Thought_A-256

Are schools guilty of peddling myths about the brain?

Understanding how children learn is a critical part of the studies teachers undergo in order to qualify in their field. For decades researchers have studied the science of learning and have tried to bring some level of deeper understanding to the complexity of the learning process from birth through to ongoing learning as adults. What are the factors that produce greater learning? Why are some people able to learn more in certain subjects than in others? What role does social interaction play in learning? How can teachers provide optimal conditions for learning to occur? Can we really train our memory? What causes us to remember some things and not others? The list of questions is endless!

 

Over the last few decades, the field of neuroscience has blossomed and the education sector has sat up and taken a keen interest. As a profession whose work revolves around learning, it makes sense that teachers continue to develop their understanding of how the brain learns. Unfortunately, along with excellent insights and understanding, has come a plethora of neuromyths which have unfortunately been peddled by schools as neuroscience. Parents and teachers have taken these ideas and embraced them in homes and classrooms as if they are absolute fact without due consideration given to the truth of the science behind them.

 

Have you ever heard these before?

 

– A child is either a visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learner.
– We only use 10% of our brain.
– A child is either left-brain or right-brain dominant.
– Playing brain games make you smarter.

 

The attraction of these myths is that they make the complex simple; the confusing clear. It is tempting to latch onto one or more of these and to categorise our children according to what seems to be their learning style or area of brain dominance. What we know is that teaching children using a variety of senses results in stronger learning and that children sometimes choose not to give of their best in certain learning areas as they’ve been told it doesn’t fit with their right or left brain dominance. False science runs the risk of preventing our children from fulfilling their God-given learning potential. When we learn more about how the brain actually does learn, we can provide the best possible opportunity for real learning to occur.

 

In her book, Brain Matters, Patricia Woolfe lists eight ways we can optimise learning based on what we know about how our brains learn:

 

– Provide as much experiential learning as possible
– Build on prior knowledge
– Use rehearsal strategies appropriate to what is being learnt
– Provide many opportunities for children to revisit information
– Emphasize concepts over facts
– Assist children in understanding information and how it can be used in the ‘real’ world
– Provide a safe psychological environment
– Provide positive emotional events

 

While not neuroscientists or brain researchers, teachers continue to grow in their understanding of how the brain learns. Great teachers work diligently at using research and data to provide the best possible opportunities for their pupils to optimise their learning.

 

As science continues to shed new light on how the brain learns, teachers need to continue to use this information to provide the best possible learning experiences for their pupils.

 

Thought_A-256

Teacher Stretch

I recently came across this statement in the book ‘Leadership for Learning‘ by Carl Glickman. I love the sentiment and challenge expressed:

If, as a teacher,

  • I present the same lessons in the same manner that I have used in the past;
  • I seek no feedback from my students;
  • I do not analyse and evaluate their work in a manner that changes my own emphasis, repertoire and timing;
  • I do not visit and observe other adults as they teach;
  • I do not share the work of my students with colleauges for feedback, suggestions and critiques;
  • I do not visit other schools or attend particular workshops or seminars or read professional literature on aspects of my teaching;
  • I do not welcome visitors with experience and expertise to observe and provide feedback to me on my classroom practice;
  • I have no yearly individualised professional development plan focused on classroom changes to improve student learning; and finally,
  • I have no systemic evaluation of my teaching tied to individual, grade/department, and schoolwide goals;

THEN

I have absolutely no way to become better as a teacher.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that if we truly to create learning environments which teach children to love learning, to engage creatively with the world around them and to develop the skills needed for them to be successful adults in our ever-changing world, every teacher in every school will need to create a culture of continual learning and a commitment to a growth mindset. There is simply no more place in our schools for teachers who believe that they can no longer adapt their practice through professional learning and feedback.

Glickman also states,

“Successful schools stand in great contrast to mediocre and low performing schools where faculty work apart from each other, and without common purpose, and with self-centered beliefs that they are doing the best they can.” – Glickman, Carl D. Leadership For Learning. 1st ed. Alexandria: Assn Supervn & Curr Dev, 2002. Print.

This is such a powerful challenge and one which those of us working in schools need to take seriously if we are to provide places of dynamic and relevant teaching and learning.

Thought_A-256

Transformation before technology!

Changing an outdated industrial-age paradigm of education to a relevant 21st century one will take more than simply adding technology. This piece by Will Richardson sums up my sentiments around this issue so well that I simply had to quote his blog post – I cannot say it better than this!

From the “I Know I Keep Saying This But I Just Can’t Stop Dept.” comes yet another example of how out of whack our language is when talking about what student learning should be. In this long,celebratory piece from the Las Vegas Sun today we learn that students at a Nevada charter school have had their learning “transformed” at the Explore Knowledge Academy, the state’s first iSchool. And the path to transformation? The iPad, of course.

“The world has changed; the expectations in the workforce have changed,” said Abbe Mattson, EKA’s executive director. “You can’t even work at a McDonald’s without using a touch screen. … If we don’t change how we teach, it’s a disservice to our kids.”

Grrrrr…

In the six months since its technology infusion, EKA has become a model of what the classrooms of the 21st century might look like in Clark County.  Although some students found learning to use the new technology challenging, most took to digital learning immediately, Mattson said.  “It’s like second nature for the students,” she said. “They’re open to trying this and they’re used to this multimedia access.”

Students use the iPads to access educational websites and applications as well as electronic textbooks. They use the iPad to take notes and the tablet’s camera to photograph whiteboards filled with teacher’s lessons and chemistry formulas. Some even record lectures using the iPad’s digital voice recorder or video camera, referring to them when they review for tests.

“I love them,” eighth-grader Alexa Freeman, 13, said of the iPads. “They’re super fast and easy to use.”

Wow…

And, finally…wait for it…

Educators say the potential payoff of this digital education is enormous, even though it’s still unproven if this nascent technology will increase student achievement. Educational games and visual applications attempt to make learning fun and keep students’ attention, which should translate to better test scores, teachers say.  “If you can get kids engaged, they’ll learn,” Mattson said. “These iPads will help get kids engaged.”

Learning = better test scores. And so it goes…

Look, I know that this here blog has not been all happy, happy lately. I know my cynicism is seeping through more that even I would like. I know I need to get focused on the good, seriously transformative things that some “bold” schools are doing, and I will, I promise. Really.

But I also know that if we keep allowing stories like these to set the bar for change, we’re shortchanging our kids. It’s yet another example of conflating teaching and learning, of not fully understanding the shift to self-directed, personal learning that technology and the Web support. Transformation in this sense means shifting the balance of power to the learner. And I know that starts way before we put a piece of technology in a kid’s hands. But with that power, the technology becomes a much richer, more valuable tool for learning.

I just feel like we have to keep calling this what it is: old wine in new bottles.

Original article

 

 

Thought_A-256

Learning to change – changing to learn (Video)

I love this video which challenges our perceptions of what true learning in the 21st century really looks like. I am challenged to take this message not only to my team of teachers at school but to our parents and wider education community.