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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Teachers know little about how students learn

My teacher preparation program in the late '90s "never talked about how kids learn," writes M-J Mercanti-Anthony, the principal of a New York City middle-high school, in the Hechinger Report. "Discussions around teacher effectiveness — what methods are scientifically proven to support cognitive development — were painfully rare."

Photo: Luriko Yamaguchi/Pexels

As a mid-career educator, he was "surprised to find out that cognitive scientists actually know quite a bit about how we learn."

Emily Hanford's podcasts about the "science of reading" launched a "great national conversation about the discrepancy between what science understands about how students learn to read and how we often teach it in schools," writes Mercanti-Anthony. But it's not just reading. "Educators know very little about the science of learning itself," he writes, and it's about time they caught up.

In a 2019 survey, most teachers "voiced faith in scientifically disproven concepts – such as 'learning styles' and the 'left-brain, right-brain' myth," he writes. (Belief in learning styles is nearly universal, despite frequent debunking by researchers.) Of 11 questions related to the science of learning, respondents answered fewer than five correctly, on average.

Cognitive scientists have tried to teach teachers about their findings. Mercanti-Anthony cites a 2007 federal report, Organizing Instruction and Study to Improve Student Learning, a 2014 bestseller Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning and the 2015 Deans for Impact report, The Science of Learning by psychologist Daniel Willingham and Paul Bruno, a middle-school teacher. All have practice suggestions for effective teaching, studying and learning.

1 Comment

Nov 11, 2023

Have you read any of those resources? Which is the most interesting read? especially for high school math and science?

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