Is the idea of learning styles valid? Are these styles used in kids' classrooms?


Lisa Hiton, Professor of English and Arts, Poet, Filmmaker, Writer

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There are a few ways to think about multiple styles of learning. The origins of this idea and phrasing does, indeed, come from Gardner's work. As an HGSE student, I will tell you, the reception and use of his theory of multiple intelligences has not been so simple.

Although, as Nedda Gilbert mentioned, the ideas are widely accepted, the use of them in classrooms sometimes went astray from the moral ideals at the center (rampant testing in each of these categories inherently defeats the purpose of the various styles). Gardner's current project is "GoodWork". It seeks to bring ideas about excellence, engagement, and ethics together--in journalism, politics, education, etc. It is, in that way, directly responding to some of the misuses of multiple intelligence that began happening during the rise of high-stakes testing.

Another source for multiple learning styles these days is Universal Design for Learning. This relates most directly to Gina Bidalatay's response. UDL is used most commonly for inclusion classrooms. As a member of the teaching team for UDL, I saw students develop apps, curriculum, websites, and more for all kinds of inclusion in classrooms (blindness, autism, bipolar disorder, and more). As many public and private schools have changed what inclusion classrooms can do, more of these small and large scale ideas have been put to the test.

Like many things in life, multiple learning styles demands more time of teachers. It requires inventing and facilitating lessons that make information accessible via multiple learning avenues (music learners, spatial learners, etc.). Some content areas have more flexibility in these constructionist approach to learning while others don't. I've rarely observed a math course that allowed a student to show their work in a means other than the logical, taught version. Whereas, in order to understand a science lesson, students who understand musical patterns may have a different way of figuring out a basic genetics strand and have that be a perfectly acceptable way to show their work. There are more and more case studies of different learners succeeding because of excellent lesson plans or workshop facilitations; hopefully the more we can model the equality of learning styles (which inherently cannot happen on a high stakes test), the more common it will be to have students learn through their own habits of mind.

Nedda Gilbert, MSW, Educational Consultant, Writer and Parent

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Yes, Dr. Howard Gardner out of Harvard has identified and innovated the idea of multiple intelligences - from spatial and artistic to emotional "EQ". His work is pretty genius and has now become widely accepted in both private and public education. We owe him a huge debt for re- inventing and reclassifying what we know to be true, that human begins possess a range of diverse intelligences. Who doesn't now recognize the impact and power of emotional intelligence, (EQ)? Corporate America considers it in managerial hiring. The esteemed Columbia School Business School considers it an important criteria, now citing it's importance in applying to the school and navigating complex business issues. But along with anointing new, less traditional intelligence like EQ, Gardner has also focused on the importance of understanding the different learning styles of each intelligence.

Although Gardner's work is widely accepted and admired, implementing his insights in everyday classrooms is probably a tall order. As Mr.Clemens noted, it may be the goal to be responsive to different types of intelligence - hence learners - in the classroom, but it's typically not possible. A more practical application is for learners, particularly those in high school and college (and even beyond) to identify their unique intelligence's, recognize how and under what circumstances they best learn, and then try to seek that out or create an experience, (for example in study habits/tools, choice of college major, size of class, etc). Knowing how your mind works, and what helps it get fired up is invaluable.

Matthew Clemens, Physics and Math Teacher, Parent, and Tutor

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I have taught for 20 years, and I definitely see that learning styles are different for each child. Differentiating instruction in a class of 30 students is a great challenge, so parents can also help kids at home develop their learning styles. Even at home, I see learning styles at play. I am a spatial learner, while my wife relies more heavily on language. Our child seems to be more kinesthetic. Trying to speak to different types of learners is important--but with large class sizes, it is almost impossible to accommodate all of the learning styles.

Dr. Aaron Smith, Ph.D. in Educational Leadership, Currently Program Director at Aviation Academy, Co-Author of Awakening Your STEM School

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I think so. Having been a former math teacher and administrator for twenty years, I've noticed that when students use their talents, that they have a better chance of understanding the material and more importantly retaining the material for a long period of time. (If you want more information on learning styles, I highly recommend that you look up Howard Gardner and Multiple Intelligences).

However, I think that the teacher needs to add more than just learning styles into a lesson plan. He/she should use student-centered lesson plans that shift the learning to the class where they can take ownership in their learning. James Hattie's research shows a significant result when this happens.

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