Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"Learning Styles" & "Differentiation": Buzzwords Debunked!

I like this video. It confirms a theory I have had for a while. Most of the job interviews in education that I have been a part of, either as an interviewer or interviewee, have involved at least one question about learning styles and differentiated instruction. I have always been a bit critical. In one of my former districts there was relentless training on learning these topics. They paid top dollar for experts and consultants to run workshops. Quite often, I seemed to find that I was already doing some version of the teaching strategies they preached. Sure, I may have added some enhancers from the workshops, but nothing I would really consider ground-breaking. I've taught both heterogeneous and homogeneous classes. I've had classes with special education aids and one-on-ones, while a self-reliant future valedictorian sat two rows over. In the end, isn't it just about delivering a message effectively to all students? Shouldn't teacher find several ways to explain information to her students so that they can understand it from different perspectives anyway?

Daniel Willingham is an expert. He argues that there is no such thing as learning styles.


Willingham does a nice job of debunking these education buzzwords and getting to what should be the meat of educational practice. He is also the author of Why Don't Students Like School?.


Bill Evers, who has an impressive background in education, wrote a great review of the book.

As you read the book (you can get a preview on Amazon.com), you may find yourself nodding your head in agreement. It is as if he is stating the obvious, but it is stuff that we have been misinterpreting because we are so programmed to think that learning styles and differentiation are the key. It isn't about learning styles. Instead, it is about conveying the information in a way that will make our students feel successful. ALL students will have to work hard and think hard in order to improve and develop their minds, but sometimes they need a task that teaches content and is fun enough to keep them motivated along the way. Usually, that means mixing traditional teaching strategies with innovative ones. Like, have students draw symbols of the ideas you discuss, instead of taking notes the traditional way. Or introduce a new topic by showing a series of images and ask the students to make connections between those images, instead of simply standing at the front of the room and telling them about the new topic.

This is why each student doesn't need a differentiated lesson specifically tailored to him. All students need good teaching. Good teaching utilizes several ways to present and explain ideas to all students, rather than finding the one way each student needs the idea explained to him.

Good teaching is good teaching.