When I began to think about this new incarnation of my blog, I decided that I wanted to focus on topics of interest as well as facts about my own personal writing career. One of those topics which has fascinated me for years is that of neuroscience, and specifically how it applies to education. The more that education becomes an important part of my work, the more I realize the importance of keeping up with new research and the ever-expanding understanding of how we learn. I recently discovered a fabulous, and fabulously readable book by Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa called Neuromyths: Debunking False Ideas about the Brain, which I want to share with you.
Tokuhama-Espinosa is a Professor at Harvard University’s Extension School, specializing in the neuroscience of learning. She has taught kindergarten through university, and is the Associate Editor of the Nature Partner Journal Journal Science of Learning. This new book explains the latest research, discusses common myths and how they came into being, and explains what we know now instead. To be honest, it was incredibly humbling to see how much of my own understanding of the way our brains learn was old news, and how much I had to recalibrate my own thinking. I recommend getting a copy of the book itself if you are interested in this field, but as a taster, here are some debunked myths:
- Most people use about 10% of their brains. Actually, the latest imagery shows a wide range of segments of the brain being used in a multitude of tasks, and there is no evidence at all that such a limited part of the brain is used. On the contrary, brain scans show activity in all parts of the brain.
- Listening to classical music makes you smarter (The Mozart Effect). Although listening to music can increase attention in the short term, there is no evidence to show that music, of any genre, increases brain performance.
- There are brain differences based on race. Absolutely not. If anything, research now shows that nurture has much more to do with mental ability than nature.
- Some people are more right-brained than left-brained. Actually, all humans have only one brain with two hemispheres which work together in most functions.
- There is a ‘localization’ of academic skills. Actually, learning is much more complex, and different skills are learned via complex networks running throughout both sides of the brain.
- Creativity is located in the right hemisphere of the brain. Actually, and happily, creativity is now found to be an incredibly complex activity which uses a multiplicity of activities found throughout the brain. Here is a quote from the book on this subject dear to my heart which validates my belief that many creative thoughts happen in the shower:
- …creativity may not be limited to ‘active’ skills at all, but rather to what the brain does when it is not focused on anything in particular.
These are just a few debunked myths and, all in all, the news is good. Teachers can now feel confident that all students can improve their mental capacity with the help of good teaching. Tokuhama-Espinosa concludes with the statement that the brain is a very plastic organ, capable of growing and changing throughout our lives. As she says, ..Thanks to this information, more people can live up to greater potentials for learning than ever before.