Training brain literacy in teachers

Principal Investigator: A/P Annabel Chen, Deputy Director, Centre for Research and Development in Learning (CRADLE@NTU)

Co-Investigators: A/P Tan Seng Chee, Deputy Director, CRADLE@NTU; Betsy Ng, Research Scientist, CRADLE@NTU; A/P Kenneth Poon, National Institute of Education (NIE); Alfredo Bautista, Research Scientist, Office of Education Research, NIE
Research Assistant: Low Yi Hua, CRADLE@NTU
Funding Agency: CRADLE@NTU start-up grant
Brain imaging techniques in the 1980s have provided insights into the brain’s architecture and cognitive functions. Among the most influential literature in this account is Jim O’Dell’s 1981 PhD dissertation titled, “Neuroeducation: Brain Compatible Learning Strategies”. O’Dell was among the first to thread brain structure with teaching practice, and his influences were seconded by Leslie Hart in the latter’s 1983 book “Human Brain and Human Learning.”
Hart argued, “Education is discovering the brain. . . Anyone who does not have a thorough, holistic grasp of the brain's architecture, purposes, and main ways of operating is as far behind the times as an automobile designer without a full understanding of engines” (p. xi ).
This gradually built emphasis on learning mechanisms in the brain – and led to the decade of this human organ during 1990s that prompted developments into studying brain architecture and its relevance to education. Though the link with between theory and practice was met with skepticisms, with critics saying that there is too much commercial fad from “brain-based learning,” teachers in modern educational settings still see the potential of translating brain science to pedagogy. This makes neuroscience (an interdisciplinary study on the nervous system) still a fledgling field in terms of educational practice. Despite this, no translational research has been published to examine how educators translate neuroscientific research into their classroom activities.
The Centre for Research and Development in Learning (CRADLE@NTU) sought to foster brain literacy to inservice and special education teachers from the National Institute of Education and Ministry of Education. Professional development courses on neurodevelopment, brain functions, and domain-specific skills such as mathematics, reading, attention, and memory were offered to 60 teacher-participants for the study.  The participants were surveyed to generate measures of their self-reported educational neuroscience knowledge, skill development, and beliefs. These quantitative data were then analysed, together with qualitative data from field observations and interviews.
To translate educational neuroscience practices in the classroom, this brain literacy course aimed to equip teachers with brain-based learning and behaviour so that they can understand cognitive diversity and individual differences in learning. Through educational neuroscience evidence-based training in reading, problem-solving and skill development, teachers are better equipped to meet the needs of diverse learners.
Results from this study form the basis of curriculum and training in educational neuroscience. Bringing brain literacy to the forefront of educator training and school-based practices, this study could fundamentally change teacher education, classroom instruction, and ultimately student outcomes.