What Teachers Should Know about the Brain

What Teachers Need to Know about the Brain

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).

Reading the stories about how teachers’ misconceptions are potentially harmful to student and our discussions with teachers and educators around the country, a few misconceptions rose to the top.

Our Top 3 Neuromyths — What Teachers Believe that Can Hurt Students

  1.  We only use 10% of our brains.  Wrong! We use 100% of our brains.
  2.  People are either right-brained or left-brained.  Wrong! We use both hemispheres and they are always working together.
  3.  Basic intelligence can’t be changed very much.  Wrong! Cognitive skills can be increased dramatically with the right kind of training.
  4. Teachers should adapt instruction to students’ learning styles.  Wrong! Learning styles have been debunked.  Cognitive skills are another matter.
  5. Neuroscience should be left to the scientists; teachers should stay away.  Wrong! The brain is the organ that learns.  Teaching without an understanding of how learning happens is like building a car with no idea how an engine works.

What teachers really do need to know about the brain:

  1. 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.
  2. Learning is the making and strengthening of connections among neurons in networks or maps. It is a biological process.
  3. There are different types of memory and different types of instruction are needed for them.
  4. Physical exercise and sleep haves a tremendous impact on brain development and cognition. Scheduling time into the day for active physical activity is vitally important for cognitive development.
  5. Understanding a child’s cognitive strengths and weaknesses and helping them build their cognitive capacity (not identifying and trying to fill the gaps in their knowledge base) are essential to accelerate learning and help students catch up.

Want to understand more?  Check out brain-compatible professional development programs.

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