kitchen table math, the sequel: Seven Styles of Learning

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Seven Styles of Learning

I can't believe it.

My son came home today and told me that his (seventh grade) science teacher talked to them about seven styles of learning. I guess this was to justify having them draw pictures of science definitions. My son already has about 100 3 X 5 index cards with pictures from sixth grade science. I suppose I should be happy that they expect them to learn definitions, and that the seventh grade science teacher will not grade the artwork, but this adds to the book dust cover he has to draw for language arts and the diorama he has to do for social studies. Only in math does he have regular homework. All of the other classes have projects. (He has math with me, but that's another story.)

Linguistic learner
Logical/mathematical learner
Spatial learner
Musical learner
Bodily/Kinesthetic learner
Interpersonal learner
Intrapersonal learner

"Everybody has a preferred learning style. Knowing and understanding our learning style helps us to learn more effectively. Through identifying your learning style, you will be able to capitalize on your strengths and improve your self-advocacy skills."

Did you ever notice that they don't let kids decide on and use whichever style works best for them. Everyone has to do the artwork. Everybody has to work in groups. What about the poor intrapersonal learner who is no good in art and likes to work by himself? Tough s***. What about my son, who is extremely good in music. What the heck does that mean?

The school hands out questionnaires about this each year and I just throw them away. I try to ignore it, but this learning style formality is really getting annoying! Parents can't say anything about it because that would be questioning their competence.

Of course, drawing a picture for a definition should help one with memorization, but one can always trade speed for understanding. It's not as if they are covering more material using these techniques. They are slowing down. It took my son a lot more time to draw the science pictures last year (20+ minutes each) than it took him to memorize the definition.

Even if you believe that each child has a preferred learning style, schools really don't care. Everyone does art and works in groups.


Redkudu said...

Good god. SEVEN of them now? Three was bad enough. Jeez Louise. I'm going to be sitting through all THAT prof. development next year, mark my words.

Anonymous said...

They have spaced-out learner alright. But but happened to the auditory and visual learner?

Anonymous said...

Learning styles nuttiness is even infecting NCLB-mandated after-school "tutoring":

This from today's craigslist:

Now Hiring: Instructors $40 - $60 per hour Orions Mind is an educational solutions provider that offers a 40-hour after-school program to eligible Chicago Public School students in grades 1-8. The typical program occurs 2-4 times a week for 1-2 hours per session. Our brain-based program is fun and teaches in all learning styles. Our proprietary curriculum encourages higher-order thinking and cooperative learning. We incorporate art, music, drama, and movement games to teach math, reading, and English.

Anonymous said...

[We incorporate art, music, drama, and movement games to teach math, reading, and English.]

They probably meant bowel movement but were too delicate to say it.

Anonymous said...

8th grade has been the worst. I thought since there would be more of an emphasis on prepping for high school, a lot of this nonsense would have gone by the wayside, but no such luck.

My son just leaves all of the art supplies out at the kitchen table all the time. He must spend hours coloring scenes for social studies and the different books he's read. He has to create game boards for Spanish class. Luckily, he's bussed to the high school for math and bio.

Did you ever notice that they don't let kids decide on and use whichever style works best for them

They have no choice, and the choice they're forced to make is time-consuming busywork. Worse, the kids know it.

His writing/reading class has required the most coloring and projects. Because he's been late (or hasn't colored with enough detail), he was about to fail his reading class. This for a boy who's pulled for gifted reading and who just finished reading Angela's Ashes (for fun) and is in the middle of The World is Curved, a book about economics and globalization. But that's not good enough.


SteveH said...

I just remembered this article from the Onion.

Parents Of Nasal Learners Demand Odor-Based Curriculum
March 15, 2000 | Issue 36•09

Scratch-and-sniff textbooks. That's what we need.

Also, if you search around the web, everyone can't quite get their learning styles to match up. The definitions are so vague that you can spin them however you want.

SteveH said...

"Luckily, he's bussed to the high school for math and bio."

