Educational neuroscience, the study of the brain’s development, structure, and function, is a powerful discipline that can be very helpful to teachers. Sousa says that “educational neuroscience is the discipline that combines neuroscience, pedagogy, and psychology, bringing the current research from how the brain learns, behaves, and relates to instructional practices in the classroom.” Educational neuroscience has answers on relevant issues such as inequalities in education, trauma-informed practices, and online learning. Unfortunately, some of these findings have not been communicated clearly to educators, and it has had some negative effects:
- Some schools are cutting art and music instruction even though brain science shows how crucial art is for students.
- Physical education and recess have also been reduced even though movement is crucial for focus and memory. It both calms and energizes the brain.
- Neuromyths are still being perpetuated, such as the idea of a right and left brain. As Posey points out, “Neuroscience shows there is no such thing as a simple right- or left-brained learner. Instead, the brain is incredibly dynamic, with multiple interconnected networks engaged.” These myths can negatively affect the instructional strategies used in the classroom.
Understanding neuroscience is fundamental for teachers because of the huge influence of teachers on their students’ brains. As Sousa says, “Every class, assignment, and experience shapes the human brain.” There are three major areas where neuroscience can help teachers.
Understanding the Brain and Its Functions
When classroom teachers know how their students’ brains work and how the learning process can be best enhanced, true and lasting learning happens. Learning changes the brain constantly, so teachers have a huge influence on the developing brains of students. Understanding brain science allows teachers to plan their lessons and choose instructional strategies aligned with brain science. Neuroscientists can inform classroom teachers about what works and what doesn’t in students’ learning.
Choosing Helpful Instructional Strategies
Educational neuroscience can help teachers understand how students’ brains are affected by factors outside of the school, like community factors, home environment, substance abuse, and by factors such as the emotional, social, and cognitive characteristics of each student. It can also help teachers understand the relationship of these elements to how students’ brains learn, which can help with choosing the most helpful classroom strategies.
Understanding Student Behavior
Educational neuroscience can help classroom teachers understand how the behavior of students is influenced by the development of the brain and by their environment, genetics, and perceptions.
By learning about the findings of educational neuroscience, teachers can find many helpful strategies for their classroom, and can also share information with students to help them understand their own learning. Educational neuroscience shines light on a huge range of topics of importance to teachers, including neuroplasticity, memory, trauma-informed practices, learning space design, effective wall displays, creative and active instructional strategies, metacognition, mindfulness, retrieval strategies, reflection, study skills, and calming strategies.