In the past ten years, there has been growing interest in applying our knowledge of the human brain to the field of education, including reading, learning, language, and mathematics. Teachers themselves have embraced the neuro revolution enthusiastically. A recent investigation in the US-based journal Mind, Brain, and Education showed that almost 90% of teachers consider knowledge about brain functioning relevant for the planning of education programmes.
This has resulted in the development of a number of new practices in education: some good, some bad, and some just crazy. Too often, people with the clout to make decisions about which practice is potentially profitable in the classroom setting, ignore evidence in favour of gut feelings, the authority of ‘gurus’, or unwarranted convictions. In short, opinions rather than data too often inform implementations in schools. Hence we have had theories suggesting that listening to Mozart can boost intelligence, foot massages can help unruly pupils, fish oil can boost brain power, and even the idea that breathing through your left nostril can enhance creativity! Sadly, it is often scientists themselves who promulgate unsubstantiated procedures.
We shouldn’t ignore the good practices and innovations in education thanks to the developing neuro revolution. A popular example might be the neuroscience data suggesting a strong neural link between fingers and numbers. This is testified by the observation that 6 year old children who are good in recognizing their fingers when touched will later also be better at arithmetical performances. However, more often than not “the good” classroom developments are actually centered around more mainstream cognitive findings. One such finding, named spaced practice, has been replicated many times; it shows that distributing learning over time is more efficient than massing it all together. For example, if students stockpile learning just before an exam, they may do well enough, but if they want to retain the material in the long term, then retrieving it via multiple tests is much better.