What Teachers Should Know About the Brain

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What Teachers Should Know About the Brain

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A recently published research study on teachers’ understanding of the brain and neuroscience research has been getting a lot of attention.  The findings, based on surveys of teachers in the U.K., Greece, Turkey, Holland, and China, showed that teachers had many misconceptions about the brain.  The findings echoed a survey of teachers in the U.S. finding that teachers in American schools have the same misconceptions.

The translation of  neuroscience research to classroom practice is something that is getting increased attention, but unfortunately most teacher training programs do not include much discussion of the brain or how neuroscience research findings can be used to help students perform better.  This gap was documented in a research report by the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE).

As I’ve been reading the stories about how teachers’ misconceptions are potentially harmful to students, I asked myself what factual neuroscience information would be most important to replace those misconceptions.  Here are three neuro-myths — misconceptions that teachers have about the brain — along with something they should know about the brain and may not:

Neuro-myth:  we only use 10% of our brains.

What teachers need to know:  the brain is “plastic” and is constantly changing.  Everything that happens in the classroom physically changes children’s brains.  Teachers need to know more to take advantage of this amazing plasticity.

Neuro-myth: we need to teach differently to right-brained and left-brained children.

What teachers need to know:  first, no one is right-brained and no one is left brained.  Teachers need to teach to whole brains.  But there are very different ways that teachers should teach different types of materials and skills.  If teachers don’t have an in-depth understanding of the difference between procedural memory and declarative memory and how that matters in the classroom, they need to know what the implications for teaching and learning are.

Neuro-myth: children’s brains shrink if they don’t drink 6 to 8 glasses of water a day.

What teachers need to know: physical exercise has a tremendous impact on brain development.  Scheduling time into the day for active physical activity is more likely to improve students’ academic performance than trying to get so many glasses of water down their throats (kids generally drink liquids when they are thirsty, just as adults do).

If you are interested in expanding teachers’ understanding of neuro-reality, I would welcome an opportunity to share ideas!