I overheard someone the other day talking to a companion about my “right brain” and was struck by how much detail this person went into – detail that is, scientifically speaking, completely untrue. The left brain/right brain dichotomy that we ascribe to learners and learning typically translates into people think you’re left-brained if rational and objective or right-brained if intuitive and creative. Well, no, the brain does not work that way. It’s a neuromyth, which is a common misconception about the brain and brain research that we often ascribe to people and learning.
I touched on this issue in a post back in June. What are some other common neuromyths?
- A common sign of dyslexia is seeing letters backwards.
- Individuals learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning style, such as visual, auditory, or kinesthetic.
- We only use 10% of our brain.
- The eating of sugar has a detrimental impact on attention.
- Playing brain-training games can help improve your memory, concentration, or intelligence.
- Brain development is finished by the time children reach puberty.
- Learning happens when new cells are added to the brain.
- Listening to classical music increases a child’s reasoning ability – also called the Mozart Effect.
You can find more. Just Google “neuromyth.”
Now, why bother worrying about this stuff? Well, there are teachers that hold on to these myths, even though they fly in the face of the research. This 2012 study conducted in the UK and Netherlands showed that 80% of teachers believed in the left brain/right brain and learning styles myths. Think of the impact that those beliefs have on teaching, on how a classroom is constructed to be the most effective for students. Think too about how teachers might categorize students. That person that I overheard talking about his “right brain”? Did he have a teacher that put him in that bucket many years ago and he’s been there ever since, no matter that those buckets are not based in fact and research?
Let me try and end this quick post more positively: Teachers that are well versed in the science of learning, that understand their students neuro-developmentally – it is they that will be more effective than those that do not. But understanding is just one important step. Crafting a classroom and pedagogy that align with this understanding is a next step – and a much more critical one – and arming students with knowledge about their own neuro-development is an important part of this work. There is a lot of talk these days about student agency, and to me the ultimate student agency is knowing how the brain, the organ of learning, works best.
Photo courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action.