Neuromyths and potential classroom implications: Part 1 – Not a recipe for success, merely a framework for reflection

It seems that the word of the day in education conferences is the overly repeated term NEUROMYTH. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing at all. As a matter of fact, I’m benefitting from all this fuzz since this is one of my favorite topics, something I’ve studied for a couple of years, and quite possibly the main reason why my speaking proposals have been accepted in four international conferences this year (Spain, Montenegro, Romania, and Hungary)

The first conference was InnovateELT in Barcelona (read my account of it here). It was superb and my session was so appealing, apparently, that I had a full house. I remember joking about it with some of the participants who complimented me on the session. I said:

The topic is interesting in its own right. It could’ve been anyone else presenting

Me

1
My session on Mind, Brain, and Education at InnovateELT Barcelona 2019

I do believe that. Anything with the terms NEURO, BRAIN, SCIENCE, MYTH, is quite catchy and calls a lot of attention. We’ve actually discussed that in my Cognitive Neuroscience and Classroom Practice unit at the University of Bristol where I study MSc Psychology of Education. My professor Paul Howard-Jones, a big reference in the area, even said:

Neuroscience is sexy

Paul Howard-Jones

Indeed it is and the idea of offering quick fixes or way-too-simple solutions is also very sexy and potentially misguided, even dangerous. But that’s what many authors and scholars in the field of neuroscience or psychology have been proposing.

Father, I have sinned. I confess

Me

I myself have believed in these quick fixes for some time and wrote about them on this blog at the beginning of my ignorance. I suppose I could go back and edit some of the posts to seem a little less deterministic or fatalistic, but I like the fact that this will become a record of my educational journey and my reflections as I grow older. I’ll just leave things as they are and write about what I know that I don’t know now. You can still check out the tips of my early posts and find a lot of useful stuff here.

So, I suppose this introduction is only to say that cognitive neuroscience and psychology are still making important discoveries. That’s what makes this journey so exciting. There will always be something to explore, discover and reflect on. Nevertheless, I can say that many of the things the field has already discovered can help us reflect on how learning occurs more or less effectively. I believe in that so much that my dissertation is digging a little deeper on this topic.

Which things have scientists discovered that we can use? How does knowing those things apply in the classroom? Do they offer straightforward strategies that can guarantee a more successful learning experience?

Possibly. And this is the first step: to reflect on how useful the contributions of neuroscience and psychology might be and how they link with educational practices. That’s why I believe in the power of Mind, Brain, and Education (MBE). You see, according to Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa, when MBE puts together cognitive neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and education (pedagogy) and looks at their contributions as being equals, on the same level, it creates a new and relevant field that can draw from these realms and potentially narrow the gap between scientific theory and educational practice. The element of transdisciplinarity adds a challenge but also more accountability.

Tokuhama-Espinosa also says that far too many neuromyths are still quite present in educational settings and perhaps that’s the mission of MBE, to debunk them. Simply said, neuromyths are false statements about the brain and how it works. However, knowing some (or even many) of the neuromyths per se doesn’t immediately translate into knowledge that can be applied in the classroom to make lessons more conducive to learning. Take the following for instance:

We only use 10% of our brains

My answer to this claim on InnovateELT Blog goes like this:

“No, Samuel Norman, we do not use just 10 or 15% of our brain capacities. In fact, we use most of our brain most of the time, even when we are sleeping. A simple task such as drinking coffee will require many areas of your brain to activate synchronously.”

Me

Knowing this may sound great, but how does it translate into something useful for the teachers to apply and/or reflect on? Maybe knowing this will stop teachers from buying the idea that we might use certain techniques to boost brain capacity or something like that. But, to be quite honest, it would probably not affect teachers’ everyday decisions in the classroom.

That’s why I invite you to reflect with me on the possible benefits of using this science and will write two more blog posts with 10 neuromyths and their implications in the classroom. I will describe them, discuss their origins and tell you what they might mean for the teacher and the student in the classroom.

This is my mission on this planet. That’s why I’ve been sending out proposals to speak about this, I’ve been writing blog posts about this, I’ve been pursuing the proper qualifications on this topic and why I’ve created my new online course. I want to share what I’ve learned and give you something to reflect on.

It is essential to remember that what I’m proposing is not a recipe for successful teaching, though. There are so many variables to consider that we can’t say “Do this and everyone will learn”. The authors who have written about this say that we need to be careful with such bold claims. Rather, if we look at it as just a framework that may help us think about how we teach and how our students learn, I think the potential is huge.

If you got this far, you might want to consider signing up for my asynchronous Neuroscience and Learning Course. I try my best to show you some of the principles of learning through the perspective of MBE and help you reflect on what this knowledge might mean in the classroom.

I’d love to have you as one of my students and add you to the legion of teachers around the world fighting against potentially harmful neuromyths.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this series. I’ll discuss learning styles, fixed intelligence, and arts.

#edcrocks

online

 

References

Dekker, S., Lee, N., Howard-Jones, P., & Jolles, J. (2012). Neuromyths in education: Prevalence and predictors of misconceptions among teachers. Frontiers in Psychology, 3, 429-429. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00429

Howard-Jones, P. (2018). Evolution of the Learning Brain: Or how you got to be so smart. Taylor & Francis Group

Tokuhama-Espinosa, T. (2014). Making classrooms better: 50 practical applications of mind, brain, and education science. First Edition. New York: W.W Norton & Company.

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