One such guilt-trip is that teachers do not cater for individual differences, that they are ignorant of the fact that students have contrasting learning styles and are short-changing their students by not assessing their students’ learning styles and adapting their teaching to accommodate these styles.
There is no consensus as to the types of learning styles, but most focus on visual, auditory and kinesthetic modalities.
Visual learners prefer to see visual aids, other than words, to help them understand, unlike auditory learners who prefer to learn by listening.
Kinesthetic learners prefer to learn by experience: touching, moving and doing.
The argument is that students will learn more effectively if they appreciate and use their preferred learning style.
To the conscientious teacher, this poses a challenge. How do I structure my classes to accommodate these different learning styles?
Teachers can easily begin to feel either inadequate or cynical when their praxis is once again critiqued by the latest orthodoxy.
Superficially it made sense. Every teacher is aware that each student is, in their own way, unique.
Even before I had heard of learning styles I knew that a student’s family background, socio-economic status, genetic disposition and personal experiences would affect the way they presented in class and how effective they were as learners.
The challenge was to remember that students came from so many different places and that there was no such thing as a homogeneous class.
If this wasn’t enough, I was told I then had to recognise and adapt to my students’ different learning styles.
My immediate reaction was that not being able to afford breakfast would have a greater impact on their learning potential than their learning modality.
However, I added this challenge to my to-do list as a conscientious teacher and attended any relevant PD opportunities to help me ‘upskill’.
The catch, of course, was discovering later that there was certainly no consensus in the academic community that learning styles theory had any validity whatsoever.
Education professor, Steven Sahl for example, concluded that “there has been an utter failure to find that assessing children’s learning styles and matching to instructional methods has any effect on their learning”.
Psychologists Lilienfield and Beyerestein, listed one of the 50 great myths of popular psychology as the idea that students learn best when teaching styles are matched to their learning styles.
One would hope that all educational innovations have been tried and tested before being foisted on unsuspecting and over-taxed teachers.
That is not to say that teachers should not strive to accommodate individual differences in their classrooms.
That will always be the ultimate challenge. What they don’t need is to be confused and shamed by unproven new orthodoxies.
Like their students, teachers will also manifest different teaching styles.
Students respond to their teachers in unpredictable ways. To strive to produce teacher clones and standard lesson plans and delivery is a doomed enterprise.