by Rob Cable
The application of educational neuroscience in schools has faced a lot of criticism with many believing that there is a sufficient lack of concrete evidence to support its effectiveness and validity in the classroom. Despite this, the interest that surrounds this emerging topic is continually growing and this is encouraging to gain a clearer understanding of the correlation between children’s education and brain development. Although neuro-myths have distorted public perception and casted some doubts, many agree that advances in neuroscience and our understanding of the brain could have a profound impact on how we teach young children to enhance their learning.
The fundamentals of educational neuroscience are at a relatively advanced stage. We are now able to use sophisticated scanners to capture images inside the brain which can be directly related to the classroom. This has been particularly useful when understanding and dealing with ‘problem’ children with regards to social and emotional development, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism and dyslexia. The hope for educational neuroscience is that we will be able to set biological markers to recognise learning difficulties in children and assist the developmental process of the brain from a much earlier age.
Neuroscience has improved our knowledge of the reading and mathematical processes in the brain. Research has shown a connection between phonological awareness (the patterns of speech and sound) and reading ability. Children who have developed a solid foundation in phonics tend to be better readers in comparison to children who have not established such skills. In mathematics neuroscience has helped to identify areas of the brain which specifically deal with numerical processing and mental arithmetic. Some children’s brains develop abnormally or slower than others. Therefore, neuroscientists recommend specialised interventions for children who find mathematics challenging, rather than subjecting every child to standardised interventions, which could be detrimental to some children’s academic development.
Neuroscientists contend that uncertain reward can be far more motivating than certain reward because humans have an attraction to challenges with equal odds. It is for this reason that educational games are extremely motivating for young learners because they are not focused on reward consistency.
Furthermore, neuroscience argues that the brain is a complex, interactive and interconnecting system that uses multiple senses to absorb, interpret and process information simultaneously. A student may have a preferred learning style – such as visual or auditory – however research shows that this is dictated by the development of the brain and that it is unethical to label a child a ‘kinaesthetic learner’. Instead, neuroscientists suggest that the more difficult a task is the greater the chance we have of memorising it.Thus, inadequate or incompetent learning styles should be practised to strengthen them.
There is currently a debate among neuroscientists about how the brain functions; whether we use certain parts of the brain for specific types of learning or whether learning occurs throughout the whole brain. Thus, it is important that neuroscientists do not overstate their findings and instead take time to provide conclusive evidence for educators to successfully implement neuroscience into their classrooms.
Rob Cable is a primary year 3/1 classroom teacher at the Mooltripakdee International School.