Neuroscience Tells Us We Are Doing School All Wrong (Summer Series) | Tara Quigley | 10 Min Read

August 8, 2023

If you have been listening to any podcasts about educational innovation and neuroscience lately, you have probably come across the latest research from Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, an associate professor of education and psychology at USC. What Dr. Immordino-Yang’s research, encapsulated in the many video interviews she has done over the past few years, and articles like these, means is that we are doing education all wrong. Because of our focus on learning objectives and content curriculum, she states that “we design school to teach kids capacities for inhibiting their own sense of self, their own sense of agency. It’s like we punish student learning and developing the skills they will need to be happy, successful adults.” At a time when we need to be developing a generation of individuals who will be able to think for themselves, act in alignment with their values, and critically determine the validity and reliability of the information they are served, this is a nearly catastrophic model to cling to. 

I want to explain some of the ways I have responded to what I have learned from Dr. Immordino-Yang, Dr. Judy Willis, Dr. Anabel Jenson, and other neuroscientists who have much to teach us about student teaching and learning. I first encountered the work of these neuroscientists about 6 years ago, and it has fundamentally changed the trajectory of how I develop my relationships with my students, how I organize my classroom, and what I teach. 

All learning is emotional. You can’t learn about anything you don’t have feelings about, say these three psychologists. I realized that I had fallen into the typical teacher pattern of delivering the content I thought was important for students and then expecting them to simply serve it back to me in the form of an assessment. But the kids weren’t engaged, they didn’t seem to care, and they weren’t using my feedback to improve performance. To paraphrase Dr. Immodino-Yang, emotions are driving students’ engagement. If they are having emotions about something, that is what they are thinking about and learning about. Consequently, if kids are worried about looking stupid, about being wrong, about their grades, about the exams, that is what they are learning about. They are learning about the systems of high-stakes testing, NOT the ideas and content. This is why the…

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Tara Quigley

Tara Quigley began her teaching career in 1991 and has been at Princeton Day School for 23 years. She currently teaches sixth grade Humanities, serves as Director of Miss Fine’s Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, and is the Middle School Technology Coordinator. She works for OESIS as the Director of Program Alignment, working with schools to build mission-aligned culture and program. Having begun her career as a Middle-School science teacher, Tara has always been interested in incorporating inquiry, questioning, and exploration in her classroom. She has also taught early-childhood science, fourth grade, and fifth and sixth grade Humanities at Princeton Day School. In order to spark more engagement and intrinsic motivation in her classes, Tara began using Design Thinking, PBL, and inquiry in her Humanities classes to encourage student agency and allow for differentiation with Competency-Based Learning for feedback and assessment. Having seen great success with this approach, Tara frequently shares her process and experiences with her colleagues at PDS, national conferences, and peer schools. In 2014, Tara was appointed to the position of Director of Miss Fine’s Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in which she has worked to educate and empower teachers to try new pedagogical practices and strategies, including: design thinking, PBL, Guided Inquiry Research, Visible Thinking Protocols, and teaching towards mastery of skills and competencies. In 2016, Tara was recognized as an OESIS Network Leader. And in 2020 she received the Intrepid Innovator Award.