Posted in education, learning, schools, teaching

Are you left or right-brained? Neuroscience in the classroom.

  • Do you know which of your students are left-brained or right-brained?
  • Are your classes comprised more of auditory, visual or kinaesthetic learners?
  • Is pupils’ academic performance better in the morning, afternoon or evening?
  • Do you know how your pupils’ personalities impact on their learning?

Neuroscience based approaches have been touted as the smarter way to teach and learn. Understanding how and when pupils best learn is supposedly a way to deliver more effective classroom time. But are commonly held beliefs about personality, neuroscience and learning valid?

There are thousands of sites on the internet dedicated to determining whether someone’s left or right-brained. Supposedly, left-brained people are more organised and systematic, while those who have a more dominant right side of the brain are more creative and intuitive. This is considered to massively impact learning and working styles.

Similarly, there has long been a commitment within classrooms around the country to vary lessons in order to cater for the three ‘styles’ of learning: auditory, visual, kinaesthetic. A recent article in The Telegraph pointed out that “over 90% of teachers…believe that a student will learn better if they receive information in their preferred learning style”. A similar number to those who believe that students’ ‘dominant’ side of the brain impacts their learning.

Taking the science around learning even further, there have been official moves by many schools to change start and finish times, in order to capitalise on teenagers’ mental alertness and so ensure better learning.

With such theories so popular, it’s little wonder many teachers feel the need to buy into these ideas and incorporate them into their lessons. Interestingly though, with regards to the most popular belief, learning styles, “there is no convincing evidence to support this theory” according to Dr Paul Howard-Jones of Bristol University’s Graduate School of Education.

This reality appears to be part of what The Wellcome Trust’s Hilary Leevers calls an “evidence gap” in the application of neuroscience in schools. Myths about how the brain works and how this can be exploited to ensure quicker and more meaningful learning are becoming very common, with many teaching practices “sold to teachers as based on neuroscience”, when in reality they have no sound scientific basis, says Dr Howard-Jones.

He also raises the concern that a lack of understanding about how the brain works means that many teachers are “ill-prepared to be critical of ideas and educational programmes that claim a neuroscientific basis”. This knowledge gap also means that teachers and schools might be vulnerable to being sold further myths, both by government and the private sector. Kevan Collins, chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, has highlighted this, stating that there is a need for “politician proof” information for teachers.

Knowing more about the brain is an incredible asset for teachers and students alike, and a great way to promote more meaningful learning. It’s important, however, for educators to be careful about the strategies they’re sold and for methods to be put in place so that genuine information about the brain and learning can be utilised in classrooms. Teachers will therefore no doubt be following with interest the results of six on-going experiments, comprising over 60,000 pupils, and testing innovative new ways to incorporate neuroscience in schools. More on these studies can be found here and there are loads of helpful teaching resources in our ‘Teaching’ section at TheSchoolBus.


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