The term “learning style” has been so widely used that honestly it is hard to know what the term means anymore. I winced each time I used “learning style” when writing the past four blogs about learning profiles (Concrete Sequential, Abstract Sequential, Abstract Random, and Concrete Random). The blogs were about how individuals take in information about the world and how they order that information, yet when I researched the profiles, the term “learning style” was used to describe them.
“Learning style” is also used to describe the three primary modalities, which are the pathways into the brain, or how information is best absorbed and how people remember best.
“Learning style” is also used to describe the various ways in which individuals can concentrate best (taken from Kenneth and Rita Dunn’s work).
“Learning style” is used when we talk about Gardener’s theory of multiple intelligences, and finally (although there may be more ways this term is used, being a somewhat concrete random person, I am tired of making this list and am ready to move on to the next subject) “learning style” is used when we enter a discussion about whether a person is global or sequential in how they view life.
In the Interest of Clarity
It may be helpful to determine your child's primary giftedness. I’m interested in being super clear about our current topic. Calling this topic what I want to call it might keep a reader from glazing over when he reads the main headings of the blog. Today’s topic is based on Howard Gardener's theory of Multiple Intelligences. EVERYONE has heard about these. So rather than bore you or drive you away by going into them in depth, what I will do is point you in the direction of some checklists for you to use in determining your child’s primary giftedness/intelligence which is truly great information to have.
When This Information Is Most Helpful
I’m going to reveal yet another pet peeve (in addition to “learning styles” being used to mean everything). Back in the day when Howard Gardener’s MI theory was hot new news, I was in grad school absorbing everything I could about being a super teacher to every type of learner. We studied all the learning theories, and of course had to create lessons that utilized these in creative ways.
I remember observing a classmate of mine frantically demonstrating her lesson in class. She had chosen the MI to showcase and what she had done was try and teach the lesson in ways that would appeal to all seven intelligences. She had music playing, was using colorful pictures, was doing acrobatics, etc. I wonder how many people decided on the spot that they were finished with caring about learning styles if this sort of lesson would become the standard for what was best practice in the classroom!
My pet peeve about Multiple Intelligences is that frequently teachers think that they have to teach to all the intelligences. The problem with that notion is that the teacher himself is not gifted in all 7-8 ways! So how is this helpful to his students?
What made the most sense to me about Howard Gardener’s work was that it helped clarify the various ways in which children can be gifted – NOT the ways in which they learn.
I did many hours of formal observation with the students I had at the time (preschool) and benefited tremendously from having these adorable guinea pigs to try my innovative lessons on. I decided that what I needed to do was teach to the three modalities (more on this later) and let the students respond and show their learning from within their own natural giftedness or intelligence.
This worked wonders because I got to teach in a way that didn’t involve tap dancing to music while teaching, and my students enjoyed “school” far more because they were encouraged to work from within their best ability.
An Example of How This Can Work
I was teaching 6th grade social studies. The setting was colonial America. We studied the required stuff out of their textbook, with me trying my best to teach to the three modalities, but what made this unit shine is that rather than assigning one identical project to every child in the class, I encouraged children to create their project using the medium that appealed to them the most. The requirement was that they show their new-found knowledge very clearly and completely.
In other words, their projects would be graded for excellence of content, but they could choose how they shared that knowledge. This would be their assessment for the unit.
What resulted was so amazing. One girl (probably intrapersonal) chose to work alone and she wrote a diary from the viewpoint of a young girl who was heading west with her family in a wagon train. The diary was beautifully done with the cover burned a bit to make it look really old.
One child made a TV screen out of a large cardboard box and did a newscast to share what he learned.
Another child interviewed a classmate. They had chosen the questions and answers prior to their presentation so that they would be sure and cover all they wanted to cover.
Some children created huge posters colorfully illustrated.
One group of four children hosted a game show similar to Jeopardy.
No two projects were alike! The class had multiple reviews of the material we studied, no one was bored, and by sharing in a variety of ways and from within each child’s strength, learning was deepened.
Contrast this sort of learning assessment to the typical ones in which verbal presentations are required from all students whether or not they shine at giving speeches, and everyone is ready to poke themselves with something sharp to keep from falling asleep by the time speech number 15 rolls around. Let alone speech number 25!