Opinion
Education Opinion

Stylin’

By Nancy Flanagan — February 14, 2010 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The Great Learning Styles Controversy is alive, well and now starring at the Washington Post. Jay Mathews advises us that, based on recent research, experts report that the widely accepted notion that students have specific learning styles is--not to put too fine a point on it--baloney. From there, the Core Knowledge Blog calls out the D.C. Schools for evaluating teachers on whether they address diverse learning styles when designing instruction, since we now have scientific evidence that learning styles are hooey.

This isn’t the first time this battle has been fought. I’ve been a skeptic about those cheesy 20-question quizzes that allegedly determine one’s inherent learning style since my middle school spent a half day testing each child--then divided students into style-alike groups to talk about knowing your strengths as a learner. The chief thing I learned from that experience was that about 90% of 7th grade boys believe they are kinesthetic learners. Either that, or they’d rather be shooting baskets than bubbling in a scantron sheet.

However. There are at least two important reasons that this discussion should continue:

#1) Even if students cannot be neatly divided into groups--visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners--all human beings have learning preferences and strengths, our go-to modes. From the WaPo column: “The four authors agree that ‘people differ in the degree to which they have some fairly specific aptitudes for different kinds of thinking and for processing different types of information.’” Anyone who’s ever noticed that they remember more of what they read than what they hear--or vice versa--gets that. Any math student who’s ever shuddered at seeing a page of what used to be called story problems gets it, too.

Plus--every teacher who keeps awareness of multiple paths to “processing information” in mind when creating lessons is closer to enhancing comprehension for a range of learners. I’d even argue that the most important outcome for teachers studying learning styles is identifying their own personal preferences--then understanding that their “best” (read: easiest) way to learn a subject may apply to only a subset of students. (More on that in a subsequent blog...)

#2) Much of the conversation about learning styles has been colored by what can only be called dismissal, even derision, part of the movement to label certain pedagogical tools, concepts and strategies “soft"--and subject to prevailing ed-school philosophy.

Studies that claimed certain learning styles benefited from similar teaching styles were not rigorously randomized. Many of us find the theory irresistible because we like "to be seen and treated by educators as unique individuals." When study areas differ, learning-styles theory has merit. "For instance, the optimal curriculum for a writing course probably includes a heavy verbal emphasis, whereas the most efficient and effective method of teaching geometry obviously requires visual-spatial materials."

Ah. Research trials were not scrupulously randomized--but we shouldn’t trust the experience of millions of teachers who have found information on learning preferences useful in their teaching craft? Because it’s just a function of their foolish desire to treat students as individuals? And that last sentence--well it just kind of speaks for itself, regarding the value of investigative research in illuminating practice, doesn’t it?

I don’t want to see school districts wasting money on bogus Learning Styles materials. But let’s listen to what teachers, who have spent years observing how students learn, have to say, too.

The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

Jobs October 2021 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Data Webinar
Using Integrated Analytics To Uncover Student Needs
Overwhelmed by data? Learn how an integrated approach to data analytics can help.

Content provided by Instructure
Classroom Technology Webinar How Pandemic Tech Is (and Is Not) Transforming K-12 Schools
The COVID-19 pandemic—and the resulting rise in virtual learning and big investments in digital learning tools— helped educators propel their technology skills to the next level. Teachers have become more adept at using learning management

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated: October 27, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Vulnerable Students Left Behind as Schooling Disruptions Continue
The effects of unpredictable stretches at home can mirror those of chronic absenteeism and lead to long-term harm to learning.
4 min read
Students board a school bus on New York's Upper West Side on Sept. 13, 2021. Even as most students return to learning in the classroom this school year, disruptions to in-person learning, from missing one day because of a late school bus to an entire two weeks at home due to quarantine, remain inevitable as families and educators navigate the ongoing pandemic.
Students board a school bus on New York's Upper West Side on Sept. 13, 2021. Even as most students return to learning in the classroom this school year, disruptions to in-person learning, from missing one day because of a late school bus to an entire two weeks at home due to quarantine, remain inevitable as families and educators navigate the ongoing pandemic.
Richard Drew/AP
Education 'Widespread' Racial Harassment Found at Utah School District
The federal probe found hundreds of documented uses of the N-word and other racial epithets, and harsher discipline for students of color.
1 min read
A CNG, compressed natural gas, school bus is shown at the Utah State Capitol, Monday, March 4, 2013, in Salt Lake City. After a winter with back-to back episodes of severe pollution in northern Utah, lawmakers and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert will discuss clean air legislation and call for government and businesses to convert to clean fuel vehicles.
Federal civil rights investigators found widespread racial harassment of Black and Asian American students in the Davis school district north of Salt Lake City, Utah.
Rick Bowmer/AP Photo
Education Tiny Wrists in Cuffs: How Police Use Force Against Children
An investigation finds children as young as 6 and a disproportionate amount of Black children have been handled forcibly by police officers.
15 min read
Jhaimarion, 10, reacts as he listens to his mother, Krystal Archie talking with an Associated Press reporter in Chicago on Sept. 23, 2021. Archie’s three children were present when police, on two occasions, just 11 weeks apart, kicked open her front door and tore through their home searching for drug suspects. She’d never heard of the people they were hunting. Her oldest child, Savannah was 14 at the time; her youngest, Jhaimarion, was seven. They were ordered to get down on the floor.
Jhaimarion, 10, reacts as he listens to his mother, Krystal Archie talking with an Associated Press reporter in Chicago on Sept. 23, 2021. Archie’s three children were present when police, on two occasions, just 11 weeks apart, kicked open her front door and tore through their home searching for drug suspects. She’d never heard of the people they were hunting. Her oldest child, Savannah was 14 at the time; her youngest, Jhaimarion, was seven. They were ordered to get down on the floor.
Nam Y. Huh/AP