Sunday, July 29, 2007

Learning Styles Panned

Edukey points to an article that lambastes "learning styles." Learning styles in public and home schools have been very popular. A lot of times it sounds like an excuse--"Oh, Timmy didn't get math this year because his teacher used a lot of visual aids and Timmy is a kinesthetic learner."

But now Baroness Greenfield, the director of the Royal Institute and a professor of pharmacology at Oxford University, has dismissed as “nonsense” the view that pupils prefer to receive information either by sight, sound or touch.


According to Susan Greenfield, however, the practice is “nonsense” from a neuroscientific point of view: “Humans have evolved to build a picture of the world through our senses working in unison, exploiting the immense interconnectivity that exists in the brain. It is when the senses are activated together - the sound of a voice is synchronisation with the movement of a person’s lips - that brain cells fire more strongly than when stimuli are received apart…

It is not popular, but I agree (not with the neuroscience part, since I'm not a neuroscientist, but with the premise in general). There are parts of learning that cannot be conveyed without the teacher telling it to the students or having the students read it. If a student has a harder time listening, then they had better learn, quick. There's no way that their employers are going to a) care whether they are a visual learner, or whatever, or b) going to change anything about the way they are being trained.

If you really want to make sure your child retains their learning, note taking, organizing, and copying. Of course, start with copying. Sound boring? It may be, but it will work.


Anonymous said...

I am so glad that "Learning styles" myth has at last been de-bunked. It really is fashionable nonsense and a waste of teachers’ time.

As always with these hyped educational theories it promises that something difficult (effective teaching and learning) can be made easy. Sadly not so… It doesn’t matter how well you diagnose your students’ learning styles, they are not going to be high achievers if they can’t read and understand a book!

Teaching is about knowing your subject, knowing your students as individuals and being able to communicate ideas. Knowing a student’s “learning style” is as useful as useful knowing her star sign!

HowToMe said...

Many people see any attempt to psycho-analyze another as a bunch of hooey. But we are very complex creatures - mentally and physically. While, yes, we must teach our children to learn uniformly, saying "learning preferences are irrelevant" is like saying all kids learn equally well from spankings. Yes, they learn, but not equally well.

Consider Deuteronomy 11:19. Teaching is something we must do at all times and I believe in a variety of ways. That insures the lessons taught will stick and be understood, particularly if the applications are visible in Mom and Dad's life. Re-teach _truly important materials_, until it is thoroughly learned, requires looking at something from the various sides. The rest can be left to "learn it because I said so" teaching styles.

I'm discussing my view of Learning Styles on HowToMe. Feel free to view them and comment. I understand your perspectives, since it was my way of thinking until I'd tried it both ways in a public school setting. The joy and relief some students showed at being able to truly excel was proof that'd I'd been wrong.

Kindest Regards to you Kim and anonymous.

Kim said...

HowToMe, thank you for a very respectful disagreement. Unfortunately, anecdotes do not tell us what happens over a majority of the population.

To an extent, one issue is with how these trends establish themselves in our school systems. Very little of this type of upheaval is based on well-founded scientific research. Most education establishment professionals "feel" that this type of thing "should" work or "could" be better. Or they are based on quite-possibly biased (my apologies, but I'm talking about research here, not personally) in-classroom reports where teachers may not be relying on objective measures but their own "gut" instincts. And that is with giving the education establishment the benefit of the doubt and not even discussing the egalitarian and socialistic goals of many in the education field.

Thus the anger among parents and other not directly involved in these decisions when such techniques are shown failures. All too often, it turns out that our children are used as the experiments and even when test scores show the disease, the educational establishment insists on holding onto the ideas because of their own ideology which usually isn't as geared toward educating our children in fundamentals as we would like.

Another huge issue with this particular approach is the massive funding that has been spent in trying to come up with curriculum materials that meet all the (what are there now, 10?) different "learning styles" and water down every other learning approach. My bet is that classroom time and student time would be used more efficiently working slightly more with those students who need additional time with standard materials than diluting every single student's learning experience.

My old school once asked if I had heard anything about a "new" education approach. Here was a director of a private school asking for my opinion about a product that they felt the salesman presented very well.

Just a few clicks around the internet showed that the product was based on a debunked sensory integration theory and had no advances shown in a normal school setting (some advancement was shown with low performers that could be attributed more to the lower class ratio and constant feedback than the technique itself). They were trying to sell the product based on a sampling of less than 100 kids.

A little statistics, a good helping of critical thinking, and stepping back from the edge can bring a lot more perspective. That, and having the actual goal of the public school system be education rather than instilling the appropriate socialistic cultural goals.

HowToMe said...

Thank you for the thoughtful response. Several things come to mind.

Parents wishes should be paramount especially when other teachers are involved. Value systems in America are spinning further and further out of anyone's reach. So catering to every parent's desires is an impossible task. I am thoroughly disgusted with this facet of public education. A fairly neutral example of this is: "What do you mean I can't take MY child home when the school is in 'lock down'?"

Second, children should not be treated like lab rats! Absolutely! Unfortunately, our public schools are in "melt down" mode. Even being privately educated before teaching in public schools, I Home School. I have nothing against the public school teachers, parents, or students. It simply seems irrational to us to put our children on a path we know is crumbling under foot.

Ok, off that for a minute. I was a new teacher when "learning styles" was just being introduced. It humbles me to hear my students, including the most brilliant (could memorize and use information nearly instantaneously - truly remarkable), say that our Spanish class was their favorite and the one they recall the most from. Statistically, teaching language through sounds, visuals, tactile opportunities and movement was the difference in my students giving up and learning.

Naturally the combination of these approaches can be overdone and misapplied.

I'm so delighted that you are a person that enjoys discussion. It is a pleasure to consider your thoughts. One last observation from me, just like people prefer to use their right or left hand to write/eat, isn't it possible that they may also prefer to hear, see, touch, or embrace the thing they want to learn? Everyone needs a healthy dose of "just suck it up and do it" in their psyche. But to enjoy learning something and seek it's application, without any extra stimulation from a teacher, there seems to be a sweet learning "spot." There is for me anyway.

A brief and simple example of LS in a Spanish I class of 40 people:
auditory - all Spanish, presentation of vocabulary in context
visual - photographic reference the second time hearing and textbook to aid in making a vocabulary list
tactile - production of flash cards or other forms of review outside of class
kinesthetic - participation in charades (or the like)
*Kinesthetic students (who had particular difficulty paying attention) sat in the front, middle of the class surrounded on three sides by their peers for 'peer pressure' (U arrangement) and immediately in front of me - whahaha ;-). Auditory learners sat where they felt comfortable. Visual learners sat in the front rows away from doors and windows.

Hope this helps you see the other side.

I do not claim to know everything, but am still awed by the way this worked in such a difficult place. Maybe I misplace the "miracle" here and say that I also prayed a LOT. God certainly did many other marvelous things there.

BTW, I am unhappy to hear that textbook companies are trying to plan LS into their materials. Last time I checked, the people who write mainstream textbooks are not educators. They are publishers. It is better if individual teachers look into their students faces and think, "Hmm. They aren't getting this. Let's do this again from a different angle." Making our teachers lazy is a very bad idea. American's are lazy enough as it is.

Thanks again for spending part of the day with me.

Kind Regards.