A £6 million fund has been launched to look at the potential that neuroscience has to improve educational practice in schools
Visual, auditory or kinaesthetic; there’s a high likelihood that, as a student, you may have been labelled as a particular kind of learner. A student who learns best when presented with educational material in a particular format.
However, according to a recent report from the Wellcome Trust, there is little scientific evidence to suggest that this form of intervention in the classroom is beneficial to students; with some suggesting it could be detrimental.
Despite this, 76 per cent of teachers surveyed by both online community, Schoolzone, and the Wellcome Trust, say they currently use Learning Styles in their work, with 68 per cent of respondents reporting that they initially came across the method through working in a school, rather than through academic or scientific journals.
The surveys, commissioned by the Trust, sought to explore how neuroscience is affecting education and learning by noting the methods used by teachers within a classroom environment.
The report revealed that, overall, more than nine out of ten teacher respondents say neuroscience influences their teaching, yet, it has been shown that many of the techniques these teachers reported using, such as Brain Gym, have little in the way of proven effective results through systematic testing.
As a consequence of this report, the Wellcome Trust and the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), yesterday launched a £6 million Education and Neuroscience fund to develop evidence-based practices for use in a classroom setting and to test those methods, such as Learning Styles, which are regularly used in schools.
The fund aims to bring together educators and neuroscientists in the first project of its kind to take place on this scale.
Dr Hilary Leevers, Head of Education and Learning at the Wellcome Trust says: “Neuroscience is an exciting field that holds a great deal of promise both for understanding how our brains work and, through application, for improving how we learn and perform.
“From our surveys we found that many teachers mentioned using certain practices including Learning Styles, mnemonics, mindmaps and Brain Gym. These ideas are being implemented and are very appealing, but teachers aren’t being provided with the evidence that these practices work.
“In fact, if you look at educational practice in general, there isn’t a history of requiring the sort of evidence that you would, for example, in medicine. This is one of the aims that the Education Endowment Foundation is trying to achieve.”
The fund is open to collaborations across the UK, while the interventions themselves have to be tested in UK schools and should have the ability to be applied in a classroom setting.
Sir Peter Lampl, Chair of the Education Endowment Foundation and the Sutton Trust, said: “Improving our understanding of how the brain works will deepen our understanding of how pupils learn.
“Knowing the impact of neuroscience in the classroom will also make it easier to spot the plausible sounding fads and fakes, which don’t improve standards. This is essential if we are to increase the attainment of pupils, particularly those from low-income families.”
One such investigation that Dr Leevers hopes will come out of the fund is based on the idea that you can improve the state of brain arousal and activity to improve readiness to learn. This technique, known as ‘biofeedback’, is currently only used by 1 per cent of the 1,200 teachers who took part in the two surveys last year.
“You can train people quite efficiently by giving them a visualisation of their level of brain activity,” says Dr Leevers. “This has yet to be trialled across different groups of children, or at scale, but there have been positive elements of its impact, particularly in groups of students with attention problems.”
Further to this particular investigation, other projects could look at the length of lessons, listening to music and whether sleep patterns and starting school later could benefit students, particularly teenagers who experience a delay of around two hours in their sleep/wake cycle as a result of puberty – this theory has already been tested in some schools.
“Most educational practice hasn’t been systematically tested,” says Dr Leevers, who hopes that the fund will provide evidence to show how schools could make the best use of neuroscience; determining the best way for their pupils to learn.
“The only testing has been the implementation of a method in the classroom – but the results haven’t been looked at in depth and evaluated to see which are best and which get the best educational outcomes.”
A report written by Dr Paul Howard-Jones, Reader in Neuroscience and Education at the University of Bristol, further highlights the important of evidence based research saying that enthusiasm from some teachers and schools to adopt interventions with a ‘neuro tag’, mean these methods need to be investigated thoroughly to dispel the ‘myths’ surrounding practices that may or may not have educational value.
Applications for grants close in May, with funding decisions announced towards the end of the year.
Source: Education News