How often have you heard that people are “right-brained” or “left-brained?”
Maybe even that humans “only really use 10% of our brains?” Or how about that “students learn best when taught in their own specific learning styles?”
Have you ever wondered how much truth these statements actually pack? Often stemming from actual studies in neuroscience and learning, these, aptly named, “neuromyths” are popular misconceptions about brain research. These misconceptions can have a negative impact on teaching.
One of the most pervasive neuromyths is the Learning Styles approach. The thought is that each student has a favored approach that makes learning easier for them. Some are visual learners, some auditory, and others kinesthetic. Imagine the look on an algebra teacher’s face as she tries to explain the Pythagorean Theorem to a “kinesthetic learner.”
In a recent survey, 85% of teachers believe that teaching a student in their preferred learning style is the ideal approach; 66% are actively using this method in their lesson plans. What’s more, 6% of these schools spend upwards of $45,000 per year for external consultants.
However, an open letter to The Guardian signed off by 30 leading experts suggests that it’s time to leave this teaching method behind. Professor Bruce Hood, Chair of Developmental Psychology at the University of Bristol, explains,
“The thought that students will perform better when the teaching is matched to their preferred sensory modality (learning style) is simply not supported by science and of questionable value.”
Hood goes on to explain that this neuromyth is an unfortunate consequence of cross-disciplinary educational neuroscience efforts. By spending time and resources on Learning Styles approaches, you’re depriving your students of an empirically-supported learning experience.
How do we make sure that students are learning from every angle?
Students should have a variety of ways to show solving methods and explain their answer. When choosing an instructional technology solution, be sure the program offers the ability to submit an answer or show work using text, drawing, and audio response. Also, programs should include enhanced technology components like fill in the blank, drag and drop, and multiple choice.
These options provide varying opportunities for application that mirror real world associations. Students become proficient in all learning approaches - not just one, and are prepared, not just for tests, but for whatever life throws their way.
Consider that the real world doesn’t differentiate learning styles -- and neither do high-stakes tests. By conditioning a student to only solve problems that are given to them in a specific way, they’re missing out on the opportunity to develop real problem solving abilities when faced with challenges that fall outside of their aperture. Whereas, if a student uses various application approaches when practicing skills, that skill becomes more deeply embedded for the student!
Weale, Sally. “Teachers Must Ditch 'Neuromyth' of Learning Styles, Say Scientists.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 12 Mar. 2017, www.theguardian.com/education/2017/mar/13/teachers-neuromyth-learning-styles-scientists-neuroscience-education.