…the learning styles that most people think of when we use the phrase are bunkum. Despite this seeming to be common knowledge I still surprise groups of teachers when I mention it in passing whilst I’m delivering inset. Some teachers still seem to be wedded to the idea, they berate me for telling them, generally refuse to accept what I say and continue, I expect on their merry way, being style gurus… Give us a ‘V’; Give us an ‘A’; Give us a ‘K’! But this doesn’t mean there aren’t different styles of learning. The way someone learns football is very different to the way one learns latin, learning to dance is very different than learning to math! These specific styles are part of the tradition of imparting knowledge in a particular subject. As a drama teacher I become quite concerned when drama is used as a pedagogy to teach subjects which might be better communicated in ways that have worked successfully in teaching that subject for years. Mind you role play can be to drama what display work is to high art, a different thing altogether, sometimes done well but sometimes done atrociously.
When I was at school, in the third year, I was moved from the bottom set to top set French. I didn’t have much of a clue to what was going on, but I would listen and doodle in my exercise book. I doodled copiously as I listened and tried to absorb all this highfalutin new knowledge that was cascading over me, someone who had little grounding beyond, well, doodling in my bottom set class. Anyhow, at some point the teacher stopped in mid flow, saw that I was doodling in my exercise book, albeit in the ‘back’ of the book (a sacred area that any pupil worth their salt knows is more ‘theirs’ than the teacher’s who should spend their time looking at what is in the front part of the book, but that is by the by…) The French teacher marched over to my desk, held my book aloft and showed the rest of the class my doodles, page upon page… He was flabbergasted! Aghast! Shocked! Never in his life had he seen! Didn’t I want to learn?! A ruler slammed across my hand, punishment for my ‘bottom set behaviour’! Well, now, it seems as if doodling might be a good way of ensuring one learns new information, well maybe not my doodling in French class, but “drawing during learning appears to be a potentially powerful strategy for improving students’ learning…” in a science class according to this study. Perhaps I will have the last laugh! Ha! The reason I don’t know French is because I wasn’t allowed to doodle! Bon, that’ll show him… Well, maybe, but there is not enough evidence for me to approach smug level ten. This ‘style’ of learning is something a lot of us do naturally, in meetings, in classes, give us a pen, an agenda and a good deal of info, many of us resort to doodling as we absorb, I wonder if it helps?
The style in which we learn does make a difference dependent on our level of expertise: “Instructional techniques that are highly effective with inexperienced learners can lose their effectiveness and even have negative consequences when used with more experienced learners…” (see here) And that, “…there is evidence that novices learn better from studying examples, whereas those with more expertise learn better by solving problems themselves,”(see here). There are other examples of this, in fact, I posited the same idea in Trivium 21c, basically people learn differently depending on their level of expertise in a given field and the amount that they know about what they are learning. For a teacher this means they need to be aware that how they teach does need to change as they go through a course and/or a topic dependent on the relative and, hopefully, growing expertise of their students; I expect for many teachers that this is common sense. Perhaps when we talk about learning style and adjusting teaching style in the future we can automatically think of this rather than as some still think, wrongly, about learning styles today.
Or do you think this will turn out to be bunkum too?