Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Schnoz-based learning

At first I thought I was witnessing another instance of Prof. Plum's delicious satirical streak:

As advertised, a NEW (improved) learning style has been added to the ever-growing list (of things that don’t exist)


* Learns best though the sense of smell and taste [Yeah, lots of kids learn calculus this way. It’s called schnoz-based learning.]
* Smells have a special significance [Is there ANYone for whom this isn’t true?]
* Associates a particular smell with specific past memories [Is there anyone who doesn’t?]
* Is frequently able to identify smells [Is there anyone who CAN’T?]
* Finds that smells add to learning [This is precise! “Finds”… And what exactly do smells add? Smell is pretty much all I can see, or smell.]

I guess this means that teachers who feel obliged to “adapt instruction to each child’s learning styles,” will be shoving things up their students’ noses or letting them taste the pages.

“Look, boys and girls. This is the letter m. It says mmmm. Smell it?”

“Now. let’s examine the Declaration of Independence. All you olfactory learners lick the text a few times to get the flavor of the argument.”
Now I am realizing the modality folks are hurling another stink bomb and are quite serious about schnoz-based learning.

But there is an antidote. Cognitive science is coming to the rescue of the cognitively challenged.

The latest issue of American Educator has an extraordinary article by cognitive scientist Daniel T. Willingham called Do Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic Learners Need Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic Instruction? that throws cold water on one of the educationists favorite fads:

What cognitive science has taught us is that children do differ in their abilities with different modalities, but teaching the child in his best modality doesn’t affect his educational achievement. What does matter is whether the child is taught in the content’s best modality. All students learn more when content drives the choice of modality. In this column, I will describe some of the research on matching modality strength to the modality of instruction. I will also address why the idea of tailoring instruction to a student’s best modality is so enduring—despite substantial evidence that it is wrong. [Emphasis added]
The "content’s best modality!" That is so commonsensical, and yet must be regarded as a revolutionary insight in today's ed climate. Let's hope this important article drives a stake through the heart of the "learning styles" craze.


Anonymous said...

I checked out the modality folks website, and they have this marvelous little survey where I can find out my prefered mode of learning. It was great. I scored a six on every form of modality. WOW!!!
The fact is, that I looked at every question from a point of view, or instance, where the answer would be "usually". Actually, being a chef the smell does come into play, but I believe the information to be learned determines the "best" method of presenting info, not the individuals' personal lack of control or personal prefrences. I know this is all old hat to most reasonable folks out there, but as a ED major, I like being reminded that not everyone is as foolish as most, not all, ED professors.
Thanks for helping me get a real education Instructivist.

W.R. Chandler said...

Hey Instructivist,
I just wanted to leave you a general comment letting you know how much I enjoy reading your site. I only have four blogs in my bookmarks and yours is one of them. Keep fighting the good fight.


Instructivist said...

Thanks for all the kind words.

It gives me satisfaction to be doing my tiny part to expose educational nonsense on stilts. Comments from readers like you are very rewarding.

chad bramble said...

Let`s not throw out the baby with the bath water here...