Should teachers learn neuroscience?

Educators should learn neuroscience, some argue. From Ed Week:

Dr. Janet N. Zadina, a former high school teacher who is now an adjunct assistant professor in neurology at Tulane University, in New Orleans, said more cross-training of teachers and neuroscientists, including lab work for the teachers and classroom experience for the researchers, would help stop the “telephone game” of half-truths conveyed now in the education neuroscience field.

Starting in the late 1990s, teachers began “sending rising numbers of students to be evaluated for conditions they didn’t have, from attention deficit disorder to epilepsy,” says neurologist Judy Willis. Classroom observations showed high rates of boredom and stress, but teachers were “attributing problems to students’ brain hemispheres or to whether they were drinking enough water.”

Drinking enough water?

Teachers don’t have the time to learn neuroscience, responds Daniel Willingham, a cognitive scientist. “Neuro-myths” should be defused during teacher training, though that doesn’t always happen. Then a central-office administrator should be in charge of evaluating whether a professional development session is legit or snake oil.

The human brain adapts with experience, scientists now say. Very little is hard-wired.

“What we find is people really do change their brain functions in response to experience,” said Kurt W. Fischer, the director of Harvard University’s Mind, Brain, and Education Program. “It’s just amazing how flexible the brain is. That plasticity has been a huge surprise to a whole lot of people.”

Among the “neuro-myths and snake-oil pitches,” Ed Week notes are “programs to improve cross-hemisphere brain communication to teaching practices aimed at ‘auditory’ or ‘visual’ learners.”

I wonder what percentage of teachers believe they should tailor instruction to auditory and visual learners. More than half would be my guess.

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