Learning Styles.


The world of education is always trying to find new and better ways to think about learning.  This is a very good thing!  In the twenty five or so years that I have been a part of the community of educators, I have learned a huge amount about the ways that our brains function, and the many ways in which each brain is different.

I’ve learned all about Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligence, and about Anthony Gregorc learning style delineator.  I’ve read everything that I could find about brain function and about the many nuances of memory, learning, critical thinking and problem solving.

It has been fascinating to see that the many theories of intelligence and learning have wound their way into education reform, and have shaped many of the latest theories of teaching and learning. How wonderful to know that schools no longer expect every child to learn at the same rate, in the same way.  We finally understand that every learner is different, and that as educators it is our duty to foster the various strengths of our students while helping them to develop their areas of relative weakness.

Here in Massachusetts, we are mandated to “differentiate” our instruction.  We are required to present information in different ways to tap into the verbal, tactile, musical and logical intelligences of our kids.  We need to choose materials at various levels so that all students can access the curriculum and can succeed.

I am all about this differentiating business, I really am!  I see very single day how important and how valuable it is for us to recognize that we all have different learning styles and different approaches!  I’m practically a cheerleader for this part of modern educational theory!

And that’s why I am totally baffled by two recent educational phenomena.

Number one won’t be any surprise:  Since we know that all kids learn differently, and since we understand that there are myriad learning styles, why the HELL do we use one single test to measure the success of each child, each classroom, each school, each district?  Huh?

We spend hours of time and millions of dollars to make sure that every aspect of learning is presented in a hundred different ways, at different rates, with different modalities because we KNOW that all learners are different from each other.  Then we turn around and give ONE test, in ONE week, and say that its a great way to measure progress.

You can’t even pretend that there is any logic to this.

And my second issue is this one: Given the fact that we know all about various learning styles and intelligences, why have the powers that be suddenly decided that all teachers need to use those big, packaged “kits” to teach? Why are we all given a script and a box and a binder filled with worksheets? We aren’t interchangeable automatons, any more than our students are!

After all these years and a dozen workshops (paid for by my district, I might add), I know that I am strongest in the verbal, interpersonal intelligences.  According to Gregorc, I am an “abstract random” learner.  I have learned that I am a “wholistic” learner, with a “right brain” style.   Using a sequential, detail oriented, step by step teaching approach is completely the opposite of what works for me as a thinker.  Using check boxes and concrete, detailed assessments does not match my learning or thinking styles in any way.

Why is it that we celebrate the difference in our students, but squash them in our professionals?  Why is that we recognize the need to differentiate for the children, but refuse to allow any flexibility in the staff who work with them?

This whole situation has become a lesson in the illogical.



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