Myths About the Brain Common among Teachers

Young students listen to a teacher readingThe just-so stories of pop psychology can make for interesting dinner debates and speculative discussions, but when these stories are treated as fact in educational settings, they can render teachers less effective. According to a new study, a large number of teachers believe popular myths about brain function, and these myths undermine their ability to effectively teach.

Teachers and Brain Myths

Researchers wanted to see how a cross-cultural sample of teachers responded to popular “neuromyths.” By surveying teachers in the United Kingdom, Greece, China, and Turkey, they found that more than a quarter of teachers thought students’ brains would shrink if they drank fewer than six glasses of water per day. Half of teachers believed that students use only 10% of their brains and that sugary snacks make students less attentive, even though both of these claims have been proven untrue.

Myths about “brain style” were also popular. Seventy percent of teachers incorrectly believed that students are either predominately left- or right-brained, with 91% of UK teachers accepting this myth. Though research has not shown that teaching according to the learning style a student says he or she prefers is more effective, more than 90% believed that learning style was relevant to teaching.

How Brain Myths Undermine Good Teaching

The study’s author, Paul Howard-Jones, says that these neuromyths are sometimes presented to teachers as evidence-based practices based on neuroscience. He argues that, in addition to the neuromyths studied, new neuromyths about learning difficulties, teen brain development, ADHD, and educational investment may be gaining steam.

These neuromyths are particularly harmful for good teachers, who may accept the myths and incorporate them into the classroom in an attempt to help students. Instead, teachers end up wasting time on discredited approaches, or even embracing damaging teaching philosophies. Howard-Jones argues that neuroscience and education need to communicate more openly so that teachers don’t accept oversimplified or discredited educational philosophies.

References:

Myth-conceptions: How myths about the brain are hampering teaching. (2014, October 16). Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/10/141016123606.htm

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  • serra

    serra

    October 22nd, 2014 at 2:36 PM

    Any type of myth that perpetuates stereotypes is going to be bad in any situaiton, but I believe that it could be particularly harmful in the classroom.

    When at all possible a teacher needs to remain open minded about his or her students and should be willing to see things a little differently than how they may have always been taught.

    You could actually be making things worse for the child or even encouraging bad behavior when you give in to the traditional style of teaching and thinking that has always been done.

    I am sure that every school child out there could use a bit more encouragement and thinking outside of the box than what they may have experienced in the past; furthermore, this is what might lead them to a lot more success that what they have had before.

  • Christa

    Christa

    October 23rd, 2014 at 11:06 AM

    While I don’t think that there are any teachers who will intentionally treat kids differently because of these beliefs, I do think that many times it is all done in a way that maybe they are not even aware of. And how do you deal with that when the teacher may not even realize what she is sub consciously doing?

  • Hope

    Hope

    October 24th, 2014 at 10:50 AM

    Is it just me or is it scary that our teachers and educators still have these myths that they bring into the classroom with them?!?
    They should be our best and brightest if we expect them to make our kids into the best and brightest as well. But id they still continue to believe some of these outdated and outrageous things about kids and the way that they learn how can this even be possible?
    That right there is setting even more kids upfor failure when teachers are holding onto the antiquated beliefs of long ago!

  • Rob

    Rob

    October 27th, 2014 at 3:52 AM

    I have always believed that people are either right brain or left brain learners and I honestly don’t think that this is a myth. I think that there are numerous studies which will highlight the fact that kids and adults too learn in different ways and to be the most effective we have to hit on that learning style that works for each individual person. Sometimes this will be possible and other times it will not but the goal to do that must be there and that must be then intent of the educator.

  • Marcy

    Marcy

    October 29th, 2014 at 2:08 PM

    Certainly some of the myths are going to be silly but there will be others that persist for a reason, and I would suspect that this is because over the years they have been shown to be true time and again.
    So for me that does not perpetuate a myth, but rather shows a reality.

  • Ashleigh

    Ashleigh

    October 30th, 2014 at 3:33 PM

    I just don’t think that this is a fair assessment. Most of the teachers that I know are pretty smart cookies and they are very much aware of the things that work in their classrooms and the things that don’t. There are always going to be people in any profession who have different beliefs and teaching styles than others will have, but I think that most teachers here are very well trained and prepared for the numerous things that they will face in their classroom daily.

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