This past back-to-school season, a learning styles study from 2009 got recycled by NPR and resulted in one of the most heated comment debates I’ve seen online. The study proclaimed that learning styles do not, in fact, exist and “widespread use of learning-style tests and teaching tools is a wasteful use of limited educational resources.”
Maybe the problem lies in the hypothesis. Maybe we should not be asking how students CAN learn, but instead how they PREFER to learn and what kinds of contexts would most pique their interest in the subjects that they’re supposed to be absorbing for the long-haul—not just to regurgitate for a quiz or exam and then dispose of in their mind’s “circular file”.
In my house, I have two children—one an imaginative, feisty “forest ranger” and the other an inquisitive, focused “tree trimmer”. My eldest likes to look at the big picture and prefers musical, kinesthetic and naturistic (MI) aesthetic (entry points) pursuits. My youngest likes to dig into the details and prefers logical/mathematical, naturistic and visual/spatial (MI) logical/quantitative (entry points) pursuits. Though they came from identical gene pools, the lenses through which they prefer to view the world are vastly different.
In the cognitive style realm, I prefer to begin with a visual lesson in new material, then round out my understanding of a concept with kinesthetic and auditory “illustrations”. My daughter prefers to start delving into material using a kinesthetic or auditory lens, then use visual to bring the image into sharper focus.
The parents and teachers I talk to on a daily basis share similar experiences—both autobiographically and interpersonally speaking.
Educational theorists have been echoing for decades that affectivity is key to learning success. And while it may be unrealistic for classroom teachers to teach to every child’s unique learning preferences, this is where parents come into play as a critical member of their kids’ learning teams.
If your child is struggling with a concept or project either in school or during homework, put it into one of their preferred contexts. Use a multiple intelligence lens your child appears to prefer, try a cognitive style technique, or help your child look at the topic in a way that embraces his or her personality type. Don’t look at it just from the basis of trying to complete this particular assignment, but try to tie it to something that will be intrinsically motivating. E.g. got a social butterfly that isn’t “into” math? Show her how much math goes into party planning without going bankrupt in the process.
In my experience, it’s best to approach learning in the same way that you do with healthy food introductions as a parent…blend that learning “spinach” up in a berry “understanding” smoothie. Your child will not only digest the new concepts, but probably even like it as it goes down, then ask for more.
But this is just my experience…how do our other Cooperative Catalysts tackle kids’ or students’ “spinach” subjects in their homes or classrooms? I would love to have other ideas to “chew” on…