True or False?
Intelligence is fixed at birth?
Learning should be spaced out over time?
Right brain thinkers learn differently from left brain thinkers?
A good teacher can teach any subject?
Well, these are just a few of the long held myths about learning that current research is showing to be inaccurate at best and prohibitive at worst. How we best learn is a question that seems to change with each decade. New ideas about how the brain processes information or how each individual recognizes and learns new ideas rise and fall with the progress of technology and psychology as quickly as food and fashion trends.
A lot of ideas about individual learning are a reaction to previous generations of rout learning practices. These kind of static classrooms are still very active in much of the world and I know from experience that lecture and listen instruction is the norm in much of Asia. I also know the effects of this system; that students aren’t encouraged to question the material they’re taught. They aren’t asked to interpret the information or translate it from one subject to another. These kinds of classrooms promote a copy culture and maintain conformity in society which stymies creativity and progress.
Yet so many of our well-loved myths about education are still based on that old system.
We may have left that sort of shut-up-and-learn culture behind long ago in the United States, but many of our ideas about learning are still mired in that tradition. Ninety percent of respondents in a recent poll on learning strategies agreed that simply re-reading information was sufficient to learning it, while research suggests, that is simply not true. Furthermore, most teachers in the U.S. polled agreed that positive reinforcement in the form of praising students for being smart is useful while studies show that this type of praise is counter effective.
On the other hand, short-term quizzing is now looked on as wasteful while in controlled studies that test long-term versus short-term memory show that quizzes or even self-quizzing on material improves understanding of the material by up to seventy percent.
So are you or are you not a special snowflake?
Despite what we have been telling ourselves and our children probably since the mid-seventies, we are not so much a special little miracle with our own learning systems and individual gifts. Students do not necessarily need to have their own special curriculum catered to their own delicate sensibilities.
Though an overwhelming majority of teachers believe that students have different capacities for absorbing information, visually or audibly, education researchers have shown that the teachers’ own understanding of the subject or material being taught has a much greater effect on students understanding than any ‘left’ or ‘right’ brain preponderance.
The actual difference between a student’s learning or not may come down to how their teacher feels about the job, believe it or not. Teaching as a profession in U.S. is poorly paid, socially smirked at, and scapegoated for many of the ills in society. ‘If you can’t do, then teach’, the old adage goes.
If as a country we would like to see our education system improve (the U.S. was ranked 24th in world literacy in 2016), it may be time to stop blaming teachers who feel little motivation to keep current with practices and bring enthusiasm and creativity into the classroom each day and instead examine ourselves, our own motivation and how much time and effort we invest in our youngsters.
Are we keeping up with the new technology and tools that are available to assist the future generation with learning new ideas, concepts and languages?