They certainly need to know how new discoveries of how the brain works can help classroom practice


The study of how the brain works and how this might be applied to the learning environment and teaching practice is very much in vogue at the moment.

This is on the back of significant advances in neuroscience which we have touched on before. The problem is that the way in which the brain works is very complex and scientists in order to explain how it works to the layman ,tend to oversimplify the process, leading to some basic  misunderstandings and myths.

A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

It is probably true that a high percentage of teacher’s hold false beliefs about the brain, and thus ought to be “armed” to evaluate claims that they encounter in professional development sessions, the media, etc.  The bald truth is that it takes a lot of work for any individual to become knowledgeable enough about neuroscience to evaluate new ideas, let alone apply them, for example, to  classroom practice. And why would it stop at neuroscience? One could make the same case for cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, social psychology, sociology, cultural studies, and economics, among other fields. Too much information spread thinly is probably not a good approach. What’s really needed, and this is a suggestion  from Professor  Dan Willingham ,is for a few trusted educators to evaluate new ideas, and to periodically bring their colleagues up to date. There are people in education whose job it is, supposedly, to do exactly this–to keep up to date with the latest research, in all of the fields, that relate to education, and to be gatekeepers of sorts to ensure that this high quality evidence helps inform practice. But the  reality  is  that there is quite a lot of evidence out there but no easy means of  separating   the wheat from the chaff .   It was interesting to see that the Sutton Trust has developed a tool kit that tells teachers what evidence shows about the kind of interventions that can work to help improve outcomes , dispelling a few myths along the way. This is the kind of approach we need more generally.

What teachers probably need to know is not the complexities of neuroscience (cognitive heuristics (and biases), working and procedural memory, implicit knowledge, spacing effects, visual-spacial retrieval cues and encoding, attention, embodied cognition etc) but how precisely these recent discoveries can help them in the classroom, and there seems to be a lag here between what neuro-scientists are discovering and what this could mean for the teaching profession and pedagogy. This is potentially a very exciting area. And teachers need some help to  make  sense of it all.


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