NPR reports this morning:
Think You’re An Auditory Or Visual Learner? Scientists Say It’s Unlikely
Psychologist Dan Willingham at the University of Virginia, who studies how our brains learn, says teachers should not tailor instruction to different kinds of learners. He says we’re on more equal footing than we may think when it comes to how our brains learn. And it’s a mistake to assume students will respond and remember information better depending on how it’s presented.
I was trained in the early 2000’s in the All Kinds of Minds approach and taught at a school that specialized in mainstreaming students with specifically identified learning differences. The learning center was a focal point in this school, all students identified learning their own strengths and weaknesses, and teachers individualized instruction to cater to the strengths and accommodate the weaknesses.
I am open to new studies that refute old techniques. If it is the case that learning profiles do not much help students learn, then I am happy to no longer individualize instruction for these strengths and weaknesses. We all learn, evolve, and improve our teaching over time.
However, the danger exists that educators will take this study as justification to teach in a traditional format dominated by oral presentation in class and reading and writing for homework. At Gateway High School, we did not just individualize instruction. We also varied instruction for heterogeneous groups. That is, we presented material in different ways in the class, orally, visually, through hands-on exercises, simulations, role plays, student presentations, problem solving, long-term projects, community-based activities, and so on.
In fact, the study cited supports this heterogeneous approach: that studying material in varied ways promotes learning. You will have to listen to the audio version of the NPR story to hear this part, as it did not make the printed synopsis. In a positive way, the study supports the efforts of educators to vary instruction. At Gateway, many students who performed at an average level at previous schools excelled within our multi-modal, heterogeneous model.
Let us use this study to move forward, not back.