Now that my son is taking real algebra with a real textbook, a lot of the silliness has gone away. He has daily problem sets and the closest he gets to drawing is graphing. This change happened because parents complained that middle school math (used to be CMP) didn't match up with the textbooks in high school. It was very clearly defined. They couldn't argue, but it took them long enough to change.

The only other positive change is in Spanish class. Once again, the high school is setting the standard. Our middle school must prepare kids well enough to be able to get into Spanish II in high school. The Spanish teacher has to teach conjugation of verbs rather than drawing and labelling pictures of animals. The change was forced because the top students would get to Spanish II and fail. The problem was clearly defined and there was no way they could spin it.

Unfortunately, I see nothing that will force changes in any other subject.

Anonymous said...

Susan, I can sympathize. I'd call if I were you. Our stupidity this year is Spanish. Grades here are 1/3 behavior. My kid found out he is failing spanish b/c his teacher ( a long term sub) couldn't hear him do the rote memory work out loud in class (lips moving, not audible as she passed by) and he doesn't raise his hand to volunteer to answer every question. This behavior was acceptable to last year's spanish teacher...but this one didn't inform the children of her preferences until the sixth week of classes and of course didn't put in the appropriate comment on the mid-quarter notices to the parents or put ds on the weekly athletic ineligibility list. So if ds's h.w. and tests are perfect, he'll get a 67 which knocks him out of Honor Society. I called and made it clear that I don't like suprises. The response was that extra credit would be offered. Ugh. The class itself is incredibly bad - just rote memorization of phrases and verbs. No conversation, no games, no written work, no text. Hope the real teacher gets well soon.

Anonymous said...


That's a lot like what's going on around here. Behavior and "participation" can easily determine your final grade. Shy kids can be doing a phenomenal job in class, but if they don't become extroverts they are penalized.

I will say something at the conferences, but it usually gets nowhere. I've spoken up for years and it's clear that they don't care or just don't accept the premise.

What amazes me is that the core pieces of the curriuculum are the projects, while the "extra credit" involves skills they actually need. This has been the case all three years in several of the subjects.

Also, any assignment designed to practice a fundamental skill must have a creative component to it to be judged and graded separately. One can't just write a letter in business form. You must imagine yourself on a desert island applying for a special job somehwere.

I suppose the idea is to make it interesting, but since it is a part of the grade, the actual skill being learned (business form letters) becomes yet another torturous activity for some kids.

If they can be creative, great. It's the expectation and the fact that they are judged accordingly that leads to kids believing that something is wrong with them when they can't make their assignments totally fascinating, as well as accurate.

And unlike a lot of middle school parents, my child has taken the ACT. He now knows colleges are looking for, so it almost makes it harder for him to tolerate the nonsense. There's not much coloring going on in the SAT/ACT. Also, at this juncture, no spell check.

At the very least, give the kids a choice.


Independent George said...

There's a grain of truth behind the idea, but, unsurprisingly, the educationists completely miss the point and take it way beyond its scientifically valid basis. What they're describing aren't different learning styles, but different teaching methods. Each subject has a preferred method of teaching. Algebra can't be taught kinesthetically; you can't learn karate by reading about it. So instead of finding and matching the best methods with the subject matter, they push 'learning styles' to explain why your kid needs glitter to do his math homework.

Anonymous said...

"Good god. SEVEN of them now?"

Actually there are now eight. The newest one is "Naturalist intelligence."

There is a candidate for a ninth one, "Existential Intelligence."

I am still unaware of any actual *data* supporting this model, but that hasn't prevented it from spreading.

-Mark Roulo

Anonymous said...

If I can argue and convince someone of metaphysical intelligences and learning styles (I learn best from god) can I get a PhD too?

Anonymous said...

My daughter did her last poster in 12th grade AP English. She was OK with it but some of her male classmates with poor drawing skills and no interest in art really suffered.

I suggest you complain that your kids have an art disability that requires them to communicate in words rather than pictures.

