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TTAC at Radford University

TTAC 3-2-1
Keeping the Learning Brain in Mind

February 8, 2018

This edition of 3 – 2 – 1 is all about the learning brain! More specifically, it’s about the assumptions educators carry with them about the brain that may be partial truths, oversimplifications or outright myths. The Centre for Educational Neuroscience at the University of Cambridge published a series on “neuro–hits” and “neuro–myths,” examining the many beliefs we hold about the brain and the new research that either supports or calls them in to question (Goswami, 2006). We’ve highlighted three of these long held beliefs and follow up with some best practices for classroom instruction that keeps the learning brain in mind.

3 Tips

3 Timely Tips


1. Some People are Left-Brained and Others are Right-Brained

Like many of the long held beliefs on the list, this one is a classic case of partial truth and oversimplification. Advancements in brain imaging do generally show that the right hemisphere of the brain is more active during creative tasks (Mihov et al., 2010), whereas a task like the phonological processing of words falls to the left hemisphere (Vigneau, 2011). The vast majority of tasks, however, show activity across both hemispheres of the brain simultaneously. And, it’s important to keep in mind, these brain-imaging studies only found lateralization for very specific tasks. There is no evidence to support that a person has a dominant hemisphere (Nielsen et al., 2013).

What it Means for the Classroom

Students are people and people are never just one thing. Even if a student seems to enjoy certain activities over others, it doesn’t mean their strengths and talents are limited. Rather, we as educators need to anticipate our students ever changing interests and hold those high expectations for all endeavors.


2. Students have a Learning Style that is Either Auditory, Visual or Kinesthetic

Learning styles theories like Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences seem intuitive. The idea of students having a preference for how material is presented to them makes sense, and Goswani (2006) speculates that this could be the reason why it was so widely accepted. That being said, very few empirical studies exist to support the theory that if a student learned via their learning preference all the time, they would be more successful (Rohrer & Pashler, 2012).

What it Means for the Classroom

The danger in prescribing one particular learning style to a child is that it limits a student's identity and privileges a style over the instructional match between content and delivery (Willingham, 2005). Now, this doesn’t mean we need to throw the baby out with the bath water. Gardner was on to something when he highlighted senses and their power for learning. See below for tips on multisensory instruction.


3. Mental Abilities are Inherited and Cannot be Overcome by the Environment.

While some mental ability is inherited, experiences and mindsets influence learning more than genetics. Carol Dweck's research around mindsets and intelligence is changing classroom practices and our understandings about the plasticity of brains. When students recognize struggle as part of learning and not a deficit in capacity to perform, learning increases.

What it Means for the Classroom

While intelligence may depend on genetics, how intelligence is applied during life depends strongly on cultural norms of countries, schools, families and the teachers we interact with. Children's classroom abilities are not fixed and we must continue to hold a high bar for all.

2 Tools

2 Teaching Tools


1. Explicit Instruction

In the spirit of thinking about what the brain really does need to learn, we decided to shine some light on two instructional practices that make a huge difference for students. The first of which is explicit instruction. It might seem obvious, but explicit and direct teaching is often overlooked in today’s classrooms. In order to store information in long-term memory, the brain needs lots of repetition with the chance to use and manipulate new learning along the way (Medina, 2014). Explicit instruction includes the systematic delivery of content that engages students with multiple opportunities to respond and a built in feedback loop (Archer & Hughes, 2011). For great ideas and videos of explicit teaching, visit


2. Simultaneously Multisensory Instruction

If the goal of teaching is to store information in students’ long-term memory, educators can enhance their use of explicit instruction by making it simultaneously multisensory. This means utilizing a student’s visual, auditory and tactile senses to create a stronger pathway in the brain. Multisensory instruction has huge benefits for all students, but is essential for any student who struggles to connect speech and print. For more tips and information, please visit the International Dyslexia Association website.

1 Thought

1 Thought

“It’s what we think we know that keeps us from learning.” – Claude Bernard



Goswami, U. (2006, April). Neuroscience and education: from research to practice? Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 1(1), 2-7. doi:10.1038/nrn1907

Mihov, K. M., Denzler, M., & Förster, J. (2010). Hemispheric specialisation and creative thinking: A meta-analytic review of lateralisation of creativity. Brain and Cognition, 72, 442-448. Doi: 10.1016/j.bandc.2009.12.007

Nielsen, J. A., Zielinski, B. A., Ferguson M. A., Lainhart, J. E., & Anderson, J. S. (2013). An evaluation of the left-brain vs. right-brain hypothesis with resting state functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging. PLOSone, 8 (8), e71275

Rohrer, D., & Pashler, H. (2012). Learning styles: Where’s the evidence? Medical Education, 46, 630-635.

Vigneau, M., Beaucousin, V., Herve, P. Y., Jobard, G., Petit, L., Crivello, F., Mellet, E., Zago, L., Mazoyer, B., & Tzourio-Mazoyer, N. (2011). What is right-hemisphere contribution to phonological, lexico-semantic, and sentence processing? Insights from a meta-analysis. Neuroimage, 54 (1), 577-593. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2010.07.036.

Willingham, D. (2005). Do visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners need visual auditory and kinesthetic instruction? The American Educator

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