Saturday, August 11, 2007

More cold water on "learning styles"

The learning-styles craze has received another well-deserved drubbing from a leading scientist in England. Let's hope "senses working in unison" will gain the upper hand on non-sensical pigeonholing:

Pupils are instead given questionnaires to discover if they prefer to learn through "visual, auditory or kinaesthetic" (Vak) teaching. Once identified, the teacher will allow a visual child to learn through looking at cartoons, pictures and fast-moving computer programmes. A "kinaesthetic" learner will be allowed to spread their work on the floor, wander round while they are thinking or learn through dance and drama. In some schools, pupils' desks are even labelled to indicate their learning styles.

According to Susan Greenfield, however, the practice is "nonsense" from a neuroscientific point of view: "Humans have evolved to build a picture of the world through our senses working in unison, exploiting the immense interconnectivity that exists in the brain. It is when the senses are activated together - the sound of a voice is synchronisation with the movement of a person's lips - that brain cells fire more strongly than when stimuli are received apart.

Also see the article by cognitive scientist Willingham on teaching in the
subject's best modality.


Andrew Ordover said...

It's the extreme position that makes nonsesne of all of this. It's useful for a teacher to know how kids learn...and for kids to know how best they learn...but that should never be exclusive, such as only letting a visually-oriented kid look at pictures. Everyone has strengths and challenges--ways of looking at things that make more or less sense to them. Knowing that just gives teachers more ways to play.

Artemisia Wunderkammer said...

Half the benefit of giving kids VAK and other learning styles tests is that it helps them understand themselves better. As already suggested, the real problem here is that this school has taken it to the extreme - it has the potential, for example, to make the kinaesthetic kids think they can't learn with images, which would be utterly absurd.

We want to send students the message that it's interesting to learn more about their current identity, but not that that current identity is their whole destiny. Yikes.