Live 2 Learn

A few thoughts and ideas

Neuromyths and wasting effort in education

The following is related to an article contained in a newsletter from the Independent Schools Queensland (ISQ) organisation. (Find the document here ).

As parents and professional educators, we all try to do the best for our children. However, we can sometimes find ourselves using methods that seem sensible but which have little or no provable benefit. Some of these methods and approaches can seem well accepted, both by the general population and specifically by educators, when they and their benefits are actually myths.

In some cases, practises that are commonly believed to be beneficial can actually be detrimental to students. This can be because the practice has no provable learning benefit or is actually detrimental to students’ development. The practise can also be damaging to teachers, in that we spend time carrying out the practice when we could be doing more effective and alternative work with students.

Significant sources of teaching and learning ‘myths’ are found in the areas of Learning Styles, Dyslexia, the use of music in learning, the left/right brain idea and practises that refer to brain utilisation. Collectively these along with other techniques and methods are know as ‘Neuromyths’. The ISQ article considers some of the findings of Dekker er al (2012) and is worth reading in full.

Researchers have found the following pattern of beliefs around neuromyths

Over the years, I have spent hours faithfully surveying students for ‘learning styles’ in my classes and across whole year levels. I have even produced activities based on students’ preferred learning styles, believing I was benefiting my students. I admit I have also used classical music in my classrooms to ‘set the mood’ for quality learning. I now kick myself for not being more critical when adopting these practices.

I guess the moral of the story is, try different practices but be critical and selective about where you put your time and effort and direct the time and effort of your students. It does not hurt students to think about and discuss the ways in which they learn. One of the most effective Habits of Mind is ‘Metacognition’, which is actually about ‘thinking about thinking’, obviously an element of this is to consider ways of learning, preferences and even ‘learning styles’.

The key for educators is to be a critical consumer of educational ideas and methods and have a balanced approach to the amount of time and effort spent on particular innovations and practices. This is especially true in the modern era where a study that leads to an idea is then packaged up and commoditised as a commercial product, the presentation of which may be far removed from the actual intention of study or, indeed, its actual findings.

See the ISQ article for more information, the article is an easy read and only 4 pages – the article on Neuromyths starts on page 4 of the Briefing publication.

I’d be interested to see your reactions to this issue and specifically to the neuromyths mentioned.

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