As an educator (I teach fourth grade students) I think about learning styles a great deal. Every day I am charged with teaching children concepts that are often confusing and difficult to understand.
I have been teaching for quite a while, and I know that different learners need different experiences, but in a classroom of approximately 30 students, I cannot offer 30 individualized lessons, that’s why I have to mix things up. Besides, when we are confronted with new experiences, we don’t get to stop and request that they be presented to us in a particular style, now do we? Sometimes we have to gather information by hearing it, other times by reading it or attempting to perform some task. Experience with all of these is important, even if someone is clearly stronger in one area than in others.
There are those who would propose that we can learn anything by reading a book on the topic, however, would a book be the most effective way to learn to play an instrument? Wouldn’t you have to hear the notes and watch how the instrument is manipulated in order to produce certain sounds?
Likewise, it would be difficult to become a proficient athlete without actually suiting up and trying out different movements and routines. I can read about ice skating all day long or watch a fine skater perform, or listen to a lecture on skating, but I will not learn to skate until I get on the ice and start moving.
I consider myself to be a very visual person. Many people are visual learners, which I believe is why so many of us are horrified by the idea of losing our vision. Our main method of taking in information would be eliminated, and we find this terrifying. At least I do. When I see things I can often make sense of them. Reading is an excellent way for me to learn, and when there are visuals, either photos, charts, maps, or better yet video, involved, I learn even better.
Still, I do believe in the age old saying (attributed to I don’t know whom and I’m too lazy to go searching, sorry) “Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, let me do it and I will learn.”
I find this to be especially true when I take quilting classes. I have been a quilter for well over twenty years, and I have taken class after class after class. It’s not because I’m incompetent. It’s primarily because I enjoy the company of other quilters, and I like to see how they interpret the same ideas using their vision and their materials. I also learn something new with every class I take, sometimes from the instructor and sometimes from the other students. I listen to them, I watch them demonstrate the technique, then I practice the technique. If I wish to go in a slightly different direction with my work I’m generally encouraged to do so.
All of this is done in a supportive, non-threatening atmosphere. There is no test at the end. No panel from the state will be walking through to see how I’m doing, and the teacher’s boss isn’t breathing down her neck with a check sheet to make sure she has covered the same topics that every other quilt teacher has covered, whether they apply to this class or not. At the end of the class I evaluate my own progress. Have I accomplished what I sought out to do? Do I need more practice with this technique? Is there something else I should try to improve my work? What do my peers think? What does the instructor think? How will I incorporate their feedback? Ultimately, it is up to me.
I wish I could provide more of this type of learning atmosphere to my students. I wish I could provide more time for exploration and discovery, more materials for them to manipulate and experiment with, and more options for showcasing and sharing their knowledge and learning process. I wish I could limit the number of standardized tests they are required to complete, and I wish I could eliminate some of the content I’m expected to cram into their fragile heads each year, in order to spend more time on topics of importance that fascinate and engage them. My biggest wish, though, is that they will continue to love learning, for the sake of learning, not for the sake of the test or the grade. If I can help them do that, I have succeeded.
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