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Let’s Use Common Sense on Learning Styles

which learning style are you?!?

Professor Willingham’s Learning Styles Don’t Exist video has generated a fair amount of debate. You can check the comments on that link and on these sites:

D-Ed Reckoning: Learning Styles are Bunk

Eduwonkette: Should Teachers Adjust Their Teaching to Individual Learning Styles?

Crucial Thought

Teach Effectively!

Casting Out Nines

Where’s the Sun?

The major gripe is that some students have certain limitations [learning disabilities and other conditions that might lead to an IEP] and are best served with a program tailored to their needs. Willingham responded in the comments of my post:

“There is no doubt in my mind that a student could have a disability that would make processing in one modality difficulty, so clearly that modality should be avoided.”

Common sense stuff.

But Where’s the Sun? isn’t on board:

“Personally I find Mr. Willingham’s final comment at the end of the video both intriguing and almost analogous to yelling fire in a crowded movie theater as he remarks:

“Good teaching is good teaching, and teachers don’t need to adjust their teaching to individual students’ learning styles.”

Hearing that was like hearing nails scraping across a chalkboard. Please make it stop!”

I haven’t a clue how Willingham’s conclusion is anything like yelling fire in a crowded theater, but I digress. WtS continues:

“Taken out of context clearly this comment could be entirely misconstrued to think that you only have to teach one way and that should cover it.”

There’s the rub – no sensible person ignores that context.

The strongest analogy, in my opinion, is with physical activity. If we were to come up with an exercise regimen for children, we’d recognize that it wouldn’t be right for everyone, even if it fit well for most everyone. If we had 100 kids, we’d have a couple with asthma, a couple with diabetes, etc. whose circumstances would dictate either a change in regimen or a series of precautions/follow-ups to that regimen.

No gym teacher would be shocked. But there’s a worry:

“I certainly hope that his statement doesn’t make its way around like the telephone game and wind up being tossed around as, “teachers don’t need to adjust their teaching to individual students’ learning styles.””

It won’t. Yes, we reduce general rules to one-liners, but there are always exceptions, extensions, and contexts. That’s why we have IEPs for some kids.

And a little fun before the wrapup:

“With that said, now that Mr. Willingham has smashed student learning style theory, and probably a million blogs and popular tutoring companies that are devoted to the principles of it…”

Not this blog. And though 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong, a million teachers can be.

“I wonder if he plans on going after the chalk monster next.”

The all-powerful, well-funded SMARTboard lobby is taking care of that.

Mr. Downes charges me [and others] with having closed the case on learning styles [he might want to add "reductio ad absurdum" to the logical fallacies guidebook] – and he also points out that teaching rural Kansas youth in Swahili and/or hieroglyphs will likely hinder achievement. I agree with that.

The main point here – the one that has seemed to escape a few – is that Willingham suggests we start generally and then adapt to demonstrated needs of the group/student, whether culturally, cognitively or based on what works best with the content, rather than reinvent millions of little wheels.

2 Responses to “Let’s Use Common Sense on Learning Styles”

  1. Gee…. and to think I had a small voice in all of this… yea me! :-)

  2. Willingham’s video is titled, “Learning Styles Don’t Exist”. I repeat the phrase in one of my summaries, and a Willingham defender comes back, “he doesn’t deny that there are learning styles.” http://www.downes.ca/post/45687

    Willingham says, “Good teaching is good teaching, and teachers don’t need to adjust their teaching to individual students’ learning styles.” You suggest that listeners are taking this statement out of context. But it’s the last line in the video, summing up, and follows the sentence, “What I’ve said about that theory (visual, auditory and kinesthetic) goes for the others too.”

    You complain, “Mr. Downes charges me [and others] with having closed the case on learning styles.” In your other post, immediately after citing Willingham, “…teachers don’t need to adjust their teaching to individual students’ learning styles,” you conclude, “Sounds good to me.” http://www.matthewktabor.com/2008/08/21/learning-styles-dont-exist/

    It’s very annoying to see people say one thing, and almost in the same breath see it being denied as even having been said. It’s blatant dissemblance, and treats the reader as though he or she is unable to read.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Responding to “Common Sense” « Where’s the Sun? - [...] Responding to “Common Sense” Matthew K. Tabor has a very interesting post titled, “Let’s Use Common Sense ...
  2. Comical Quotes « Where’s the Sun? - [...] I was caught recently by a fellow blogger using some comical quotes in one of my ...
  3. More discussion of Dan’s LS video at Teach Effectively! - [...] to Mr. Tabor’s post for more links. Link to the D-Ed Reckoning post. Link to the old “office” ...
  4. More Learning Style Tommyrot, Poppycock and Moonshine at Education for the Aughts - American School Issues and Analysis - [...] Learning Styles Don’t ExistMy Personal Learning Network [PLN]Let’s Use Common Sense on Learning Styles [...]

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