What do teachers believe?

//What do teachers believe?

It’s well-established that various ‘myths’ about how students’ learn are remarkably persistent in the face of contradictory evidence. In 2014, Paul Howard-Jones’ article, Neuroscience and education: myths and messages revealed the extent of teachers’ faulty beliefs:

In the UK, 93% of teachers believe that matching instruction to students’ preferred learning style is a good idea, 88% believed in some form of Brain Gym, with 91% being convinced by the left-brain-right brain hypothesis.

He concludes with the following:

Neuromyths are misconceptions about the brain that flourish when cultural conditions protect them from scrutiny. Their form is influenced by a range of biases in how we think about the brain. Some long-standing neuromyths are present in products for educators and this has helped them to spread in classrooms across the world. Genuine communication between neuroscience and education has developed considerably in recent years, but many of the biases and conditions responsible for neuromyths still remain and can be observed hampering efforts to introduce ideas about the brain into educational thinking. We see new neuromyths on the horizon and old neuromyths arising in new forms, we see ‘boiled-down’ messages from neuroscience revealing themselves as inadequate, and we see confusions about the mind–brain relationship and neural plasticity in discussions about educational investment and learning disorders.
Of course, it doesn’t help when high-profile and influential academics insist in passing on misinformation about the brain:

Your brain does not “grow when you are challenged” nor is it “like a muscle”. A firing synapse does not constitute brain growth, and ‘brain growth’ does not equate to learning. Although Boaler doesn’t make clear which of Jason Moser’s papers she’s citing, previously she’s put forward this one. It’s not as if she doesn’t know that her interpretation is, to put it politely, disputed (Greg Ashman took her to task here) so one wonders why she continues to put it about as uncontested fact. 

Despite all this, people often report themselves as being ‘bored’ by attempts to set the record straight and efforts to point teachers in the direction of reputable research. Often this is presented with the view that no one actually believes this stuff anymore so why can’t we all just move on and talk about something more important?

Well, there’s nothing stopping us from discussing other important topics, but if we’re going to ‘move on’ then we should be reasonably confident that teachers’ beliefs have substantially altered over the past few years. I have no such confidence.

Recently, I did some work with a school in which teachers were surveyed about their beliefs. I’m not going to go through answers to all the questions, but here’s the results of question 1:

Admittedly, this is a small sample, but 41 of the 53 teachers surveyed continue to believe in the importance of adapting lessons to students’ learning styles. Of course we shouldn’t blame teachers for this, but neither should we be complacent. It behooves us all to relentlessly point out the discrepancies between beliefs and evidence until no one has the excuse of ignorance.

2017-03-16T20:49:30+00:00March 16th, 2017|research|


  1. Tom Burkard March 16, 2017 at 8:52 pm - Reply

    Why anyone would take Jo Boaler seriously is something of a mystery. She was one of the major advocates of ‘ethnomathematics’, which (according to Diane Ravitch) contends that “traditional mathematics—the mathematics taught in universities around the world—is the property of Western Civilization and is inexorably linked with the values of the oppressors and conquerors”.

    • Jennifer March 17, 2017 at 11:48 am - Reply

      And this despite many mathematics ideas originating outside Europe.

  2. geraldinecarter2014 March 17, 2017 at 12:24 pm - Reply

    Thank you David. Retweeted to http://piperbooks.co.uk/ via @PiperBooks

  3. chestnut March 18, 2017 at 7:14 pm - Reply

    Maybe the leadership of the school thought that learning styles were important and because teachers are so used to ‘playing the game’ they just gave the answer they thought leadership would like to hear.

  4. Toby French March 18, 2017 at 9:16 pm - Reply


  5. Andy Leask March 24, 2017 at 12:07 pm - Reply

    As part of the IB Theory of Knowledge course at my old school, I did a couple of lessons on pseudo-science, and one in particular on pseudo-science in education. It was fascinating how many of these myths were still being peddled in the school. I armed the students with the truth, but whether they confronted their misguided teachers or not, I don’t know.

    It is (or at least can be) a great course.

  6. Gervase March 31, 2017 at 9:20 am - Reply

    I think if you had another statement that read “Children learn more effectively in groups” about a similar proportion of teachers would agree with this. This is despite the fact that there is no evidence at all that this is the case. Yet another myth that still dominates teacher training, inset, Ofsted etc etc

  7. […] Frankly, I feel incensed to be sent such obvious and unmitigated garbage. It’s so bad and so wrong that I just had to share it with the world. Honestly, I really thought we’d moved on, but apparently people still believe in this nonsense. […]

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