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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.