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.
What’s your learning style? Do you prefer learning in a group and in an interactive setting? Or one-on-one? Do you retain information best through lectures, or visuals, or simply by reading books?
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December 8, 2013 at 11:14 am
I am definitely a visual learner!
December 8, 2013 at 11:16 am
It always helps me to see what someone is talking about, too. 🙂
December 8, 2013 at 12:29 pm
I am so happy to read this post. As the mother of two boys, I’ve spent years frustrated with teachers and school administrators who want them to sit still and LISTEN to the teacher drone on.
One son is bright, but doesn’t learn well in a lecture environment. Let him debate a subject, any subject, and he’ll ace the class. He is in his first year of college studying to be a teacher and coach. He’s at Lesley University where they understand various learning styles, cater their curriculum to fit the students needs and train teachers to teach using multi-modal methods.
My younger son has some moderate learning disabilities. Middle school has been great, but all his years in elementary school were spent in the principal’s office because he was treated like a behavior problem instead of adequately addressing his learning challenges.
I know I’m preaching to the choir, but this is a very, very real issue for me, not a philosophical discussion. Thank you for summarizing it so well.
Keep on quilting!!!!
December 8, 2013 at 5:57 pm
I’m delighted to hear that both of your sons are in situations that are currently meeting their needs. Too bad that wasn’t the case all the way through school. I appreciate your contribution to the conversation, thank you. As for quilting, I’ve been a bum! I need to reintroduce myself to my sewing machine. 🙂
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December 8, 2013 at 1:15 pm
i am agreed, visualizing the whole lesson is very effective in learning things properly. I used to make funny visualization when study in groups.. to memorize the function of DNA or the microbes metabolism 😀
December 8, 2013 at 6:05 pm
What a great learning tool. 🙂
December 8, 2013 at 1:42 pm
I prefer learning one on one, and always need visuals. Lectures usually go in one ear-out the other. I need to see it, and if possible feel or do it! (I’m a quilter too!)
December 8, 2013 at 6:00 pm
One on one is a luxury in many cases. You’re lucky when you have someone available to teach you. This is why kids who have support at home do so much better in school (well, one reason anyway). I agree, the more ways the information comes in the more likely I am to understand and retain it. Thanks for the comment.
December 8, 2013 at 7:18 pm
I’m an assistant teacher in a 1st grade class- makes a big difference to be able to spend extra time with a child to help them “get it”- and oh what a difference it makes when the kids have support at home!
December 8, 2013 at 7:28 pm
The work that assistants do is terribly undervalued in many circles. Thank you for doing this important work with children who need some extra assistance.
December 9, 2013 at 4:01 am
thanks s o much ❤
December 8, 2013 at 2:34 pm
Great post! I’ve been a teacher of all ages and now work with adults. My wish is that more people involved in education shared your vision.
December 8, 2013 at 6:04 pm
I believe that many of us do, however the day to day reality of what is happening in education makes it difficult if not impossible to do some of the things that we know in our hearts are best for kids. Thanks for the lovely comment.
December 8, 2013 at 2:49 pm
If we were to teach children the way we wish too, our classes should be a lot smaller. Smaller classes would enable us to spend more time with each child to encourage their development.
December 8, 2013 at 6:00 pm
Ah, what a lovely picture you paint. 🙂 Thanks for adding to the conversation.
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December 8, 2013 at 5:33 pm
Lovely post; especially the parts about what you wish you could offer your students. I completely agree. I remember a few short years ago, when I could let the kids’ interests and questions and passions guide us. I could also adapt my teaching to the learning styles of the kids in a way that I just can’t do any more, given the conflicting pressures of more content and a highly structured curriculum.
I am a completely auditory learner: If I don’t hear it or say it or sing it, there is no way that it will penetrate deep enough to make any sense to me!
December 8, 2013 at 6:02 pm
It’s interesting how different we all are. I used to have kids take a little online survey and it was fascinating. I don’t have time for that anymore, I just know that I need to keep many different learning styles in mind as I teach. Thanks for chiming in. It’s always good to hear another teacher’s perspective, especially from another area of the country.
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December 10, 2013 at 5:51 pm
I dislike group work, it does nothing for me. I find that people spend too much time deciding who does (or doesn’t) do what and people learn at different speeds which can be an irritation. I enjoy tutor led discussion but I feel that students need to be guided through material not left to flounder or re-invent the wheel.
I learn best by listening to lectures with visual aids and by writing. I enjoy writing essays and the research it involves but I have to do it alone. Preferably in a quiet room. Music can be a distraction unless it is soothing classical background music. I find music with lyrics too interesting and a distraction.
December 10, 2013 at 9:09 pm
I find music with lyrics distracting too, and forget about television, it’s a huge distraction to me. In high school I always had the radio going, but now that I think about it, I didn’t learn much until I was an undergraduate and I finally learned what worked best for me.
Thanks for weighing in on the topic. I’m always interested in the topic of learning and how much it varies from person to person and situation to situation.
December 11, 2013 at 4:36 am
Oh, another thought!
On-line learning sucks. There are a large number of on-line learning courses and I dislike them in the same way I dislike correspondence courses. You simply cannot replace a teacher who loves their subject. No on-line course can get across that love, that enthusiasm and that ability to go off topic in a delightfully interesting way. Teachers are hugely important and horribly under-appreciated.
Thinking more of younger students now; I had an excellent primary school teacher when I was eight. She didn’t teach me to love learning (although I never hated being in her class). She was strict, anything you spelled incorrectly had to be written out ten times. She threw quick-fire questions at you. There were weekly tests in mental arithmetic, maths, spellings, dictation, composition, comprehension and general knowledge. She was a bit frightening but she was one of the best teachers I ever had. .
She gave me the tools with which to enjoy learning later in life. Literacy, numeracy, the ability to concentrate and the idea that if you failed you simply tried again until you got it right. A wonderful person, I’m very grateful that I had her as my teacher.
December 11, 2013 at 6:02 am
“Teachers are hugely important and horribly under-appreciated.”
Thanks for saying so, from a teacher. Of course there are good and no so good teachers, and what works well for you (like your primary teacher) may be a disaster for another student.
I’m also not a fan of online learning for a lot of things, but for the driving course I had to take (because my right turn on red was apparently taken too quickly) online was a good alternative. It was faster than going to the place, parking, spending all day in the company of bad drivers (or poor, innocent souls such as myself), and wasting a day.
I was able to complete it at home, pause as necessary, and avoid a hassle. I could fold laundry and listen, and still pass my little quizzes with ease.
Would I like to earn an advanced degree that way? Of course not, but for that application it suited me much better than an in person class.
December 14, 2013 at 3:50 pm
I’ve been browsing your site here and thoroughly enjoying your thoughts and way with words.
Then I came to this page and I thought, ‘Hey, that’s me!’.
However many different ways we can incorporate learning styles and encourage diverse practices the better. I love teaching but it can certainly be frustrating when the onus is on targets rather than love of learning and finding the best ways forward.
Looking forward to reading more from you. 🙂 x
December 14, 2013 at 4:26 pm
I’m so glad to have found a kindred spirit! Thank you for your kind words, they mean a lot to me.