Neuromyths: busted

Over the past seven months, we’ve run a six-part series — generously guest authored by several scholars and friends of Deans for Impact — about common misconceptions around how we learn. Inspired by our programmatic publication, The Science of Learning, this series debunks common misconceptions about how our brains work and explores the practical implications of cognitive science for classroom practice. As Dr. Julie Booth wrote in the series’ closing post, “Feel free to use these blog posts … confront those misconceptions and fix the flaws, so that [we] can interpret new information and respond in instructional situations in ways that will actually improve children’s learning.”

1 | Novices and experts cannot think in the same ways
This post from Alan Lesgold, former dean of the School of Education at the University of Pittsburgh, is focused on the ways in which novices and experts think differently. Experts – because of their expertise – are able to automate basic tasks, or processing, in order to free up cognitive space to tackle more complex aspects of a problem. They’re also able to see patterns, and organize knowledge, differently than novices. For teachers, understanding the difference in how novices and experts think will help them support their students in stretching their knowledge and acquiring expertise.

2 | Could you survive using only 10 percent of your brain?
Dr. Melina Uncapher explores the “myth of the 10 percent”: that, at any given time, a human being only uses 10 percent of his or her brain. This myth — which is believed by about half of educators around the world — is one of the most pervasive lies we unknowingly perpetuate about the brain, and some recent research has finally provided at least one method we may use to try to debunk this neuromyth.

3 | Learning styles: what does the research say?
Dylan Wiliam reviews what the research says about learning styles. The basic idea [of learning styles] is, of course, very attractive. We know that a particular piece of instruction might be effective for some students, and not for others, so it seems plausible that if the instruction was specifically designed to take into account a particular student’s preferred learning style, then it would be more effective for that student.

But in their review of research on learning styles for the Association for Psychological Science, [they] came to a stark conclusion: “If classification of students’ learning styles has practical utility, it remains to be demonstrated.”

4 | Exploring the left brain/right brain myth
Dr. Melina Uncapher explores the right-brain/left-brain myth: that people are preferentially “right-brained” or “left-brained” in the use of their brains. Just as we can’t walk or run effectively by favoring one leg, we can’t function effectively by favoring one brain hemisphere instead of using them both an integrated way. One of the facts we know for sure about the brain: every complex cognitive function is a result of the engagement of a network of multiple regions, distributed throughout both hemispheres, acting in coordinated ways. Many neuroscientists think about brain activity as a sort of neural concert, where individual players may have a stronger role during certain movements, but no one side of the orchestra always dominates.

5 | Development is not a single path
In this post, Dr. Bradley J. Morris and Dr. Clarissa A. Thompson take on the myth that cognitive development proceeds via a fixed progression of age-related stages. Despite lack of evidence, the assumption of stage-like development is pervasive, particularly in education, and is often used to inform educational practice. Age (and stage) matters much less than true individual differences (e.g., the knowledge a child has when she enters a classroom). Additionally, development is not a single path, but is instead highly variable both between and within children.

6 | The perils of misconceptions — for students and teachers
Dr. Julie Booth explores how misconceptions can influence how new knowledge is interpreted – and why for teachers, that can result in missed opportunities for instruction or even cause direct harm to their students. It will take active effort to correct these misconceptions in order to move on with an accurate understanding of how learning works. So, don’t accept it when you hear teachers or parents say “the darndest things” about how kids learn or how the brain works.

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