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Dispelling five education myths

From learning styles to the 10,000 hours practice rule, IB World Magazine debunks five misleading theories in education.

Students learn best when taught through their preferred learning style

Whether that’s visual, auditory, reading or kinesthetic, students learn best through their own learning style. This was a concept popularized by New Zealand researcher Neil Fleming, who developed the Vark questionnaire in 1987, to show you what type of learner you were.

Truth:

There is, “virtually no evidence”, for the effectiveness of the learning styles approach, according to a team led by cognitive psychologist Dr Harold Pashler, who reviewed decades of research in 2009.

The myth was debunked in 2017. The British Journal of Psychology found that students who said they were visual learners thought they would remember pictures better, and those who preferred learning verbally thought they would remember words better. But those preferences didn’t correlate with whether they remembered words or pictures when tested.

In another study, Indiana University undergraduate students were given the Vark questionnaire to determine what kind of learner they were, along with study strategies that corresponded with their learning style. The 2018 research, led by Professor Polly Husmann, found that nearly 70% of students didn’t actually study in ways that seemed to reflect their learning style, and those that did use their learning style didn’t do any better in tests.

Attributing particular learning styles to students could be detrimental to their progress because it will not reflect the possibility that they can learn new ways of thinking. Researchers have also said that the most useful way to present learning content is to focus on what is being learned.

10,000 hours of practice will make you an expert

According to Malcolm Gladwell in his 2008 book Outliers, 10,000 hours of practice will make you an expert. It is based on anecdotes of successful people, as well as a 1993 study of musicians, led by cognitive psychologist Dr Anders Ericsson. It found that differences in ability were largely down to how many hours the musicians had practiced. The authors rejected the role of natural talent and argued that differences in ability, even among top musicians, were largely down to how much they practiced.

Truth

Although practice can help when learning a new skill or studying, it is actually difficult to put a number on how many hours it will take to become an expert. In the original research, some of the top musicians had practiced for fewer than 10,000 hours.

The theory was put to the test again in 2019. The study was led by Brooke Macnamara, a psychologist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. They surveyed three groups of violinists―divided into, ‘best’, ‘good’, and, ‘less accomplished’―about how often they practiced. They, “found no statistically significant differences in accumulated practice alone (up to age 18) between the best and good violinists”. Overall, the number of hours the musicians spent practicing only accounted for 26% of the variance between the three groups.

Many factors come into play to become expert at something, said Macnamara in an interview last year. “The factors depend on the skill being learned: in chess, it could be intelligence or working memory; in sport, it may be how efficiently a person uses oxygen. To complicate matters further, one factor can drive another. A child who enjoys playing the violin, for example, may be happy to practice and be focused on the task because they do not see it as a chore.”

Highlighting text can help students revise, aid comprehension and retain information

Truth

This strategy isn’t effective in helping us remember things, according to research by Professor John Dunlosky of Kent State University, U.S., which tested 10 learning techniques. Highlighting or underlining can even be detrimental if the wrong information is selected. And because it draws attention to single pieces of attention, it may even hamper the process of drawing inferences and connections. People recall information better if they connect it to other pieces of information.

Self-testing and spreading study periods over a long period of time, as opposed to cramming information, were found to be the most effective methods of revising and taking in information.

Discover more innovative revision methods in IB World Magazine.

Detentions and, ‘time-outs’, are effective at regulating students’ behaviour.

Truth

Research has confirmed that these approaches are more of a hindrance than a help―students end up feeling more angry, resentful and embarrassed. It affects their self-esteem and damages teacher-student relations.

Instead, mindfulness and yoga have been shown to help students handle their feelings and emotions. Mindfulness lessons can reduce the negative effects of stress and increase students’ ability to stay engaged and avoid behaviour problems, according to a 2019 study by the Boston Charter Research Collaborative in the U.S.

When students, ‘misbehave’, at an elementary school in Denver, U.S., they are sent to a, ‘cool-down room’, where they can do breathing exercises and discuss what might be bothering them. If they repeatedly misbehave, they are referred to an after-school yoga programme as an alternative to detention. Another elementary school in Baltimore replaced detentions with a, ‘mindful moment room’, where students are encouraged to practise breathing or meditation. Both schools reported significant decreases in the number of suspensions, as well as improvements in students’ emotional management.

For more mindfulness techniques, see IB World Magazine’s mindfulness issue

People are either right-brained―if they are more creative, artistic and intuitive free thinkers―or left-brained if they are analytical, mathematical and logical.

Truth

There isn’t evidence for this notion. Brain scans of more than 1,000 people were investigated in a 2013 study, by the University of Utah, U.S., and found that activity was similar on both sides of the brain regardless of one’s personality. All of the study participants used their entire brain equally. It is true that certain areas of the brain do manage specific functions, such as movement and language, but it is a misconception to relate this to individual personalities.

The danger of this neuromyth is that it’s fuelled unproven teaching approaches and brain exercises that aim to target the less dominant hemisphere to balance the brain. And if students believe this myth, it can make them doubt their ability to perform a particular type of task.

Have you recently debunked certain education myths? Let us know in the comments below👇🏼