Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Does This Mean I Can Stop Trying to Reinvent the Wheel?

I'm exhausted, and it's just the start of the semester. No, I'm not tired of my students or classes or even my colleagues--not yet, anyway. I'm tired from prepping my classes, from my attempts to please my masters and vary the delivery of my subject matter to meet the various alleged learning styles of my various alleged students.

I burned quite a bit of the last of my summer vacation attempting to mix it up so as to reach all the little snowflakes who cannot learn by the usual methods of reading, writing, listening, discussing, and participating in small groups. I've been told that I'm pretty good in the classroom (and I'm grateful the higher-ups see me that way), but here at Large Dead-City Community College (LD3C), we care about the learning styles. We faculty are encouraged to use every bell and whistle available, every electronic gizmo (including clickers!), every pixel of Blackboard, all in the name of positioning LD3C as an innovative teaching college.

Today, however, I came across this piece in the New York Times. The article quotes research published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, which claims that there is a "lack of credible evidence" to support the "learning-styles approach within education." The researchers go on to call the "contrast" between popularity about such theories of learning and the lack of evidence supporting their usefulness "striking and disturbing."

What I want to know is this: Can this be for real? Can I possibly begin to make some noise about what a monumental waste of time it is for teachers to attempt to prepare for every possible alleged learning style? Or will Harold, Mark, Doug, and Bob (the guys who published this frankly thrilling new article) be dismissed as Grumpy Guses who simply don't want to do enough for the ever-changing snowflakesphere?

(P.S. Should the world of snowflakes be known as the snowglobe, rather than the snowflakesphere?)


  1. I too had a jaw-drop moment when I read this article. There is one course I teach where I refuse to follow any of the proposed alterations. it's a higher-level course that doesn't count towards gen ed credit, so very few students take it.

    What I have found is that people of all majors, when held to this single-time higher standard, are suddenly able to cope. I offer a bump for "improvement" from start to finish so those who start with a C can learn from their mistakes and work twice as hard. Other than that, it's all old-school research-and-write stuff.

    My students are 50/50 traditional/non-traditional, often military, sometimes 45-year-old parents of 6. And across the board, they complain at first but when pressed and unaccommodated (esp in this tiny class), they learn the stuff that was "impossible" for them to learn.

  2. I read this when it was excerpted in The Wilson Quarterly, and my jaw dropped, too ... but it makes sense. LIke Academic Monkey, I have found that when required to do so with no ifs ands or buts, everyone learns. Some go from Z to S, others from S to H, others ...you get the pictures (And I teach mostly adults--my major challenge isn't academic learning styles, but seriously underprepared and under confident students.) I am sure that there's a grain of truth somewhere, but I still call bull overall on the overblown "gotta meet them where they learn" academic learning style theory, and just say teach the way you have been teaching.

  3. My snappy comeback to being screamed at by ed majors about learning styles is: "When you get bosses in the real world, they're going to want you to do things THEIR way!" I barely escaped being lynched for saying that.

  4. A colleague of mine used to compare education consultants (peddlers and propagators of the latest b.s. fad theories) to con-artist main character from The Music Man. It was a pretty good riff. If you don't buy into multiple learning styles (or use enough technology in the classroom, or whatever), YOU DON'T CARE ABOUT CHILDREN. Tell you what, if you want to sell your soul and make piles of cash,edu-consulting is the way to go and the formula is dirt simple. Yes sir, we got trouble right here in School City...

  5. "Yet there are effective approaches to learning, at least for those who are motivated."

    This statement from the NYT article suggests what we all know already: motivation is key. Nothing can help unmotivated students learn. If they aren't motivated by pissing away tuition money, flunking out and having to get a job, or angry Mom and Dad then there's no carrot or stick that I can use.

  6. "Multiple learning styles" is just another pseudo-discovery by educrats. There's some minor merit to it, but certainly not enough to warrant changing the way you actually teach classes. People probably do learn in different ways. Fine. But I teach my classes the way I want, I don't adapt my methods very much to my students, and they instead adapt to me. I have a 75% average pass rate, and my students want me to be their teacher for the next level of the course. They can handle the challenges most of the time, and when they can't, I'm sure as hell not going to do anything exotic to make sure they can. Adapt or fail. That's how it was since the dawn of education (until the Outcomes Based Education idiots took over).

  7. I wish I could force our whole administration, not to mention the self-proclaimed "pedagogical experts," at Large Metropolitan Multi-Campus Two-Year College to read the NYT article tomorrow morning before they could do anything else...

  8. Speaking as an curriculum person, I have to be very careful about my thoughts when the topic of learning styles comes up. I've seen more than my fair share of skeptics in grad school get branded with scarlet letters because they won't gulp the Gardnerian Kool-Aid and step in line with those higher on the food chain. "He/she won't endorse multiple learning styles. He/she mustn't be very student centered!"

    Like most educational theories, there's a hair of truth to the notion of multiple learning styles. Just that--a hair. Some subjects lend themselves better to certain modes of delivery and ultimate retention. The problem is that curriculum researchers, always looking for the latest, greatest, hippest, trendiest things out there, jump from idea to idea faster than Lady Gaga goes through pages from Madonna's old self-reinvention playbook. It's like bad fashion trends: an alpha-academic takes a shine to one theory, and suddenly every bandwagon-jumper is ready to hop on. Two years later, the alpha-academic finds a new shiny thing to write and publish on, and the old "innovation" is as dated as a women's blazer with shoulderpads. "Oh gawd, phonics is soooooooooooo 1995... Weeeeeeeeeeee're doing whole language now!" For a while, multiple learning styles was the hip shiny thing in curriculum circles. Now, it's brain-based learning. Who knows what it'll be two or three years from now... However, it's still got a lot of followers out there.

    What further complicates it are the support staffers (usually advisors and guidance counselors who never work with students in a direct academic capacity) who dish this pig-slop out to lazy students that come into the college classroom with huge entitlement complexes and egos to match. "It's okay, little Visual Valerie, you don't have to do that. This assignment is an auditory-based assignment, and you're a visual learner! Tell your professor to change how he or she delivers it." "I know it's frustrating to read, Auditory Alvin, make your teacher provide you with books on MP3, to listen to on your iPod!" "Kinesthetic Ken, tell your teacher that if she won't give you an alternative project, we'll have words with her dean!"

    Sadly, the world of curriculum is one of good ideas gone bad. As soon as a theory with a glimmer of hope comes out, scholars research it to death and textbook publishers milk it as the next big 'it' thing. Unfortunately, multiple learning styles is ultimately a shiny thing that just gives lazy snowflakes a crutch to demand further coddling.

  9. I echo what Fat Snarly said- there is a grain of legitimacy to the learning styles theories. I think all that stuff is fun to play with but it can be taken too seriously.

    I also share No Cookies view: "Adapt or fail." That's part of life. But I can have that view because I'm speshull: Having played around with various learning styles inventories over the years, I always come out in the 30-30-40 or 35-30-35 distributions, meaning I learn equally (give or take) well (or poorly) in all three ways.

    Case in point: In reviewing my post for typos I noticed that I used the words "echo, said, play, view, and played." I'm more speshull than I first thought.

    I've also seen people so extreme in one category that I wonder how they're still alive. I knew a 95% auditory that didn't realize that the railroad crossing gates being down meant a train was coming until the engineer blew the horn because she was about to drive around them. She wasn't trying to beat the train, she just thought something was in the way. Then there are the tactile-kinetics that put together Ikea-type furniture without reading the directions and wonder why certain pieces don't fit together. Their solution is to get a hammer.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.