Neuromyths — The Urban Legends of Classroom Teaching (Science, People!!!)

I’m pretty sure that most of us in higher ed have left lecture teaching behind a long time ago. As an ESL instructor working with language, we are taught to use a variety of mediums to teach language. We often get students out of their seats, use video to supplement instruction on a particular topic and encourage use of the language more than anything else. We use multiple forms in instruction to engage the various types of learning styles. To explore some common ideas about this, try the poll below.

 

 

Multiple learning styles. I have heard that so often — WE have heard that so often — that you would be considered out of touch if that method wasn’t safely packed away with your other teaching techniques in your teacher toolkit. However, there is no evidence that there is any such thing as multiple learning styles. That’s right. One of your techniques that you use without thinking has no evidence in the research.

I first heard about multiple learning styles when I took a class in tutoring for adult literacy twenty years ago. I think it’s written in my ESL teachers’ textbook and it’s often listed in job descriptions as one of the requirements of quality instruction. (What exactly should one do during an interview if this topic comes up? Challenge the question? That seems like a very bad idea. What’s the alternative? Pretend like you don’t know more than the person asking the question?) Here is a screenshot of a job posting I saw just today on HigherEdJobs.com:

Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 5.08.59 PM

Daniel Willingham has been trying to free us from this illusion for some time. He states there is no evidence for different learning styles, but rather, there are different learning abilities. And I think more than challenging the semantics, it’s more important to note that this idea is questionable at best. This is a topic that has always interested me, and it will come up again. While you wait with baited breath for that, let’s explore some other myths about education.

 

 

In the article by Paul A. Howard-Jones (2014) titled, “Neuroscience and education: myths and messages,” the focus is the origins of the myths we have about how the brain works in the field of education. I chose to concentrate on multiple learning styles but there are other common fallacies. The idea is that neuroscience is so new, we should be cautious, at best, about our enthusiasm for the correlations between the two disciplines. The scientists would go further to say, “Hold up. Don’t believe the hype. We don’t want to go all ham-and-cheese on these connections just yet.” Word.

There is too much expected of classroom teachers, I believe. So it’s easy to imply that this should be yet another responsibility for teachers – full awareness of every idea we have about effective teaching. That is too much to ask. I do think, though, that we can just be careful about taking every common idea and practice as fact. Howard-Jones suggests collaboration between educators and neuroscientists as a solution to some of this dilemma – probably focused in the research realm. Thoughtful and cautious seems like a good strategy to me as well.

 

 

Some things to think on:

  1. Knowing what we know now, is there still value in using multiple mediums for class instruction?
  2. What different techniques or tools do you use to engage your students?
  3. Is there an area (visual, tactile, audio) that you could use more of?

Tools I used:

Polldaddy for the polls.

Pixaby for the photos.

On a Mac you can use shift + command + 3 for a whole screenshot or shift + command + 4 for just the part of the screen that you want.

References:

Howard-Jones, P. (2014). Neuroscience and education: myths and messages. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 14, 817 – 824.

Thanks to Mark for helping with proofreading.

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