Mar 23, 2009

learning styles

"Learning style" is big. In the old days, 'learners' were 'students' or even 'pupils' and they didn't have learning styles: they were either functional or faulty. Possibly there are still teachers around who think that 'learning style' is just another aspect of modern do-goodying mumbo-jumbo and that teachers should just get on with teaching instead of pandering to weak-willed softies who don't know the meaning of hard work.
Certainly there are teaching methods still around which are based on the premise that all minds are alike - sorry - all 'brains' are alike; blank pages on which to indelibly scratch the new language, or, changing metaphor, empty vessels into which knowledge (language) can be poured.
Far more frequent in modern TEFL circles is the acknowledgent that learners are uniquely individual beings and thus learning is a uniquely individual experience. So far so good. Elsewhere in the article quoted below we read that there are "127 factors" that go towards individual learning styles. Is a 'good' teacher supposed to be trained in recognising all of them and then devise 127 ways of presenting 'comparatives' or 'the present perfect'? Fortunately the same article goes on to provide some more reassuring news:

"Just as it is rare to find someone who thinks totally in one form or another (verbal or image) so too it is rare to find someone who can only learn via one perceptual channel. By adulthood, most of us are a combination of learning styles and thinking styles. We have our preferences but we can usually "make-do" with the others. Some recent studies found that college students actually scored higher in coursework where the teacher's teaching style did not match the students' preferred learning style, e.g. the course was lecture based and the student preferred textbooks. This does not appear to hold in grades K-12; students in those grades appear to do best when the teaching method matches their preferred learning style."*

So, we have our preferences but we can usually 'make do' with other learning and thinking styles. That could be an excuse for the 'good old days bunch' to say 'I told you so!' and carry on scratching and pouring regardless of how unpleasant pupils might find things. It can also mean that a teacher can be as accommodating as is reasonably possible in terms of how they approach a class of learners in the knowledge that they are not going to exclude, harm or offend anyone. Teachers, with an easy conscience, can now spend less time bending over backwards in 127 positions and more time on comparatives!


George Machlan said...

It brings to mind the old Paul Simon song "Fifty Ways to leave your lover". I think you have hit on an important point here.

It is important to realize that each person is a unique creation and is endowed with special strengths and weaknesses and life experiences we are still corporate creatures that must get along in a group dynamic.

I think particularly in the US we overly focus on the individual and forget that that indivicual, self centered creature must learn to function within a group. Even God sent His Son for each individual, but He said there is only "One Way" to come to Him.

George Machlan said...

Hopefully that didn't sound like I was preaching. I meant that I agree with Iain... we all have to go with the group plan. We can argue the merits but we have to get started somewhere and any plan is usually better than no plan at all.