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Dr. Joanne Meier

Along with her background as a professor, researcher, writer, and teacher, Joanne Meier is a mom. Join Joanne every week as she shares her experiences raising her own young readers, and guides parents and teachers on the best practices in reading.

The 'learning styles' can of worms

August 31, 2011

The concept of learning styles has been around for a long time. Intuitively, the notion of learning styles makes sense, especially for those who work with struggling readers. Some kids seem to respond better to visual information, others to auditory, and still others to tactile information. Following this train of thought, teachers should present information in a style that is matched to a learner's learning style.

This week, NPR's Morning Edition, ran Think You're An Auditory or Visual Learner? Scientists Say It's Unlikely, in which we are reminded that there really is no scientific evidence that supports the existence of different learning styles, or the hypothesis that people learn better when taught in a way that matches their own unique style. A review of the research, done by researchers who study the psychology of learning, led the authors to conclude "the currently widespread use of learning-style tests and teaching tools is a wasteful use of limited educational resources."

Dan Willingham, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Virginia who has also written about learning styles, suggests in the NPR story that rather than think about differences in how we learn, it may be useful to consider the similarities.

His example is about variety. "Mixing things up is something we know is scientifically supported as something that boosts attention," he says, adding that studies show that when students pay closer attention, they learn better. I think this advice is particularly pertinent for those of us who work directly with struggling readers. What can we do to boost attention? How can we mix up what we do?

I've written about learning styles before in Unlearning Learning Styles, but because we're at the beginning of another school year, it seemed pertinent again.

Comments

Surely you're not suggesting that teachers not think about this as they prepare their lessons -- I always made sure to think about learners needing support with as many senses as I could include. Can you elaborate?

As a parent of children on the autism spectrum and tutor to children who learn differently, I can assure you that there are indeed different modalities to learning and that identifying and using the child's modality defintely boosts a production and retention. YIKES! Haven't we at leat come as far to know that just because science hasn't not definitively ID'd how this works doesn't equate to it not existing?

As a teacher I know that all students learn in different ways. It is impossible to teach all students the same way and be an effective teacher. As I plan lessons for the week, I always try to make sure I am including all of the learning styles in my classroom. What is so sad about this though, in this day and age of accountability for teachers, is that the state department whom are the very ones holding the teachers accountable, DO NOT take their own advise in teaching effectively, and the state tests are STILL a question with four multiple choice answers to choose from. How is this incorporating the different learning styles for assessment and effectiveness?

Even if there is no scientific evidence that teaching a particular child according to a particular learning style is most effective, we certainly know from real world practice that the more modalities you can use to teach a skill, the more likely you are to reach the majority of your students.

I agree with the post about teachers using various techniques, but the state test never changes. I know that teaching to various learning styles and using the multiple intelligences while planning my lessons has been very beneficial to my students.

I like to plan my lessons to meet a variety of learning styles. Whether or not there is a certain "style" they learn best by, I like to provide a variety of different learning techniques to give the students a choice of how they want to learn the material. i think students learn by different ways depending on the content of the material presented. I think as long as the teacher provides different types of mastery each student can be successful.

As a teacher I find it crazy that there is a study that thinks there is only one way to learn. Every student is an individual and learns differently. Knowing this I try to teach to different learning styles so that I'm touching all students. I know that this can't be done all the time, but I do try. I also find it somewhat funny that there is only 1 test that is used to assess every student in the state, when we are all very aware that each student tests and learns differently.

I try to make sure that I am mixing up my lessons because I know that not all of my students learn the same way. I make sure to include images that explain a concept, along with the words when doing powerpoints because I know that helps some make sense of the words. At the beginning of the year, I took them to the computer lab to take learning style quizzes, and they thought that was the coolest thing ever. As they looked at their results, they found out that they could really relate to what the results showed. They even crossed checked it with other tests and had similar results.

I think that the best thing for me to do as an educator is get to know my students. No matter what new research comes about, if I know my students then I can meet their needs. To me, this suggests if I must know them to make my instruction count, there must be different learning styles and ways to present information.

I try to incorporate different learning styles into each of my lessons, because I know that not all students learn the same way, and if I present the same information, but in different ways, or give students different ways to respond to the information, then I can hopefully reach all my students and their different needs. I do think this is important because students are so different.

I also try to incorporate multiple learning styles into my lessons but I will try to hit visual, auditory, and kinesthetic all-in-one rather that in isolation. I think we all learn better when material is presented in multiple ways. This way, students are getting it many times in different ways.

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