Good Thinking! — Sending “Learning Styles” Out of Style

Good Thinking! — Sending “Learning Styles” Out of Style

November 29, 2019 3 By Stanley Isaacs


(bell ringing) NARRATOR:
Schools can be chaotic places. But one thing you can count on is that every student
is different. Exhibit A: Justine. JUSTINE:
Vroom, vroom… NARRATOR:
She is constantly in motion. She’s probably
a kinesthetic learner. That means she has to touch
things or do a physical activity in order to truly
understand something. Or take our resident doodler,
Shawna. Clearly a textbook
visual learner. Two students. Two very different
learning styles. And that’s not even to mention
auditory learners. (elephant call) Whoa now, hold up! Didn’t “learning styles,” well,
go out of style? NARRATOR: Did my glorious mullet
go out of style? Learning styles are
the hottest craze! Seriously, all the trendiest
educators are using them to tailor their instructions
to their individual students. I don’t know who
you’re talking to. GUMMERSON:
Guilty as charged. Isabella and I have
been lunching together ever since they closed
the faculty lounge for toxic mold emanating
from a six-week-old empanada. NARRATOR:
You again! All right, let’s get
this over with. What minor detail do
I have wrong now? GUMMERSON: Well, I reckon it’s
more than minor, sonny. It’s the whole enchilada. NARRATOR: I thought you said it
was an empanada. GUMMERSON: Ooooh… here’s
the lowdown, mullethead. Students like Justine and Shawna
are most certainly different. And, yes, they probably have
different preferences. But studies designed to test whether matching teaching styles
to these individual preferences actually helps students
learn better have found no benefit. And I’m not exactly in a rush
to customize my teaching methods for each type of learner on the basis of
some unsupported theory. What would I do, set up three different lessons
for the same class? I barely have time to get
through one lesson now. NARRATOR: But isn’t presenting
scientific ideas through a variety
of instructional methods– say, combining a discussion
with a web video and a visit to the aquarium’s
touch tank– a good idea? GUMMERSON:
That’s a great combination! NARRATOR: Sea cucumber and crab
always is. Oh, that reminds me: is there a
decent sushi place around here? Multiple representations
of a concept are typically more helpful
to learners than just one. But studies show this to be true
for all students, regardless of their preferred
“learning style.” NARRATOR: You ever wonder why
there are finger quotes but no finger parentheses? Seems like a simple
cupping gesture would easily convey the… You seem angsty. GUMMERSON:
Think about it. Scientists don’t work
in a solely visual or a solely auditory way, they move fluidly
through all of them. Like these guys… NARRATOR (loud whispering):
How did he have this ready on such short notice? I’m trying not to think about
where he keeps the film strips. Shhhhh! GUMMERSON: Scientists engage
in a wide range of practices as they investigate
and build theories about the natural world. All students learn
science concepts best when they’re engaging
in similar practices. NARRATOR:
Interesting. But if what you’re saying
is true and learning styles are just a bunch of, uh… GUMMERSON:
Hogwash! NARRATOR: Then how come
they’re so popular? GUMMERSON:
Well, I think most teachers are eager to listen
to their students, but sometimes they overinterpret
students’ assertions about the kind of lessons
they like best. Ring a bell? Today we’re going to talk
about deep time. Um, excuse me, Ms. Reyes? Can’t we just watch
an episode ofCosmos?I’m a visual learner, I’ll learn way more science
if we just watch a TV show! It sure does. Sometimes students latch on
to learning styles as a way to express boredom
or incomprehension. Pff, as if I could be boring. Many teachers might
also view learning styles as a way to show parents
that each student is being treated
as an individual. But wouldn’t it actually have
the opposite effect? To sort students into “styles” makes them a type
rather than an individual. You’re darn tootin’. You always were
ahead of the curve. Unlike Mr. Finger Parentheses. NARRATOR:
It’ll catch on! Just give it time. GUMMERSON:
I should add that rejecting a learning styles-based approach doesn’t mean you’re denying
the individuality of learners. For instance… Shawna is a terrific artist. SHAWNA:
Hm, hm, hm… Ooo, mm, okay… GUMMERSON:
And Justine is a graceful and talented performer… JUSTINE: To be or not to be,
that is the question. That skull better not be
from the skeleton in my closet. NARRATOR:
Skeletons in your closet? Tell me more! Oh boy… Luckily for these two students,
science concepts can and should be presented
in a variety of ways. Sometimes an idea
is best taught with a diagram, sometimes with a story, or sometimes by physically
touching the thing for yourself. But this probably depends more
on the scientific concept than on the students. Well, I already try to mix
things up by having my students, say, take measurements
in one lesson and interpret pie charts
in another. But I’m not sure scuba gear
and molten hot lava are in the budget. This ain’t about budget,
it’s about approach. Learning to take measurements is
a valuable scientific practice, whether it’s seahorses
at the bottom of the ocean or a crayfish at the bottom
of a tank. The key is to get
your students’ work to closely resemble
how science is actually done. So you could have your class interpret a data set,
say about average rainfall, to try and identify patterns. You could conduct a group
investigation in the field… Or have your students make
an argument based on evidence, like rock samples you give them. Those are some great
suggestions. The logistics
of getting a moose in here was really stressing me out. Why thanks. And in contrast
to learning styles, you’re engaging all of
the students’ senses over time. NARRATOR:
Wow, it just hit me! GUMMERSON: I’m glad it’s finally
sinking in. NARRATOR:
No no, the moldy empanada smell. Hey, maybe
I’m an olfactory learner. GUMMERSON: Yeah, wake me up
when he succumbs to the noxious vapor. He doesn’t keep narrating
when he’s unconscious, does he? To discover more about
how kids learn science and the types of misconceptions
they might have, visit us online at: If you wanna watch more videos
from the Good Thinking series– and I know you do– click here.