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2011 > Letnik 1, št. 2


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Teachers are slowly becoming more and more aware about how discoveries in neuroscience can help them improve their teaching practices.

Teaching was a much more simple craft a generation ago. Today, teachers should, among other things, know that each brain is unique and uniquely organized, that all brains are not equally good at everything, that our brain is changed daily by experience, that brains seek novelty, that emotions are critical to detecting patterns, to decision-making and to learning, that learning is enhanced by challenge and inhibited by threat, that human brain processes parts and wholes simultaneously, that the brain depends on interactions with other people to make sense of social situations, that feedback is important to learning, that learning relies on memory and attention, that the brain remembers best when facts and skills are embedded in natural contexts, that learning involves conscious and unconscious processes, etc.
On the other hand, teachers should be aware of neuromyths born of partial facts or overgeneralizations about the brain. Below are some myths that plague education literature:
1. Humans use 10 % of their brains
It is inaccurate to say that humans use only a small percentage of their brain-power, because not all parts of the brain should be working on all tasks.
2. The brain has an unlimited capacity
No, as a physical entity, the brain has a finite capacity, because it is not boundless. And yes, there is really no telling what the actual limits of the brain are, as far as imagination goes. However, imagination and capacity to learn are not one and the same.
3. Brain parts work in isolation
Pretending to make learning simple by parceling out subjects to different parts of the brain only conceals the multifaceted difficulties that can occur in educational processes. There are no "learning parts" or "math parts" in our brain. We now know that brain parts work as complex systems, often using pieces from all of the different lobes at once.
4. Some people are more "right-brained", and others are more "left-brained"
One of the biggest market hypes in brain-based learning has involved convincing teachers that they should stimulate the "under-used right hemisphere" of the brain. We only have one brain with a right and left hemisphere, which we use in concert and we all use integrated systems involving both hemispheres for almost all tasks.
5. Brains objectively record reality
The truth is that people's memories are subject to misinterpretations, false recollection. Memories stored in the brain are subject to the same filters of experience through which all aspects of "reality" pass. The subjectivity of memory is an important concept for teachers to share with their students because it helps students recognize their own personal biases in recollection.
6. Memorization is unnecessary for complex mental processing
Yes, if memorization is only part of sheer rote learning, in which lists of concepts are presented out of context. But no, if memorization takes place in authentic and enjoyable contexts. And, of course not, if we know that complex mental processes are impossible without memorization.
7. The brain remembers everything that has ever happened to it
False. Forgetting occurs when we no longer have access to a memory. We remember only those experiences that have successfully passed from working to long-term memory, and for which retrieval has been made possible through practice.
8. Brain cells cannot be replaced
One of the most exciting discoveries relates to the conformation that new brain cells are indeed granted.
9. The brain is immutable
A dangerous myth that we can't change the brain. On the contrary, it is impossible not to do so, because the brain is constantly changed by experience.
10. Learning foreign languages disrupts knowledge of students' native language
In the 1960s it was thought that only a single part of the human brain is dedicated to language and if people were to learn more than one language they would, in effect, be dividing this potential. We now know that there is an overwhelming number of benefits to bilingualism and that this myth has no grounding.
11. Children are blank slates
Yeats was a bit closer to the truth when he said: "Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire".
12. Brain and mind are separate
This is the philosophical argument about the dualistic nature of the mind and the brain. Without brain which generates the concept of the mind (an intangible presentation of self) neither would exist.
13. Reasoning is contrary to emotion
A longstanding myth, but now we know that emotions are vital to good decision-making and that it is impossible to reason without the influence of emotions.
14. Learning occurs only in schools
No, therefore it is vital that teachers help their students understand the value of learning that occurs outside of the classroom and to use these experience to enhance their own in-class learning. Learning occurs across the lifespan and far beyond the school-age years.

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