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Do Teachers Need to Learn Neuroscience?

The study of neuroscience is constantly revealing more about the parts of the brain used in acquiring and retaining new information. But knowing what happens in a student's prefrontal cortex doesn't necessarily help teachers reach their students.


According to the article, What Teachers Need To Know About The Science Of Learning--And What They Don't, by education researcher Natalie Wexler, teachers would benefit much more from cognitive psychology--the study of the way students learn--than from neuroscience, which focuses more on the brain's physical makeup and connections.




Nevertheless, there's been a huge push among educators to bring the science of learning into the classroom environment, and it hasn't necessarily gone over well - in first-grade classrooms or lecture halls. There's good reason for that, too. Many of those scientific recommendations - including the push toward neuroscience - just aren't that useful for teachers.


Although neuroscience is fascinating and crucial as a research field, teachers really don't need to know which parts of the brain 'light up' when students are completing their tasks. What might actually be helpful for teachers tends to come from the field of cognitive psychology, which focuses on behavior and the mind: how teachers can actually adapt their teaching style to reach students, and how students can study most effectively to make use of what they're learning.


An example: we know students learn more efficiently (and remember what they learn for longer) when they quiz themselves over the material they're studying (i.e, retrieval practice). Reading, highlighting, and then rereading a text, on the other hand? Not so helpful. Encouraging teachers to teach students to study in a way that really engages their mind--through the use of quizzing, flash cards, and other proven-effective techniques--can make a huge difference in their success as a teacher and their students' success. That's the kind of actionable advice that makes a difference.


Some proponents of teachers delving into neuroscience argue that teachers need to combat neurological myths--like the disproven assertions that some students have different learning styles, or the left-brain/right-brain phenomena we hear so much about. But a growing number of teachers and psychologists are arguing that it's easy enough to dispel those myths without having an in-depth understanding of the latest neuroscience research.


Posts on Effective Teaching Techniques (no neuroscience required):

  1. Flashcards: Show Students How to Use Them Correctly
  2. Online Activity: Helping Students Improve Their Study Skills
  3. Our Students Don't Have "Learning Styles"
  4. James Lang on the Minute Paper Teaching Technique


Many thanks to Stefani for her assistance with this post.


This article taps into the idea of how teachers get the best from students within the classroom. Teaching and learning does require the use of multiple ways of providing knowledge and guidance, while analyzing and interpreting the knowledge provided. Environmental factors and prior experiences also play a part in how students learn. 

This a great article! This information is really important and would be convincing to educators and students. Often students have to believe that a study method is effective before they are willing to try such methods. In other words, students have to know what's in it for them. I agree and I feel the same way. I want data to know that I will get something for my investment whenever possible. Learning products with student study tools that accompany texts are very important to me because I know that such products will benefit students. It takes a little bit of time to convince students to use such tools. But after trying such learning tools, students commonly agree that their time was well spent.