Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Studies Find There’s No Such Thing as Learning Styles – As Teachers, Should We Care?

By on December 19, 2009

According to Psychcentral.com, “Learning Styles are being re-evaluated” and negated. This theory, according to a recently published journal article claims that there is really no research out there to prove that students learn differently from one another.

Shrug. Cue eye roll.

The article claims that:

“The wide appeal of the idea that some students will learn better when material is presented visually and that others will learn better when the material is presented verbally, or even in some other way, is evident in the vast number of learning-style tests and teaching guides available for purchase and used in schools.

But does scientific research really support the existence of different learning styles, or the hypothesis that people learn better when taught in a way that matches their own unique style?

Unfortunately, the answer is no.”

Frankly, I’m not so sure I care about any of it.

Here’s what I do know…

Neil learns better if I’m teaching with the Interactive Board and totally phases out when we’re reading.

Desiree phases out when we’re reading, but as long as someone’s talking about the material, she’s in.

Tien thrives in the computer lab.

The entire class wakes up if they stand up.

Seth has to be doing three things at once or he can’t pay attention at all.

Armando needs everything to relate to him or he goes over to the Dark Side.

Jenny will do anything academic I ask of her as long as I allow her to use a pink pen.

Brandon will never be given the time of day, and nobody will love his writing like I do, unless he learns to type.

Every student loves coming in to find the room looking different.

Sarah will only work with Angy, but Fabiola can’t work with Sarah.

Tin will function in a small group, but only one consisting of young ladies.

OK, so this isn’t the most scientifically based study in the world, but it’s the one that works in my current classroom. It’s the different learning styles in my class, as analyzed by me, and that’s all I really care about.

I’m not sure why standardization and individualization needs to be an oxymoron. I mean, each student is different, yet each must learn to function in the same world; so maybe there’s a place for it all. Why can’t we teach in such a way that all students are engaged, are learning the same skills, AND can be appreciated for who they are as individuals?

Why can’t they be asked to bubble and paint?

Why can’t they be asked to listen and observe?

Why can’t they be asked to move and stay still?

bubble testThe important thing here is not whether or not science can back up different learning styles with research, but really whether or not teachers regardless of research do what is necessary to engage all students.

And if that means having your kids stand on tables as a main topic sentence, or instructing a student to run around with the sign “Rome” on his or her chest slaying other countries until they’ve conquered the classroom, or delivering material via online survey, essay, scene study, or quick draw…well, then, so be it. Who needs the research to tell you how to reach your students, if indeed, you can prove that you are striving to engage them all?

Well, maybe that’s the issue. Maybe the real issue here is that not all teachers are teaching all students, or that they know how.

In this case it seems less of an issue of science then it does using common sense in teaching. When I think back at the lessons that I loved as a student, the ones that stayed with me, they were the ones that asked me to solve authentic problems. They were the ones that had me doing something out of my comfort zone. They were the ones that allowed me to strut myself in my comfort zone. In all, they were the lessons that shook up the norm. But not all teachers naturally know to mix it up.

Talking about learning styles or multiple-intelligences or syn-naps or project learning or critical thinking or whatever is being tossed about, is about scaffolding how to teach in an engaging way in order to reach a wide variety of students.

When people get all up at arms about this research or that research being unsupported, I beg them to remember: some teachers must learn how NOT to be boring. They might be brilliant in their knowledge content, but that doesn’t mean they understand how to deliver or communicate that content, especially to kids who may not be their kind ‘o person.

So providing the theory that there are different learning styles, and categorizing those learners, helps those teachers to remember what they are charged to do: teach ALL students.

So why diss any theory that helps build a ladder up from our current descent into standardization? It seems to me that we aren’t doing students a disservice by thinking of themselves as individuals as long as we’re also preparing them for the shared world we live in.

I do think that teachers get bogged down with the unrealistic goal of trying to deliver the same lesson in different ways. I don’t think that benefits any learner. Students need to know how to compete in many different forums, and they need to learn to listen and respond in many different formats. So you must deliver in many different ways. It’s the more difficult way to teach, but it’s the more effective way to reach the most students.

So when your students walk into your room, keep ‘em guessing as to what to expect. It keeps them awake, and it keeps your own professional doldrums at bay.

Common sense proves to me that there are different learning styles. And they don’t just break down into a few categories. This year I have 252 students. Thus, I have 252 learning styles.

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