Stick to what you do best

22nd August 2008 at 01:00

An expert in how the brain learns told teachers to keep out of neuroscience and stick to what they do best.

Edinburgh University's Sergio Della Salla, a professor of human cognitive neuroscience, is dismayed by teachers who read up on his area of expertise, then start using their "superficial" knowledge in the classroom. "How come people who do not have a neuroscience background in a few weeks become a neuroscience expert?" he asked.

Professor Della Salla challenged questionable teaching techniques that rely on pseudo-science to get into classrooms, when he spoke at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. He believes that resources and projects which misinterpret how the brain works are rife in schools.

Brain Gym, a resource used in many Scottish authorities, was one of his targets. He criticised its use of impressive-sounding scientific credentials which, when scrutinised, were shown to make "no sense".

He called for more rigorous scrutiny of received wisdoms, pointing to the widely-held belief that listening to Mozart could improve intelligence. In fact, studies had shown, Mozart had no more impact on intelligence than pop music.

Another festival audience heard that trying to help children "reach their potential" was simplistic and potentially damaging.

"The word `potential' is scattered around in many Scottish documents - it's mind-boggling," said Martyn Rouse, director of Aberdeen University's Inclusive Practice Project.

"We have this notion of saying, `This is a child who has reached his potential.' How do we know? We need to define achievement much more broadly than it is at the moment."

Professor Rouse, formerly of Cambridge University, also said that the growing "consensus" in Scottish education made Scottish schools more inclusive than their English counterparts.

He compared the Educational Institute of Scotland, which "comes to the table", to England's National Union for Teachers, which is less involved in policy-making.

In Scotland, he said, education for children was valued, whereas education in England was only valued for "some children".

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