Myth Unmaking

Submitted By:
Brendan Faughnan, Cristo Rey New York High School, New York, NY

The Myths That Persist About How We Learn by Ira Flatow
Science Fridays, PRI Public Radio International, September 1, 2017

At the beginning of the school year, teachers often contemplate the different learning styles of their students, but what happens when a teacher’s understanding of how students learn is based more on myth than evidence? In a recent interview on Public Radio International’s “Science Friday,” host Ira Flatow spoke about pervasive myths in the world of education with Daniel Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, Lauren McGrath, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Denver, and Kelly Macdonald, a doctoral candidate in clinical neuropsychology at the University of Houston. One myth, which 76% of educators believe, is that a student learns best when instruction is geared towards his or her particular learning style. The problem is that there’s not sufficient evidence to support the existence of different learning styles. What implication does this insight have for teachers who plan with learning styles in mind? Possibly not that much, which is also a problem. The interviewees point out that varying modes of instruction, in itself, may be helpful to learning. In other words, teachers’ lesson plans may be effective, just not for the reasons they might believe. The danger of this myth and others like it is that teachers may be spending too much time on scantily-supported theories at the expense of focusing on research-based methods that demonstrably support learning.

Teaching Practice
Science of Learning