Different students don’t always need different strokes or different styles of learning. Parents, what do you think?
Educators have recently been paying more attention to the “special” needs of individual students, eager to cater to the niche requirements of kids who are “visual,” “auditory,” or “spatial” learners. But is this segregated approach really effective?
Different Students Don’t Always Need Different Strokes
A recent editorial spat that played out in the UK’s Guardian suggests not. Some 30 prominent experts whose fields include educational psychology and neuroscience submitted a signed letter to the British newspaper, pointing out the disadvantages of teaching kids according to their supposed “learning style.”
One of the main criticisms was that teaching children using a “style” deemed more suited to them is actually counterproductive, because it limits the creative resources that would ordinarily help these kids adapt to various ways of acquiring knowledge about the world around them.
The experts, including top psychologist Steven Pinker of Harvard University, even go so far as to call the “learning style” theory a “common neuromyth that does nothing to enhance education.”
Meanwhile, the approach has already gained widespread acceptance in mainstream education. Professor Bruce Hood, chair of developmental psychology in society at the University of Bristol, and a key backer of the letter, cites a recent poll of more than 100 head teachers. More than 85% profess a belief in the “learning style” methodology, and 66% already employ this approach in the classroom.
The idea of learning styles ― or “sensory modality”, to use the academic term ― is intuitively appealing. It fits in nicely with our contemporary belief in tailor-made or “bespoke” solutions that seek to address the unique traits of each person.
For example, taking an oral approach through discussions and spoken exercises, rather than text-based activities, seems only logical for kids who have been identified as being more suited to a “listening,” or auditory, learning style. If nothing else, Hood points out, the idea of varied approaches tailored to the needs of particular children is, in and of itself, hugely motivating for the students themselves.
The independent UK-based charitable organization, Educational Endowment Foundation, believes that such an approach cannot be supported by mere intuition: it requires rigorous scientific evidence to back up its claims. “Evidence suggests that it is unhelpful to assign learners to groups or categories on the basis of a supposed learning style.”
While the jury is still out on the supposed effectiveness of the “learning styles” approach, perhaps the lesson to take home is this: teachers should seek to continually research new methods of engaging their students, whether or not they are indeed more suited to one mode of learning over another.
And this diversity and openness towards innovation in the classroom can only be good news for kids who may be struggling to absorb the challenging content presented to them on a daily basis.