Educators' Misguided Belief in 'Neuromyths' Hinders Children's Learning, Expert Says

By Perry, Susan | MinnPost.com, October 21, 2014 | Go to article overview

Educators' Misguided Belief in 'Neuromyths' Hinders Children's Learning, Expert Says


Perry, Susan, MinnPost.com


I've noted here before how certain pop-psychology assertions about the brain stubbornly persist, despite being thoroughly debunked by scientists. A 2013 survey found, for example, that 65 percent of Americans still believe in the 80-year-old bogus notion (reinforced this year, unfortunately, by the sci-fi thriller "Lucy") that humans use only 10 percent of their brain's capacity.

Other widely popular brain-related myths include the idea that we tend to be either more analytical or more creative depending on which side of our brain we use the most and that we learn best when we receive information in our "preferred" learning style, whether it be visual, auditory or kinesthetic.

Does it matter that a large proportion of people are so misinformed about the brain?

Yes, says Paul Howard-Jones, an associate professor of neuroscience and education at Bristol University in the United Kingdom. For, as he points out in an article published last week in Nature Reviews Neuroscience, large percentages of educators around the world commonly believe in one or more discredited "neuromyth." And that factor often hinders their ability to be effective teachers.

Howard-Jones' article is one that all teachers should assign themselves to read.

Leading neuromyths

Previous studies conducted by Howard-Jones and his colleagues in five different countries (the U.K., the Netherlands, Turkey, Greece and China) identified at least seven neuromyths that "have persisted in schools and colleges [and are often] used to justify ineffective approaches to teaching." Here they are:

* We mostly only use 10 percent of our brain.

* Individuals learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning style (for example, visual, auditory or kinesthetic).

* Short bouts of coordination exercises can improve integration of left and right hemispheric brain function.

* Differences in hemispheric dominance (left brain or right brain) can help to explain individual differences among learners.

* Children are less attentive after sugary drinks and snacks.

* Drinking less than six to eight glasses of water a day can cause the brain to shrink.

* Learning problems associated with developmental differences in brain function cannot be remediated by education.

Although the United States wasn't included in the studies referenced in Howard-Jones' paper, there's plenty of evidence that many U.S. educators ascribe to these and other neuromyths.

Howard-Jones cites, for example, a 2011 survey of preschool teachers in Southwestern states that found a majority of them believed children with dyslexia had a problem with visual perception rather than with phonological processing and, therefore, could be helped with vision therapy and tinted lenses -- an approach that was thoroughly debunked 20 years ago.

Other misunderstandings about the brain have led some people, including teachers, to question if dyslexia and other learning disorders even exist.

"For people who believe that all 'proper' disorders are biologically determined and immutable, the finding that symptoms of children diagnosed with a disorder can be reduced through teaching means that these children never had a 'real' disorder to begin with," writes Howard-Jones.

"This has implications for the children they teach, not least because the achievement of students diagnosed with a learning disorder partly depends on their teachers' implicit attitude to the disorder," he adds. …

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