The seductive power of ‘neuromyths’ – an investigation into pre-service teachers’ understanding of the science of learning.

The paper will provide an account of cross-disciplinary collaboration between researchers in the fields of education and psychology. Over the past decade, as neuroscience has expanded our knowledge about learning, there have been increasing efforts to bridge the gap between research and pedagogical practices (e.g. Goswami, 2004; Howard-Jones, 2014; Sigman, Peña, Goldin, & Ribeiro (2014). It is also known that teachers’ attitude to learners and learning is a significant influence on students’ classroom performance (Rosenthal and Jacobsen, 1968; Rubie-Davies et al, 2006). The paper focusses on an aspect of a Wellcome Trust funded project ‘Enhancing the Learning Sciences within Primary Initial Teacher Education’ which aims to support teachers to become informed critical consumers of learning science research. It has been reported elsewhere (Weisberg, Keil, Goodstein, Rawson, and Gray, 2008) that claims that seem to be supported by neuroscientific research have a certain ‘seductive allure’ even if the research is questionable. Building on similar surveys undertaken by teachers (Dekker, Lee, Howard-Jones, & Jolles, 2012), an initial survey of trainee teachers (n=298) just embarking on PGCE primary courses was conducted to examine the extent to which they could identify correct and incorrect statements regarding general knowledge of the brain and ‘neuromyths’.  Initial qualitative and quantitative analyses are presented which shows some trainees believed statements suggesting that learners’ neurological development is fixed and this cannot be remediated by education, whereas others were uncertain whether ideas such as ‘preferred learning styles’ and ‘left/right brain differences’ explained learner differences. We explore the implications for these findings in relation to the problematic notion of ‘ability’ in primary schooling (Francis et al, 2017). We argue that the popularity of these particular neuromyths indicate some intending teachers are likely to believe children’s potential for learning is fixed and use misconceptions regarding the learning sciences as ‘evidence’ to support their beliefs. We conclude with information regarding potential remedial action to address the issue.