What do teachers believe?
It’s well-established that various ‘myths’ about how students’ learn are remarkably persistent in the face of contradictory evidence. In 2014, Paul Howard-Jones’ article, Neuroscience and education: myths and messages revealed the extent of teachers’ faulty beliefs:
In the UK, 93% of teachers believe that matching instruction to students’ preferred learning style is a good idea, 88% believed in some form of Brain Gym, with 91% being convinced by the left-brain-right brain hypothesis.
He concludes with the following:
Neuromyths are misconceptions about the brain that flourish when cultural conditions protect them from scrutiny. Their form is influenced by a range of biases in how we think about the brain. Some long-standing neuromyths are present in products for educators and this has helped them to spread in classrooms across the world. Genuine communication between neuroscience and education has developed considerably in recent years, but many of the biases and conditions responsible for neuromyths still remain and can be observed hampering efforts to introduce ideas about the brain into educational thinking. We see new neuromyths on the horizon and old neuromyths arising in new forms, we see ‘boiled-down’ messages from neuroscience revealing themselves as inadequate, and we see confusions about the mind–brain relationship and neural plasticity in discussions about educational investment and learning disorders.
— Adina Sullivan (@adinasullivan) March 16, 2017
Your brain does not “grow when you are challenged” nor is it “like a muscle”. A firing synapse does not constitute brain growth, and ‘brain growth’ does not equate to learning. Although Boaler doesn’t make clear which of Jason Moser’s papers she’s citing, previously she’s put forward this one. It’s not as if she doesn’t know that her interpretation is, to put it politely, disputed (Greg Ashman took her to task here) so one wonders why she continues to put it about as uncontested fact.
Despite all this, people often report themselves as being ‘bored’ by attempts to set the record straight and efforts to point teachers in the direction of reputable research. Often this is presented with the view that no one actually believes this stuff anymore so why can’t we all just move on and talk about something more important?
Well, there’s nothing stopping us from discussing other important topics, but if we’re going to ‘move on’ then we should be reasonably confident that teachers’ beliefs have substantially altered over the past few years. I have no such confidence.
Recently, I did some work with a school in which teachers were surveyed about their beliefs. I’m not going to go through answers to all the questions, but here’s the results of question 1:
Admittedly, this is a small sample, but 41 of the 53 teachers surveyed continue to believe in the importance of adapting lessons to students’ learning styles. Of course we shouldn’t blame teachers for this, but neither should we be complacent. It behooves us all to relentlessly point out the discrepancies between beliefs and evidence until no one has the excuse of ignorance.