My friend Philip Cummings recently posted something on social media that caught my eye, “Letting Go of Learning Styles” by Amber and Andy Ankowski on the PBS Parents site. This article busts the myth of learning styles, one of education’s most holiest of shrines, and offers much more authentic alternatives. And the Ankowskis have a point: no matter how special our snowflake, we’re all trying to figure out how to use gravity to our advantage during the storm.
Wait–that was a TERRIBLE metaphor. Forgive me. I’ve been doing mom-chores and adulting all day, and I’m cranky. College boy is in town and needed to get him squared away, and the whole tax thing, and now people are arguing, being bossy over one another, and quite frankly, it’s all a little silly. Or in the words of the immortal Mr. Krabs, “What a baby.” The deal is, we really need to be careful when jumping on bandwagons: they have a habit of gaining speed and being much more dangerous during the departing.
Here are a few of my thoughts/questions:
- What if a teacher becomes an ‘expert’ in one of these sacred teachings, and then that path is no longer valid or respected? I’m thinking of one educator I know whose expertise is in ‘learning styles,’ and how is she going to feel that others believe that it’s bunk?
- What about all the backlash and misinterpretation of “grit,” growth mindset,” or gangum style? Whatever. I still dance to it. Just kidding. You know what I mean.
- What’s next? What about the ed-tech movement, our love of Alfie Kohn, or DON’T EVEN THINK IT: UBD?!
STEP. AWAY. FROM. THE. U.B.D. AND NO ONE GETS HURT.
But back to learning styles, John Spencer noted,
“I feel like the original research on learning styles was flawed (and I’ve never bought into the notion of fixed learning styles). However, almost all of the research “overturning” learning styles relies on flawed metrics. In most cases, the assessments don’t match the instruction. So, a visual style of instruction and an auditory style of instruction both end up with a written test at the end. They do this to boost reliability but in the process, the validity suffers.”
I always liked Howard Gardner, and even he said learning styles was misused. His “multiple intelligences’ are NOT learning styles. That’s always the way, isn’t it? Someone has a good idea, does mountains of research, draws conclusions, and adjusts and flexes thinking, and then some bureaucrat gets a hold of it and takes all the flavor out. While becoming a teacher, of course I applied all the things I was learning about to my own young sons. The older one was the musician/mathematician, and the younger one (I was sure) was destined to be the next Jane Goodall with his love of nature. But again I think we confuse interests with concrete, fixated means of functioning in a classroom. We label, box, and shelve. We forget we are complex, adaptive systems, capable of multiple approaches to something. The concept of content becoming the focus makes sense: I wouldn’t learn about how to throw a ball from seeing a picture of someone doing it as well as just doing it. Moreover, I wouldn’t learn how to write a solid rebuttal from an interpretive dance (however much fun that would be).
There is just some stuff we need to know– like how to throw a ball, or write a great rebuttal. And we have teacher-experts in those areas who are more than capable and desirous of teaching those skills.
And then we come to the big tests that only focus on ‘reading’ and ‘math.’ And the ELA and math teachers seem to be the only ones who get their names tied to those scores.
I am predicting that ‘close reading’ is going to be next on the list of educational movements to at least catch a cold, if not completely buried in the Graveyard of Jargon. Close reading is great, and though everyone’s been cautioned not to overuse it, guess what? It’s being overused. And when something is overused it loses its effectiveness and provides diminishing returns.
What educational tropes do you think are about to expire and meet their maker in the big classroom, where St. Dewey watches over all of us, just smiling to himself?
Ah well. Enough of this. Time to dance!
I don’t care what anyone says: this is still fun to dance to.