Saturday, August 31, 2013

Neuromyths debunked

This week’s New Scientist has an opinion piece by Tom Bennett on the subject of neuromyths that ‘badly need debunking’.

First up for unmasking is the idea that people are right or left-brained. This belief has been around since Robert Sperry of CalTec noticed when treating epileptics that, if the two hemispheres of the brain were separated, the ability to carry out specific tasks was affected. Subsequent studies seemed to support the idea of ‘hemispheric dominance’. However, in recent times, it has been firmly established that the two hemispheres of the brain work together collaboratively and in complex ways.

The article also mocks the theory that people have certain learning styles. Apparently, the most popular version of this notion (VARK) dates back to the idea proposed by Neil D. Fleming, a New Zealand teacher, that learners are visual, auditory, reading and writing inclined, or kinaesthetic or tactile.

According to Susan Greenfield (Telegraph and TES, July 2007), from a neuroscientific perspective, the idea is ‘nonsense’. Moreover, Steven Stahl, in his essay ‘Different Strokes for Different Folks’, claimed that there has been an ‘utter failure to find that assessing children’s learning styles and matching to instructional methods has any effect on their learning’. John Hattie (Visible Learning for Teachers, 2012, p.89) maintains that ‘common measures [of learning styles] are notoriously unreliable and not predictive of much at all’. Some critics go even further and suggest that labelling children can have the harmful effect of restricting their learning.

Similarly, Howard Gardner’s much publicised ‘multiple intelligence’ theory has failed to survive closer scrutiny. Jerome Bruner described the 'intelligences' as, at best, ‘useful fictions’ and George Miller, a cognitive psychologist, described the theory as ‘hunch and opinion’. In fact, according to Bennett, even Gardner wrote in his book that ‘there is little evidence to support multiple intelligence theory’!

As Bennett says, there is plenty of solid, evidence-based research on which to base good educational practices but we need to inoculate ourselves against ‘snake oil’.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Sounds-Write trainings in Perth, Western Australia

I’m not long back from Perth in Australia, where I’ve been running two back-to-back courses with Mary Gladstone (see below), our resident Sounds-Write trainer based in Lismore, near Brisbane. And, apart from training trainees new to Sounds-Write, we were also training three new Sounds-Write trainers from DFS.

We had a terrific time with our super-animated trainees. It must be the weather! Their winter, when I arrived, was warmer than our ‘summer’, even if the sun does go down at ten minutes to six on the dot!

Over the two weeks we spent in Western Australia, we trained forty-two trainees and the feedback has been absolutely fantastic. One head teacher told me as she was leaving at the end of the course that it had been the best professional development course she’d ever attended. And that was pretty much what the others felt too.

Not only did Mary and I do a lot of teaching, we also learnt an awful lot from our lively discussions with the trainees, many of whom already had a huge amount of teaching experience behind them.

Mandy Nayton and her two colleagues Margie Backhouse and Gemma Boyle from DFS have all embarked upon the Sounds-Write trainer’s programme. Watch this space for the next training in November.