It's time for teachers to wake up to neuromyths

Over recent years a new industry has exploded that sells educational interventions purportedly based on neuroscience to schools. In 2006 a paper published in Nature Reviews Neuroscience reported that teachers were receiving 70 emails per year marketing these tools and it seems the problem has only got worse. Unfortunately, neuroscience research simply doesn't even remotely back up a great many of the claims that are now being made.


Earlier this month Sense about Science published a great list of neuromyths that have found their way into education and called on Ofsted (the UK regulatory body for schools) to stand up to the use of neuromyths in the classroom. The methods and ideas highlighted by Sense about Science include the assumption that children have fixed auditory, visual or kinetic learning styles; methods based on Gardner's discredited model of multiple intelligences and the teaching of left/right brain theory. We also saw the publication this month of an extensive review of educational approaches informed by neuroscience by the Education Endowment Foundation.

A Wellcome Trust teacher survey published this month produced a number of worrying statistics, for example a stunning 39% of teachers used to use (and 16% still use) the discredited Brain Gym approach which is based on flawed, non peer-reviewed research. Thankfully only two of the over a thousand teachers surveyed said they planned to start using Brain Gym but for every non evidence-based intervention that is on its way out, there is a new one to take its place.

All of the above is important reading for educators but somehow seems to miss the sheer outlandishness of the rationale that many of the packages being marketed as brain based methods are based on. As Oxford developmental neuropsychologist Dorothy Bishop explained in a blog post earlier this week, at the present time neuroscience is of precious little use in the classroom when compared to behavioural indicators  - what use are abstract measures such as brain activation when we can directly assess educational outcomes with methods that teachers can actually use in real life?

A recurring theme in the conversation on educational neuroscience is the fact that teachers are simply not given formal science based guidance on what works, leaving a vacuum eagerly filled by those out to make a buck by masquerading unsupported techniques as based in science. So what does work? The resounding conclusion seems to be that for now, teachers should look to psychology and cognitive science research rather than neuroscience research. This time last year a fantastic literature review of learning techniques was published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest. I'd urge any teachers to read it in full, but as it's a rather dense document I've done my best to paraphrase it here.

Hopefully if we shout loud enough the message will get through and we won't see another generation of students wearing "VAK" badges pigeonholing them as a "V" an "A" or a "K" (for visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learner); or schools spending thousands of pounds on brain training software based on research that demonstrates nothing but that children who play a game repeatedly get better at that game.

To keep up to date with this blog you can follow Neurobonkers on TwitterFacebookRSS or join the mailing list.

Why American history lives between the cracks

The stories we tell define history. So who gets the mic in America?

Videos
  • History is written by lions. But it's also recorded by lambs.
  • In order to understand American history, we need to look at the events of the past as more prismatic than the narrative given to us in high school textbooks.
  • Including different voices can paint a more full and vibrant portrait of America. Which is why more walks of American life can and should be storytellers.
Keep reading Show less

Juice is terrible for children. Why do we keep giving it to them?

A glass of juice has as much sugar, ounce for ounce, as a full-calorie soda. And those vitamins do almost nothing.

Pixabay user Stocksnap
popular

Quick: think back to childhood (if you've reached the scary clown you've gone too far). What did your parents or guardians give you to keep you quiet? If you're anything like most parents, it was juice. But here's the thing: juice is bad for you. 

Keep reading Show less

Scientists claim the Bible is written in code that predicts future events

The controversy around the Torah codes gets a new life.

Michael Drosnin
Surprising Science
  • Mathematicians claim to see a predictive pattern in the ancient Torah texts.
  • The code is revealed by a method found with special computer software.
  • Some events described by reading the code took place after the code was written.
Keep reading Show less