--Original published at Jayln's Perspective
As I read over the two options for the Spotlight Blog Post, I was flooded with a memory from the sixth grade. I can remember being forced to take a test which evaluated whether I was a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learner. After seeing my results, I remember my teacher telling me that I was “shockingly auditory,” which meant I was not a mix of two learning styles, like most of my classmates; I pretty much just fell into one category. As I went through high school, I thought I was simply an auditory learner, and that is what I based my study habits and techniques around. Now, as I look back on my experience, it is interesting to see how much pressure was put on my teachers to specialize their lesson plans to adhere with the specific types of “learners” that were present in the classroom. Over the years, many teachers, parents, and scholars have taken sides on whether or not learning styles are relevant to consider when making lesson plans, or if they are simply just myths.
On the University of San Diego website, there is an article posted called, “One Classroom, many Learning Styles: Strategies for Teachers.” This article communicates to teachers how critical it is that they successfully determine which learning styles are represented in their class to ensure their lessons plans are effective. Instead of using the typical “VARK” questionnaire to determine if a student is a visual, auditory, reading, or kinesthetic learner, they use the seven intelligences (founded by Howard Gardener). Gardener proposes that in a classroom setting, students can be labeled: visual-spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, linguistic, or logical. Instead of believing that children can only be one type of learner, they theorize that children are stronger in one area but can also use other styles to understand new information. This website encourages teachers to use a student-centered approach. The teachers ultimately have authority in the classroom, but it is their job to assist students in learning with the styles that are specific to them.
“Understanding the Importance of Learning Styles,” published on More 4 kids, is another highly supportive article. The author of this article is a mother who homeschooled her children, so it provides a different perspective than the last article. As she homeschooled her children, the author found that by adapting how she taught, based on their learning styles, was not only reflected in their academic performance, but it also made the process better for everyone. She stresses to teachers that if they neglect to understand how a child learns, it can result in conflict and even an inappropriate diagnosis (such as Attention Deficit Disorder). The author explains that she arrived at this conclusion because of her own experience teaching her two boys. As she began schooling her eldest son, who happened to be a visual learner, she thought that the techniques she used with him would also be effective for her youngest son. However, the youngest son was much more difficult because he was not performing well and he could not physically sit still. After being told by their family doctor that he should go on medication for ADD, the author decided to do some research of her own. She concluded that her son might be a kinesthetic learner, and all the visual techniques were frustrating for him.
Olga Khaazan, an award-winning staff writer for The Atlantic, argues against the use of learning styles in the classroom because they are simply ineffective. Khaazan begins, “The Myths of ‘Learning Styles,'” by discussing how Niel Fleming’s development of the “VARK” model gained its momentum during the self-esteem movement (the 90s). In the classroom, teachers were taught to view children like special individuals who had a unique learning style associated with them. As a result, the lessons should have been geared toward a specific learning style in order for struggling children to make sense of the material. She continues to critique how students grow up believing they already know how they learn, and since they feel defined by a certain learning style, they often get complacent in the classroom, and they develop bad habits when it comes to effective studying. Khaazan draws attention to the research of Daniel Willingham, a psychologist at the Univerity of Virginia, and Polly Husmann, a professor at Indiana Univerity to help support her claims against learning styles. To test the effectiveness of studying in a way that is specific to a learning style, Husmann had hundreds of students take the “VARK” questionnaire. After the students figured out how they supposedly learned best, they could choose whether or not they would apply the recommended strategies. As Husmann predicted, the students did not see improvements to their exam scores. Willingham theorized that by only catering to one learning style in the classroom, “educators may actually be doing a disservice” to the students because they are limiting the importance of other skills (theatlantic.com).
On the American Psychological Association website, Blake Harvard shares his negative opinions on learning styles, but instead of just critiquing the concept of learning styles like the last article, he takes it one step further by presenting more effective alternatives. Harvard starts by discussing that even though learning styles are no longer the backbone that gives structure to the classroom like they use to be, many institutions still wrongfully rely on them to shape their curriculum. As an educator, Harvard was always asked to reach all the learning styles when he was teaching a lesson, but after a while, he realized that there was very little scientific evidence that supported learning styles. Instead, he began to research learning strategies that would be more effective in the classroom and were actually proven to reach children. Three examples of research learning strategies are retrieval practice, distributed practice, and interleaved practice. These are just a few examples of what student can do instead of focusing on studying one ineffective way. When a student uses the skill of retrieval instead of staring blankly at notecards, they are more effectively studying by attempting to retrieve information from their memory. These types of learning strategies require a student to be actively studying instead of just staring at a term and not connecting other information to it.
Before reading all of this research, I had always believed that learning styles were a necessary part of every child’s education. After gaining all of this newfound knowledge, I now see that there is actually very little scientific research that supports learning styles. As a “shockingly auditory” learner, I would tend to disregard any type of visual or kinesthetic learning strategies, and now as a college student, I see how this may have hurt me. I am currently adapting my study habits to include all type of strategies because each one is necessary when attempting to retain information. Instead of listening to youtube videos on certain topics like I did all through high school, I am now making charts and spending more time invested in the textbooks. It is important that all types of learning are integrated into the classroom so that schools produce well-rounded individuals who can problem solve, analyze, time manage, etc.
Harvard, Blake. “Learning Myths vs. Learning Facts.” Psych Learning Curve, 17 July 2017, psychlearningcurve.org/learning-myths-vs-learning-facts/.
Khazan, Olga. “The Myth of ‘Learning Styles’.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 12 Apr. 2018, http://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/04/the-myth-of-learning-styles/557687/.
More4kids. “Understanding the Importance of Learning Styles.” Homeschooling Education Learning and Reading Resources, More4kids International, 10 Mar. 2011, education.more4kids.info/77/understanding-learning-styles/#respond.
“Teaching to Every Student’s Unique Learning Style.” University of San Diego, 5 Jan. 2018, onlinedegrees.sandiego.edu/teaching-to-every-students-unique-learning-style/.