Tuesday, July 28, 2020


Tracy Tokuhama-Espinosa NEUROMYTHS—Debunking False Ideas About The Brain

Now more than ever during the COVID19 worldwide pandemic our nation is experiencing the complexity of teaching. Parents, families, and student advocates have been forced to facilitate the role of the teacher while at home. With long days in isolation, student learning has become a family activity to help fill the time gap between morning and evening. Although whether you are a teacher or a parent, motivating a student to be engaged and actively participating virtually, teaching has become a challenge, learning an argument, and both often a point of contention.

Educational research on what works and is effective for teaching and learning is in abundance. The challenge for teachers and leaders, and now parents and families, often becomes finding the time to develop a deeper understanding of what educational research is true, what beliefs are held to be true, and what is false thinking.

The book by Tracy Tokuhama-Espinosa, Neuromyths-Debunking False Ideas about The Brain is a tremendous resource for educators to better understand brain research shown to build students learning capacity. The author states, “A big part of understanding the brain is learning what it is, and isn’t, capable of doing. The Centre for Education Neuroscience at the University College of London says neuromyths are often ‘teaching practices, ideas, or techniques that do not actually have a scientific basis in neuroscience.’ Neuromyths are misunderstandings or misconceptions about the brain and how it functions that can limit human potential” (p. 11-12).

It is important to note that neuromyths have the potential to do harm by creating “false barriers to learning” e.g. boys are better at learning math and science. While at the same time they have the “potential to be an opportunity” (p. 12) by first eliminating myths and then using evidence-based teaching practices to better structure student learning. Tokuhama-Espinosa categories sixty-eight neuromyths into ten types of myths including; 

Brain Architecture and Structure
Teaching and Learning
Human Development
Learning Environments
Mind-Body Balance
Brain Plasticity
Language, Bilingualism, And Multilingualism

A few of the neuromyths caught my immediate attention and the impact they can have on learning especially now due to the limited amount of time teachers have with students during asynchronous and synchronous instruction. “Teacher’s time is much better spent working with what we know for certain about the brain, in a way that can really influence students’ learning outcomes” (p. 75).

Why This Is Good News for Teaching
“The fact that multiple intelligences cannot be proved in neuroscience without deciphering the complex sub-process of each intelligence is cause for celebration rather than lament. One of the best things that the Theory of Multiple Intelligence has done for education is to motivate teachers to vary their instructional patterns and to teach with multiple entry points for each class topic. While not the main object of the theory, this strengthens access to information by rehearsing distinct neural pathways to the same mental schema” (p. 75).

Why This Is Good News for Teaching
“There are no ‘right-brained’ or ‘left-brained’ people. Humans have only one brain with two hemispheres that are used together in most functions” (p. 35). In addition, “Eliminating the myth of hemispheric dominance is helpful because it shows that the human brain is far more malleable than once thought. Ther are no parts of the brain for math or language, but rather multiple areas of the brain and dozen of networks that are relied upon to memorize, pay attention empathize, and interact with the world. It is great for teachers to know that networks, not localizationalism are at play because this can lead to more precisions in both activity choice and the diagnosis of learning delay” (p. 50).

Why This Is Good News for Teaching
“Many attention problems can be resolved with something as simple as a good night’s sleep or even a solid power nap. Teachers should realize that calling students’ attention to sleep problems can often be the first step towards remediating these problems” (p. 160).

Tokuhama-Espinosa concludes her findings on building awareness of neuromyths in education to improve teaching by considering the following:
  • Embrace Complexity!
  • Pursue Scientific Literacy!
  • Read More Diligently!
  • Get the Whole Story!
  • Set Personal Beliefs Aside!
  • Beware of the Placebo Effect!
  • Get Out of Your Comfort Zone!
  • Remember Your Students Are Not Rats!
  • Watch Out for Sparse Evidence: One Finding Does Not a Theory Make!
  • Correlation vs. Causation: Know the Difference!
  • Ind What Is, Not Just What Isn’t!
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm for Generalizations!
  • Don’t Assume Studies on Adults Will Apply to School-Age Children!
  • Remember That True in the Lab Isn’t Necessarily True in the Classroom!
  • Be a Critical Consumer of Information!If 
  • It Sounds Too Good to be True, It Probably Is!
  • Avoid Bandwagonitis!

“People naturally drift toward ideas they have read for reference, which means that reading widely and diligently is a key to staying abreast of the best information. ‘Diligence rather than inference’ should become one of the new mantras of teacher training” (p.180).

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