The neuroscience of learning

I was really pleased to see Alistair McConville’s (Director of Teaching and Learning at Bedales) response to Tony Little’s (Headmaster of Eton) article regarding academic underperformance of boys in the Times recently (follow link to read article). It is about time that we finally accepted that the difference between boys’ and girls’ neurologically is minimal and almost irrelevant to the learning process. It is clear that more research is required to gain a better understanding of how and why children learn.

Sadly this ‘neuromyth’ has perpetuated education for many years now, to the extent that too many educationalists have stopped seeing children as individuals and instead make blind assumptions about learning styles and needs based on gender. I challenge anyone to pick a group of boys (or girls) from a class within any of the Bedales Schools and find that the way that they think, approach life, lessons or a task is in anyway similar; why should their approach to learning be any different? The Bedales Schools have always offered its pupils and students choice; encouraged debate and discussion and attracted innovative, creative and questioning teachers. These teachers really get to know every individual in their class as an individual. They intelligently engineer their lessons to switch children on; they are careful in the learning language they use in the classroom; they closely monitor response, set the bar high and constantly adapt and redesign the teaching to capture the interest of each pupil.   When they plan their lessons, they are not thinking about providing for two gender groups, they are thinking about individuals.

The big voices in education need to stop giving credence to this ‘neuromyth’  and start to look for more tangible reasons for academic underperformance in some boys (and some girls) rather than perpetuating the same old nonsense . The Bedales Schools partnership with Harvard Graduate School of Education is already opening up discussion, particularly about how students and pupils engage in the learning process and will focus on the very heart of a Bedalian education; developing inquisitive lifelong learners, irrespective of gender or innate ability.

By Jane Grubb, Head, Bedales Prep, Dunhurst

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