Are Boys Better at Math? One word: NO!
It is nice to know that these commonly held beliefs are just myths, now debunked by research:
• Myth #1: A child is either right-brained or left-brained.
• Myth #2: Girls are better at reading, boys at math and science.
• Myth #3: People can’t learn a new language after a certain critical period.
So there is no excuse to not go out and learn a new language! What other learning myths have you heard of? What do you think of this research? Does it ring true to you?
• Myth #1: A child is either right-brained or left-brained. This is “simply not true,” say the authors. Yes, certain hemispheres play a larger role in certain functions (e.g., the left side handles many speech functions in most people), but “all complex learning tasks involve a widely distributed network of brain areas.” The right-brain/left-brain myth has been particularly harmful because it’s led many parents and educators to lower their expectations for some children because they are thought to be immutably weaker in a particular area. “It’s wrong to imply that strengths and weaknesses come from the dominance of one hemisphere and are resistant to good teaching and learning,” they say. “Profiles of strengths and weaknesses are much more complex than simple hemispheric dominance, and they’re malleable because the brain is remarkably flexible and adaptive.”
• Myth #2: Girls are better at reading, boys at math and science. Nonsense, say Fischer, Worden, and Hinton: “Girls show a small advantage in language on average, but many boys are better at language than most girls. Boys show a small advantage in spatial reasoning on average, but many girls are better at spatial reasoning than most boys. No neuroscientific data suggest that boys’ brains are better suited to any given domain or subject or vice versa… Individual differences in talents certainly exist, and every student has a profile of strengths and weaknesses, but no evidence suggests that these profiles are biologically limited by gender.”
• Myth #3: People can’t learn a new language after a certain critical period. Not true, say the authors. There’s no evidence that there is a critical period for academic skills such as learning a foreign language. The reason is the remarkable plasticity of the brain throughout life. There are sensitive periods for certain aspects of language learning – “windows of opportunity” within which people can acquire a certain ability most easily and efficiently – for example, infants’ ability to recognize and distinguish phonemes across multiple languages, which fades when they hear one language and unused neurons are pruned in their brains. But there’s no reason that adults can’t learn a new language and acquire an almost native accent. In our interconnected global economy, say the authors, it’s more and more important for people to master more than one language: “If American students are to be successful, educators and parents must have clear expectations regarding students’ language acquisition based on evidence, not neuromyths.”
“What Does the Brain Have to Do with Learning?” by Jennifer Worden, Christina Hinton, and Kurt Fischer in Phi Delta Kappan, May 2011 (Vol. 92, #8, p. 8-13).