Myths About Learning

Will Rogers once said, “It isn’t what people don’t know that hurts them. It’s what they do know that just ain’t so.” All of us – teachers, parents, and students – retain outdated ideas about learning that are based largely on our previous experiences in school. Modern brain science has helped steer us in the right direction.

Here are a few of the biggest myths:

Basic Facts Come Before Deep Learning
This one translates roughly as, “Students must do the boring stuff before they can do the interesting stuff.” Or, “Students must memorize before they can be allowed to think.” In truth, students are most likely to achieve long-term mastery of basic facts in the context of engaging, student-directed learning.

Rigorous Education Means a Teacher Talking
Teachers have knowledge to impart, but durable learning is more likely when students talk, create, and integrate knowledge into meaningful projects. The art of a teacher is to construct ways for students to discover.

Covering It Means Teaching It
Teachers are often seduced by the idea that if they talk about a concept in class, they have taught it. At best, students get tentative ideas that will be quickly forgotten if not reinforced by a student-centered activity.

Teaching to Student Interests Means Dumbing It Down
If we could somehow see inside a student’s brain, its circuitry would correspond to its knowledge. Since new learning always builds on what is already in the brain, teachers must relate classroom teaching to what students already know. Teachers who fail to do so, whether due to ignorance or in pursuit of a false idea of rigor, are running afoul of a biological reality.

Acceleration Means Rigor
Some schools accelerate strong students so that they can cover more material. ICG schools are more likely to ask such students to delve deeper into important topics. Deep knowledge lays a stronger foundation for later learning.

A Quiet Classroom Means Good Learning
Students sitting quietly may simply be zoned out, if not immediately, then within 15 minutes. A loud classroom, if properly controlled, included the voices of many students who are actively engaged.

Traditional Schooling Prepares Students for Life
Listening to teachers and studying for tests has little to do with life in the world of work. People in the work world create, manage, evaluate, communicate, and collaborate, like students in ICG schools.


Gray fall weather couldn’t deter nearly thirty educators from around the United States from making the trip to the beautiful Whispering Pines Conference Center in West Greenwich, Rhode Island, for the ICG’s First Annual Retreat for Academic Leaders. With keynote presentations from assessment expert and 21st-century learning guru Jonathan Martin and opening and closing remarks from ICG executive director Peter Gow, the event proved to be, as told participants he hoped, “a warm bath in ideas, conversation, and good fellowship.“ Representing boarding and day schools in ten states (including Texas and California!), the administrators and teacher-leaders shared ideas in fourteen lively and sometimes intense “UnConference” sessions as well as over meals and in the cozy social spaces at Whispering Pines.

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Peter Gow, a founding board member of the Independent Curriculum Group, has been named as the second Executive Director of the Group. Gow has been serving as Associate Director since 2013 and takes over the reins from founding executive director Bruce Hammond, who has moved his base of operations to China, where he will be continuing to support the ICG’s work on the international stage.

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We’re excited to invite you to the greatest ICG EVER: the First Annual ICG National Retreat for Academic Leaders: A Time for Us on October 22-24 in beautiful West Greenwich, Rhode Island.

Read on for more information and to REGISTER for this important and exciting event.

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