I wrote this for another blog a long time ago. I think about five or six years ago?
One thing that is hard about “unlearning” for bloggers, is that you leave a trail of your old attitudes and thoughts across the internet. This can lead to holding more static opinions than you would if there was no proof you thought the way you did in the past.

In this case, while I do not think I would write the same thing again, it gets to the heart of why the evidence based teaching movement is important to me.

This is a post about getting ready for a 6 hour training session on Learning Styles.

In schools, there are learners and there are teachers. With me so far?
Teachers must, through appropriate selection of task and objectives, lead the learners to acquire new knowledge, skills and understanding.

Some teachers only present new information in limited ways. For instance they might only speak to the class or only write on the board etc. They might only have a few tasks in their repertoire e.g.: do questions from a book, do a practical, answer questions outloud.

These teachers are “bad” and their learners suffer for it. Doing the same sorts of things is bad for the brain. The brain craves novelty like you would not believe. The brain also likes a bit of routine, it would be no good if one day a teacher pogo-ed in to the lesson, the next taught from the vantage point of a unicycle, the next perched on a high wire.

The balance that most “good” teachers achieve is having a variety of tasks to choose from and a selection of ways of presenting new material. They mix these up as appropriate but are consistent with other factors.

Now, could someone please give me a consultancy fee because I have just summarised the “learning style” movement for you. I am happy to provide examples and for instances of different tasks and information presentation if that sweetens the deal, though I doubt any Learning Styles trainer will get as far as that.

On Thursday I will have a six hour training session all about learning styles. I could weep with frustration. I did a little temper tantrum in the staff room. Eyebrows were raised

“You might learn something new…”

“What’s wrong with a variety of tasks?”

In the UK, at least, there is no other training session likely to raise my blood pressure than bloody learning styles.

There are powerpoints where someone who hasn’t taught for a long time, reads from them. The irony is lost on them. They are lecturing us about not lecturing children. They tell you how important it is to do it but they give no practical examples, no proof in the literature that they are right, no handson experience and no troubleshooting.

The simplest model covered is VAK.

Visual, auditory, kinaesthetic. Never has such a sensible idea been so stretched beyond use than “learners need to see, hear and do.”
I have worked in schools where children are given a 10 question questionnaire with gems such as

“I learn better by
a) Reading
b) Listening
c) Experimenting”

And then they get told they are ONE OF THREE possibilities. Teachers have to write it in their mark book, I am not even lying, and children feel entitled to say “I can’t do this experiment, I am a visual learner”
Never mind that thick kids who can’t read get called “kinaesthetic” which doesn’t allow for the fact that as soon as they can read they might be visual. Never mind that some people vary their learning style across the course of the day/depending on subject/as they age.

It has been diluted like so much homeopathic tincture and we all know that makes it even stronger, don’t we?

It is hard to know how to take it. On one hand it angers me that teachers, graduates of a great range of subject areas, swallow this without question. On the other hand it angers me that adults responsible for filling young minds with the gift of education, spoonfeed this crap straight into their trusting mouths.

The original idea is okay. It has been distorted by some thickwad trainer because they don’t know any bloody better.

Another version is a bit better in terms of complexity. There are seven styles, like “musicality” and “inter-personality” and you have to draw a seven pointed star which shows you which ones you show a preference for.

But still, it is limited because
1) It is too hard for the people supposed to train you in it (they end up telling you that people like David Beckham are “spatial learners” but miss out his “inter-personal” preferences)
2) It doesn’t encourage teachers to help children improve their weaker styles
3) Some subjects simply do not lend themselves to certain styles and what then? Oh yeah, you do what you always have done.

The third is completely ignored by trainers and it is my favourite. When I am feeling arsy, and you know Gentle Reader that is most days, I write it on my lesson plans or bring it up in meetings.

“That class is mostly made of concrete random learners so I chose THIS task”

There are four types of learner in this model and two variables. Concrete-abstract, random-sequential.

To me, it makes the most sense in terms of helping the teacher mix up the variety of tasks. So WHAT if sometimes they read, sometimes they listen and sometimes they act if every time they follow sequential instructions? That is no variety at all.

It is completely out of vogue but I am not sure if it has been discredited or is just too hard to understand because of the ten dollar words.

Anyway, Thursday will let me know how good Denmark is at avoiding the mistakes of other countries. If they have a well balanced, sensible and thought out training programme which not only gives me examples of tasks I could try but also proof of how they improve results; then we know that Denmark takes its teacher education seriously.

If we have some guy reading his powerpoint for 6 hours about how we really should think about having variety in our lessons, then they are just as susceptible to snake oil salesmen as their cousins in the UK.

Checking through my personal blog, I never wrote up the follow up post about how the training session went. It was run by a woman that came and lectured us for several hours about how there were four learning styles: visual, auditory, tactile and kinaesthetic. Her proof: some people were knitting as she spoke.

I remember she brought some interesting tools for formative assessment that were a bit more interactive than the usual “asking a question to the whole group” but she left it too late to let us have a play with them.

After the training session, my colleagues said “Yeah that’s great. I am not doing any of that.” Not because it was rubbish but because they already liked their own way of teaching well enough.

So, while Danish leaders are just as susceptible to fads and trends, the teachers are change resistant enough to let it all wash over them and just do what they have always done.


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