Speak softly to get your lesson across

14th May 2004 at 01:00
David Henderson reports from the home economics conference in Dundee

Hectoring, shouting teachers have no chance of persuading pupils to learn, Jane Mott, lecturer in inclusive studies at Aberdeen University, reminded the conference.

Any child under stress will simply switch off, a natural response that has been highlighted by research into the brain.

"If you are under stress, you cannot learn. Higher order thinking skills like problem-solving or prediction that we require of children are shut down if they are under stress," Mrs Mott said. "If you perceive a child to be under stress, you can forget cognitive learning. Address the problem first because that is the only way you can get the child to learn."

Children with dyslexia were under stress most of the time at school and stress in the family or from hectoring teachers could induce similar shutdowns.

Mrs Mott feared that the drive to raise attainment, especially in primaries, had forced teachers to introduce more didactic methods that were not liked by children. In her own subject - science - health and safety concerns had hit hands-on learning. "People do not like to be shouted at, particularly the quiet ones. So it is important the way you speak to them and perceive them," she said.

Brain studies had shown that children switched off if something was irrelevant. Self-esteem was another important factor. "Underachievers regularly underachieve because they believe they cannot do it. There is nothing magic about support for learning. Most support for learning departments are putting back in place that sense of belief in one way or another," Mrs Mott said.

By the age of 12, children have developed a preference for left or right-brain learning. "Eighty-eight per cent of lessons taught in school favour left-brain learning. They are logical and build up step by step. But around 50 per cent of us are right-brained learners. We do not work logically, we are intuitive learners. We need to have the whole picture," she said.

Boys were further disadvantaged by current learning styles and a lack of recognition of their different brain qualities, which allow them to focus on problems or subjects in greater detail and with greater concentration.

Mrs Mott said: "They also have higher levels of testosterone which means they are noisy, active, competitive and aggressive. We have got a real problem with the way we educate our males and I am concerned about the feminisation of education.

"Boys are more likely to want to win or insult rather than work co-operatively. They like competition but we have fostered the idea of co-operative working."

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