Sunday, November 21, 2010

learning styles, et al, Education myths no one bothers to tell us about

Someone commented yesterday wanting to know about learning styles as a myth.
And, yep, at this point they are considered to be a myth, or if not a myth, at least ineffective. I believe the study published in 2010 by Pashler is a metanalysis (statistically looking at all the studies examining learning styles) and they found that matching teaching styles and learning styles had absolutely no effect on learning. We use our whole brain when we learn, and many times children have to use their entire brain in order to effienciently take in the information- when we learn to read we are connecting sounds in our environment and words on a page- we can't just teach kids to read through a visual method.
I'm not explaining the research behind it well, and to be honest, I haven't personally read any of the research studies on this. But I've heard it presented a lot, both here, and in almost everyone of my master's classes. Of course, in the school system itself we rarely hear anything about research saying something doesn't work, especially if it is something the school system spent a lot of money to teach us about ten years ago. So I don't think many teachers are actually aware of the new research.

Personally, I don't believe the learning style method put us backward in education. I think it actally moved us forward. It gave (what we thought was scientific evidence) behind why we should spend more time looking at our student's needs as teachers than simply delivering the information. It allowed us to move from being teacher-led classrooms to student-driven classrooms, and when we teach to the kids in front of us and not to a text book we tend to get better results. Plus, it encourages teachers to repeat their information over and over again in each different way, and repetition helps children learn. As does presenting the same information in new ways because you can make connections to the world around you. So I personally think there is a lot of good that came out of this movement, but the reality shows that teaching to learning styles doesn't actually improve learning. We don't need to label our kids as auditory, visual, or kinesthetic learners. In fact, we probably shouldn't do that anymore.

However, including kinesthetic activities in the classroom isn't a bad thing either. While the research shows that Brain Gym is a complete myth (yes, another method that's been totally disproved but no one tells us about in the school system itself) but actually getting kids up and moving is good for them. Paul Howard-Jones, one of the speakers yesterday, and an author of one of my neuroscience education textbooks, talked about studies that show simply having children run short sprints improved their attention and learning in the classroom.  Which makes me frustrated that my kiddos have recess at the end of the day, but what can you do. We'll just sing a lot to get them up and moving.

Omega-3s are also a myth- what really improves children's learning?  Eating breakfast. That's where the omega-3 myth developed (according to Howard-Jones, the speaker yesterday).  

And now I actually need to get ready for the last day of the conference.  Yesterday afternoon I took away so much great information on early childhood and home-school connection research- so much more to say about all of this!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for answering my question! The learning style myth is something I had suspected all along, but I think you hit the nail right on the head by suggesting that repetition in different modalitities and kinesthetic learning are both good things that came out of this push. Lots of good food for thought here.

Jason Buell said...

I've read the study...I think. What I got from it was the problem comes by saying, "This kid's an auditory learner, thus all learning will best be done through listening." That's the mythbusted part. On the other hand, it was fairly clear that certain things were best learned through certain modalities. I think Geometry was used as an example. There's no question that you've got to see geometry. And clearly, you've got to act out physical education. So while matching kids by learning styles was pretty bunk (and kinda ridiculous if you thought about it for a little) it's worth investing some thought into how a specific topic/discipline is learned best.

As an aside, Hal Pashler was one of my professors in college and I don't really remember anything from his class. So whatever style he used was probably ineffective. :)

magpie said...

..having children run short sprints improved their attention and learning in the classroom

We have a teacher at our local school that does this with her classes.
It's a bit confounding at first when you see children doing a grammar exercise (45minutes into the start of the day) and suddenly the teacher says " OK, everyone outside with your hats on!"

Hoo Roo ☺☺☺

Anonymous said...

Omega-3s are involved in preventing depression. That's been proven in studies on prisoners and on diagnosed depression patients. That might be enough to make a difference in the classroom, especially in high-needs/high-stress classrooms.

Mary said...

Just a parent (and former student here) but I have to agree that it was worth it for all of the manners of teaching to enter the classroom. My second grader is not a kinesthetic learner ONLY but some types of material stays with him longer if he can move at some point during the day. For me, hearing information isn't always enough. I also need to see the concepts or write them down. In college and law school I ALWAYS took notes. At the law firm I wrote things I wanted to remember down, and even if I never looked at the notes, I remembered better. Maybe its the repetition as you said, or that some folks need to use their whole brains to get the information in (or for me, some types of information needed multiple entry points to stick). Whatever it is, I think the movement brought a lot of good to the classroom.

organized chaos said...

Mary- I am exactly like you- I take notes all the time just because the act of writing it down helps me remember. It drives me crazy when professors say "Oh, you don't need to write this down, it's in the slides" because once I'm not writing it goes in one ear and out the other.
I think Jason summarized the study best by isolating the problem in identifying students with one modality.
As far as Omega-3s go the current research shows no effect on classroom performance, however the research does has been limited. The field is still open, and my guess is that studies on Omega-3s with depression only look at the depression and not at students in a classroom, which is why "there is no research". but who knows. It will be interesting to see what research comes in the future!