The Myth of Learning Styles Part 2
Today’s thinking about learning styles reverses a logical process and tries to influence change in the student’s learning behaviour from outside the student. But, changes must be from within and that is the major flaw in these new theories. We are trying to give children self-esteem as if it were a piece of curriculum, rather than helping them in the development of the new, and more appropriate reasoning and thinking skills that are necessary if the child is to achieve any sense of real self-esteem.
We feel that by modifying their environment rather than giving them the thinking tools to affect their own changes, that they will mysteriously develop these personal concepts of worthiness and empowerment.
At the First International Conference on Self-Esteem in Oslo, 1990, self-esteem was defined as —
- confidence in our ability to think and to cope with the basic challenges of life as well as confidence in our right to be happy
- the feeling of being worthy, deserving, entitled to assert our needs and wants and to enjoy the fruits of our efforts.
If self-esteem is the experience that we are appropriate to life and to the requirements of life, then the development of self-esteem must invariably come from the “self,” as in the concept’s name. Neither teachers nor parents can develop self-esteem in children — we can only help to foster it.
If we attempt to change the learning environment of students because they appear to be learning via a particular learning style, but we miss the actual reasons why they are presently using this style, we lose an invaluable opportunity.
By accepting that this child has a particular learning style and by adjusting the classroom environment, our teaching methods, and our expectations of the students, we further reinforce this learning style. In fact, we concretize it instead of going to its source — the child’s ability, or inability, to think effectively.
If we identify students and struggle to meet their individual learning style needs, we often create environments in which the student cannot develop new methods of learning. If we are only presenting material in a one dimensional manner (the one appropriate to the learning style of the student as we understand it), this prohibits the student from making the integrations, seeing the similarities and differences, and understanding what we are teaching. In other words, we are creating learning styles with our methods of instruction.
A child’s progress along the continuum of efficient thinking (focus — abstraction — generalization — transfer — integration ), will determine to a large extent the type of learning style the child has. It is important to know that the student’s learning style has the potential for change and growth as long as the child progresses.
Although he didn’t mean it in this way, Carl Jung was partially correct when he said, “… there can never occur a pure (learning style) type in the sense that he is entirely possessed of the one mechanism with a complete atrophy of the other. A typical attitude always signifies the merely relative predominance of one mechanism.”
It is important to understand that, for the most part, we could be travelling through these types of learning styles instead of assuming that we are these types. In order to understand learning styles, we must first understand what the concepts of thinking, learning, generalizing and abstracting are. These concepts may now serve as the new benchmark for a fuller understanding of how the student is learning and why.
By Dr. Nick Whitehead