One of my brothers was "learning disabled" because of his problems with handwriting due to poor small-muscle coordination. He was lucky to go through school before the art craze. The other brother and my father had similar problems.

Ben Calvin said...

Claiming a "art disability" is actually a pretty good idea.

If you are a "Logical/mathematical learner" shouldn't you be able to be acomodated?

SteveH said...

Seven styles of learning and many ability levels, all in one classroom. That's some marix. It's utter nonsense.

"If you are a 'Logical/mathematical learner' shouldn't you be able to be acomodated?"

Isn't that supposed to be the whole idea? These are the people who are pushing critical thinking, but this is what we get; art and groups.

ElizabethB said...

I must have an "art disability!" You could easily confuse my pictures with those of my 6 year old.

I was also kicked out of choir in 3rd grade.

Maddy said...

I hate to be the dissenting voice on this one, but I actually find that very interesting, although as one as your commenters said, it sounds more like 7 [or more] teaching styles.

Although I'm not a teacher, if I were, I think it would be extremely useful to utilize different techniques to reach different students.

Sadly, I suspect that 'knowing' the styles and identifying the students, and them implementing the techniques is where the system breaks down.

Best wishes

SteveH said...

" dissenting voice "

I'm not sure what you're dissenting?

We've already discussed the difference between theory and practice. But it's more than that. Schools are giving lip service to learning styles, but then forcing all kids to do art work and work in groups. They say one thing and do another.

The ideas may be useful in a general sense, but that's not what's going on here. It's like constructivism; vague edu-speak to justify whatever they want to do.

Anonymous said...

Please, don't cater to aural and visual learners with recorded audio or video.

Recorded audio and video are not good learning tools. In a classroom setting, students don't have control to pause, re-wind, etc. There's no chance for them to readdress something they missed or to focus on things they find interesting. Even if the student has their own playback controls, the control over the rate of their learning pales in comparison to working with a live instructor or reading in general.

Redkudu said...

Maddy, I can offer some insight as to why this idea may not be good for teachers. Setting aside the fact that these ideas about learning styles have been seriously misunderstood and misapplied by teachers (who receive little to no true training in them, as they are fairly fuzzy concepts to begin with), the sheer number of students most teachers end up with (I had 180 last year), and the disparity in ability among students in all-inclusive classrooms now would make this a daunting prospect for teachers - figuring out which student is which, and tailoring lessons to target that in them.

Also, targeting kids based on their perceived strengths and weaknesses (again, teachers don't have scientific testing for these things, they are just expected to observe and decide) leads to too many potential ways to blame students for lack of learning.

This is my tenth year of teaching, and I cannot reiterate strongly enough what others have said - educators MUST become better read and more aware of what truly is better practice. We must be better informed about how to utilize the best teaching for each discipline and task, not randomizing the experience based on seven different styles which must then be modified for ability level as well. Unfortunately, teachers don't get very good, reliable information. They get fads from second-hand sources and faulty professional development and are expected to accept that as valid, tested, and effective methodology when it so rarely is.

Anonymous said...

I will be sitting in "brain areobics" for "professional development" so all this sounds vaguely familiar.
I had actually thought this had gone out of style and am surprised it still out there!
Do they still teach the teacher that right brain/left brain stuff too?
Here is the problem-you have to know your biology, esp. of the human brain. You have to know the pathways, the neurons, the chemicals and the real science that goes on in neurobiology.
Not some half baked idea taken from a poor reading of the research.
And if you can't understand the research, find someone who will show you or teach you.
As one commentator said, when will we read the real stuff?

TurbineGuy said...

You are not alone. I had a recent post on this subject.

To the teachers... Stop the Stupid Projects!

To all the educators who read this blog.

Stop the useless projects. Seriously, please stop it.

Stop wasting my kids time coloring stupid stuff that has nothing to do with the subject.

You think you are being creative. You think you are making things interesting. What you don't see is the hours my kids spend at the table, stressing over whether their glue smeared or their lines are straight. You don't see the $100's of dollars we spend every year on poster boards, crayons, printer ink, felt pens, etc...

