There are myriad books and professional development materials devoted to the study of learning styles. The problem, says University of Virginia cognitive psychologist Daniel Willingham, PhD, is that most of them don’t rely on good science.
“If you talk to teachers frequently, they’re surprised there isn’t a firm research base for different learning styles,” says Willingham, author of the books “When Can You Trust the Experts?” and “Why Don’t Students Like School?”
That lack of good information is among the reasons Willingham has devoted his work to researching the application of cognitive psychology and neuroscience to K–12 education — and popularizing the information for the general public. In addition to providing commentary about science and education on the education blog RealClearEducation.com, he is working to help schools and families determine which educational approaches — from games and software to training programs and workbooks — are scientifically supported and worth adopting.
Willingham spoke with the Monitor about the importance of offering students a challenging curriculum and providing motivation and praise to help struggling students.
What are some of the other unfounded beliefs teachers have about what works in the classroom?
One example is so-called neuromyths, or beliefs that some educators may have about the brain. For example, the characterization of left-brain versus right-brain thinking is not well-supported and really never has been.
The truth is that most teachers in my experience really have a lot of common sense. There are ideas that are peddled to them that are wrong, but most teachers are pretty skeptical of them. They’re in the classroom every day, so they have a sense of what works and what doesn’t work with kids.