the world and their ability to grasp concepts.
It is Harry Giles’ belief, based on years and years of experience, that exposing young children to a second (and then a third) language, in addition to mathematics, science, art and music, can increase their operating intelligence by 20%. This is the sole reason why students at The Giles School are working 1 to 2 grades ahead of students in the public (and private) school system. It is not that The Giles School only chooses exceptionally bright students – how could they when the application process is first-come first-served? It is that the Giles method is effective on any child because it is structured around the scientific facts of human brain development.
From age 1 to 3, neural pathways thrive as each new experience leads to growth of new connections. The more pathways that are made, the more possibilities exist. After the age of 3, connections are pruned or consolidated with the result that only those that are well used and meaningfully tied to the child’s experience remain. In other words, the survival of neurons is determined by their activity: neurons that make enough functional connection grow; neurons that do not undergo a programmed death process (and become food for the brain!).
The window of opportunity for affecting children’s brain development is incredibly short-lived. Recognizing the connection between the quality of children’s relationships and future social behaviour, The Giles School provides children with environmental stimulation that creates optimal neural wiring and encourages the development of thoughtful, academically competent adults.
The Giles School programme actively stimulates as many neural pathways as possible, and keeps them stimulated, achieving an optimum operating intelligence for each student.
In the 1990’s scientists at the university in Parma, Italy accidentally discovered “mirror neurons”. While mapping the firing of motor neurons in monkeys as they performed basic physical tasks, they noticed that many of the same neurons that fired when the monkeys picked up an object also fired when they watched an assistant absently pick up a stray peanut from the lab floor.
The implications of this study are broad. In fact, one scientist claimed that the discovery of mirror neurons would do for the field of neurology what the discovery of DNA did for biology.
Studies on mirror neurons have exploded over the past decade and these neurons are speculatively attributed to our ability to acquire language, learn skills by imitation, the development of empathy, and even our understanding of self.
The saying, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is reflective of these findings. Just like all neural pathways, there is a limited window of opportunity to “mirror” behaviour to human beings or mirror neurons will not develop.
Within the realm of education, this insight into the human brain is extremely relevant. It proves that people learn better through modelling or mentoring rather than through self-discovery. One scientist even proved that more mirror neurons fire when people are watching a task they are going to be asked to perform than when “passively” observing a task that has nothing to do with their future experience.
Montessori and other popular methods of educating children encourage students to be self-directed while the teacher remains an observer only. Montessori teachers are even often called “guides” or “directors” rather than teachers. In contrast, The Giles School offers structured modelling of tasks supported by positive reinforcement. Children learn to read, write and speak foreign languages because they are shown how and encouraged when they mimic the skill.
The tragedy of many popular education models is that the younger the children are, the more open-ended the structure often is. Precisely at the age when children are most receptive to stimulation and mirroring, the majority of educators shy away, letting children “learn through discovery”.
Learning through play, song, interaction with each other and from positive reinforcement from the teacher in an entirely French immersive classroom, Giles students excel in a stress free stimulating environment.
The Giles School has created an innovative early learning programme, which brings the intellectual and emotional capabilities of each and every child to the highest possible level.
At The Giles School, the classroom is animated by democratic principles where every child is socially equal and unique. Our teachers inspire children to build relationships through cooperation and contribution; efforts which spark feelings of emotional connectedness, community belonging, and social commitment. Class management capitalizes on a child’s freedom to choose behaviours: every choice becomes a learning experience framed by encouragement for positive achievements or natural and logical consequences for misbehaviour. In highlighting virtue and redirecting students’ interests, The Giles School awakens curiosity about new areas. Children develop vibrant identities as learning encourages growing aspirations. Movement toward these goals fosters a creative and expansive blueprint for living. The advantage of an Adlerian education consists is the holistic focus on each child’s dynamic personality development.
The Giles School fulfils its mission when students display active adaptability, optimism, courage, self-confidence, and social interest long after graduation.
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80 Scarsdale Road, York Mills, Toronto, Ontario M3B 2R7
t 416.446.0825 f 416.446.0846