If you really think my kids have too much time on their hands at home, just have them copy sentences out of a textbook. They would learn more... and I wouldn't be cleaning dryed up glue off of my kitchen table as a result of a Social Studies project.

Thank you.

SteveH said...

"Stop the useless projects. Seriously, please stop it."

Yes, perhaps the direct approach is better. When this was brought up at Joanne Jacobs' site, some still thought it was about the potential value of learning styles.

No. It's about common sense and competence.

So, I'll second Parentalcation's request:

Stop the art projects!


If you're so stuck on learning styles, offer some other styles for projects. Isn't that the whole idea?!?!?

I remember when it started in Kindergarten. Just do it. No instruction. They didn't teach him how to hold a pencil correctly. They didn't teach him how to plan ahead and center text. They didn't teach him anything about measuring. They didn't teach him anything about doing these projects.

All projects are done under tight parental control and teaching. Parents learn how to keep projects looking like they were done by the kids. Schools love to put the projects out in hallways to impress parents when they come for their teacher conferences. What a joke. Just stop doing that! Parents are not stupid.

And don't tell me that my son's social studies grade is not based on art. Last night, after going out for Halloween, he was making more little cavemen out of bent paperclips and paper. He wants to do a good job, but the result won't be art and it won't be social studies. He gets 5's on the tests of content, but 3's on the projects.

Don't waste my son's time and don't waste my time. I can tell you that he can put the time to much better use. Instead of working on a Beethoven piano sonata he has to perform in two weeks, he is spending hours making little cavemen out of bent paperclips.

Redkudu said...

It's all well and good for parents to demand teachers stop doing what they are being told is the best way to teach, but the response is too easy: parents are outsiders who do not know anything about teaching diverse groups of students with diverse needs and learning styles. (The ol' "you only know your own kid, and I have to teach everyone else's" response.)

Where this message really needs to be coming from is teachers. Teachers telling other teachers "I find it unacceptable to teach this way. I refuse to waste my students' time with meaningless projects which do not develop nor assess true learning." Teachers need to be questioning more about what they're told is "scientific" methodology. Unfortunately, that's often difficult to do without having to worry that your career in education won't last long.

concernedCTparent said...

What parents can do is seek out those teachers who are willing to challenge this nonsense and support them so that they can speak out without feeling threatened. It can't be easy to be required to teach using certain philosophies, materials, and only after sitting through hours of required indoctrination into a world of useless blather, when reason and science tells us it's all wrong. Either way you end up losing the good teachers because they just won't do it, or they choose to stay because they're trying to mitigate the damage of these educational fads despite the toll it takes on their students and on themselves.

Schools may argue from the premise that parents are outsiders who don't know anything about teaching, but that doesn't mean that parents need to buy into it. Goodness knows the research and data and experts available dispute the very core of so much of what the educational establishment uses to handicap our schools and our best teachers.

As parents, we also have to remind ourselves that we employ school administrators and teachers with our taxes. We can also exercise our voting power with school boards. Parents are not as powerless and schools would have us believe. We just need to believe it ourselves.

SteveH said...

"Parents are not as powerless and schools would have us believe."

It will be interesting to see what happens in Frederick County, MD with their web site and attempt to change the school board. But the question is whether it's possible to get a whole school system to do something other than what they ideologically want to do. When they get a majority on the school board, what next? It won't be a very happy process. You want to take away their control.

Also, many of the issues have to do with competence, not ideology. They justify art work with learning styles, but force everyone to do the art work. They talk about differentiated instruction, but the attemps are feeble at best. They talk about rigor and critical thinking, but many parents disagree strongly with their approach. They want to select the curriculum, but the board will want to make the final decision.

I'm helping my son with his diorama this morning. It's amazing that he has all of these years of art classes and none of them had anything to do with the skills needed to create a diorama. They talk about learning styles but force them all to do art work. They want them to do dioramas, but teach them nothing about graphic design, planning, and construction.

It's astounding.