Monday, August 16, 2010

Different Strokes for Different Pupils

In the story “Parents of Nasal Learners Demand Odor-Based Curriculum,” writers at the satirical newspaper The Onion poked fun at the idea that a teaching style exists to unlock every underperforming student’s latent potential. An expert quoted in the story observed that “nasal learners often have difficulty concentrating and dislike doing homework. . . . If your child fits this description, I would strongly urge you to get him or her tested for a possible nasal orientation.”

Plug the words “learning styles” into an Internet search engine, and you’ll find scores of Web sites purporting to diagnose your preferred learning style in a matter of minutes. These sites are premised on a widely accepted claim: students learn best when teaching styles are matched to their learning styles. The popularity of this view is understandable. Rather than implying that some students are better or worse learners overall, it suggests that all students can learn well, perhaps equally well, given just the right teaching style. This idea has become a truism in much of recent educational theory and practice. It has been extolled in many popular books and in workshops that attract hundreds of teachers and principals. In some schools, teachers have even started giving children T-shirts emblazoned with one of the letters V, A and K, which stand for three widely accepted learning styles: visual, auditory and kinesthetic.

Yet studies show that students’ learning styles are difficult to reliably identify, largely because they often differ greatly across situations. A child might display one style in art class, say, and a different one when trying to learn math.

Moreover, from the 1970s onward, most investigations have failed to show that matching teaching styles to learning styles works: for example, it does not improve students’ grades in most cases. Instead certain general teaching approaches— such as setting high expectations for students and providing them with the motivation and skills to attain them— usually yield better results than other strategies, regardless of students’ learning styles.

To the extent that the “matching” approach encourages educators to teach to students’ intellectual strengths rather than their weaknesses, it may actually backfire. In the long run, students need to learn to compensate for their shortcomings, not avoid them.

Source of Information : Scientific American Mind March-April 2010

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