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Tapping Into the Teenage Brain: Must-Know Neuromyths

Sep 17, 2023

In the field of neuroscience, there are a number of myths that educators, and even non-educators, have about the brain. Those myths - called neuromyths - have been embedded in our understanding of the brain and they often cloud our judgements about how people learn. 


In studying these neuromyths, I found a few of them really interesting and relevant when talking about the teenage brain. Read through these and see how correcting your thoughts on these influence not only your work with young people, but teenagers especially:


Myth #1: Multitasking is a skill that allows us to simultaneously work on multiple tasks at once.




Our brains can’t actually do two things at once. Our brain really only works by focusing on tasks sequentially, not at the same time. It might seem like we can do two things at once - say, listen to a teacher AND take notes - but our brains can’t actually do that. What we can do is listen and then very, very quickly transition to the notes in front of us. Those with good executive functioning skills are often better at that than others. In a classroom, and especially with teenagers, whose executive functioning skills are developed last, it’s really obvious that this multitasking thing is a myth.


Myth #2: Each student’s learning styles should be identified and activities and lessons should be designed around those learning styles so that students’ can learn best.




This is actually a controversial one because as an educator for over 20 years, I have heard tons about learning styles and how best to teach students. However, all of the talk about learning styles was actually never directly connected to actual evidence about academic success. 


In studies done by Beth Rogowsky, Barbara Calhoun, and Paula Tallal (2014, 2020), matching instruction to a student’s learning styles didn’t actually lead to better learning. In those studies, it didn’t really matter if a student was taught specifically in a visual way or an auditory way because even if a student preferred a specific modality, it didn’t equate to better or more successful learning. That doesn’t mean that different styles should be explored; all classes should be differentiated in some way to change up thinking and expose students to different ways of taking in material. We just need to know that in doing that, we shouldn’t expect academic success to be tied directly to that.


Myth #3: Students’ academic performance improves when adults tell them how smart they are. 




Praising a student about their intelligence - or even prospective intelligence - doesn’t actually make them smarter or more confident learners. But praising how they’ve learned - their work ethic, how they’ve tried, what they’ve done in working hard, does lead to stronger learners. Fostering a student’s “growth mindset” (something that we talked about a lot before the pandemic and something that I personally feel needs to be explored more now) helps them to continue to develop their learning. Pushing through with effort and persistence makes a student better able to adjust and try new things, which makes them more likely to see success. 


Reach out to me about these at @the_teenage_brain_thing

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