The New Science of Teaching and Learning: Using the Best of Mind, Brain, and Education Science in the Classroom
reviewed by Kathleen H. Corriveau - June 03, 2010
Title: The New Science of Teaching and Learning: Using the Best of Mind, Brain, and Education Science in the Classroom
Author(s): Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807750336, Pages: 256, Year: 2009
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Educators have long believed that findings in neuroscience and psychology might help to identify effective teaching and learning techniques in the classroom. The field of Mind, Brain, and Education science (MBE) is devoted to exploring this intersection and has made significant progress despite claims by some translational researchers that the link between education and neuroscience is still a bridge too far (Bruer, 1997). In her book, The New Science of Teaching and Learning: Using the Best of Mind, Brain, and Education Science in the Classroom, Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa provides teachers with information about how MBE science can help to answer questions about teaching and learning, as well as useful guidelines which are easily translated to the classroom.
To consolidate over 20 years of MBE science into information helpful to educators, Tokuhama-Espinosa simultaneously reviews scientific literature from Neuroscience, Psychology, and Education, and compiles a Delphi panel of international MBE experts. Delphi panels are often used in social science, as it is believed that group consensus across experts is more accurate than any individual experts opinion. This book reports the information gleaned from the literature review and the Delphi panel.
Tokuhama-Espinosa arranges her book in two parts. Part I describes the intersection between Psychology, Neuroscience, and Education in more theoretical terms, outlining the areas in which we know Neuroscience can be helpful to Education, the areas where it is speculated to be helpful, and the areas where the MBE link is less understood. Part II outlines how MBE theory might be used in the classroom setting, again making the distinction between established links, hypothetical links, and less-clear associations.
The chapters within each part are written to stand alone and can be read in any order.
The chapters within Part I, The Scientifically Substantiated Art of Teaching, describe the history of the intersection between Education, Neuroscience, and Psychology. The first four chapters outline the areas in which we know Neuroscience can be helpful to Education in Using What We Know as Fact, the areas where it is speculated to be helpful in Considering What to Do with What is Probably True, and the areas where the MBE link is less understood in Evaluating the Usage of What is Still Just Intelligent Speculation. In particular, those less familiar with MBE science should make sure to read Weeding out Neuromyths and Misunderstandings, which focuses on debunking popularized brain-based hypotheses. Tokuhama-Espinosa does an excellent job of clearly explaining why the popular notion of the relationship between neuroscience and education is incorrect. For example, she notes that the observation that humans use only 10% of our brains is inaccurate. Instead, she notes that there is no specific percentage that students use and, in fact, quantifying the amount of brain use could feel limiting to students.
The chapters in Part II, Applying Mind Brain and Education Science in the Classroom provide immediate practical techniques for how MBE science might be used in the classroom setting. Across three chapters, Tokuhama-Espinosa moves from general learning tenets in Applying Knowledge About the Individual Nature of Learning to Classroom Teaching, to general principles of classroom practice in Principles: Applying Universal Concepts About the Brain and Learning to Classroom Teaching, to individual instructional guidelines in Ten Instructional Guidelines in MBE Science. For those most concerned with how to apply MBE science to their classroom immediately, the 10 instructional guidelines are an exciting first step.
Perhaps most importantly, Tokuhama-Espinosa recognizes that teachers are constantly bombarded with claims about the link between neuroscience and education. Tokuhama-Espinosa ends her book with a chapter on how to distinguish the good MBE science from the bad. Again, drawing on the expertise of the Delphi panel, she lists credible sources of high-quality science, as well as tips on how to be a critical consumer of information.
The book is well-organized and accessible to a wide audience. The layout allows the reader to find hands-on information easily, and Tokuhama-Espinosa has included a glossary of terms used in MBE journal articles. Throughout the book, however, Tokuhama-Espinosas use of references often seems arbitrary, citing her dissertation to start many subsections, but choosing not to cite published work when appropriate. This style might be confusing for readers less familiar with the MBE literature. Fortunately, Tokuhama-Espinosa has included an appendix listing further reading organized by subject area for those interested in a particular area of MBE science.
Although this book is a much needed first step in introducing educators to MBE science, it is surprising that the amount of scientific research outlined in the book is relatively small. Indeed, most of the conclusions Tokuhama-Espinosa draws are based on her own dissertation, which is in turn based on her Delphi panel survey of MBE experts. It might have been fruitful for educators to read results from high-quality translational science, perhaps by focusing on one or two case studies where research has already had an impact on education, such as in the domains of reading or mathematics.
Overall, this book helps to alert educators to the type of translational science that has the potential to impact their work as educators. The field of MBE science is a two-way street, and educators are encouraged to think collaboratively with neuroscientists to help illuminate other areas of mutual interest. By clearly illustrating the domains in which MBE science has an impact on education and the domains where it still is a bridge too far this book has the potential to impact the teaching of all educators.