About those learning styles

So, I just came across this tonight via a facebook friend:

The _________ PTA would like to purchase and permanently install a digital projector in every classroom in the school building. Adding this technology will allow students and teachers to share in unlimited access to materials, activities, and learning experiences via a classroom computer and the internet. These new projectors will enhance and facilitate learning across curriculum areas while addressing varied learning styles and modalities. The ability to project and share digital media at any time will have a positive impact on how students and teachers construct, interact, process, and share knowledge in a 21st century learning environment. Having unlimited access to this basic piece of equipment will allow technology to become a more integral and transformative tool in teaching and learning at ______ Elementary School. By working in a collaborative and innovative classroom, students will develop skills that prepare them to be creative problem solvers and critical thinkers.

Even if I were inclined to be supportive, damn does language like this really just annoy me.  “By working in a collaborative and innovative classroom, students will develop skills that prepare them to be creative problem solvers and critical thinkers.”  Seriously?  We all know that 1 excellent teacher with a piece of chalk is worth a dozen digital projectors.  This is just a tool, like any other.  In the right hands, maybe it will help with critical thinking, but any more than a blackboard?  I’d love to see a study comparing classrooms in equivalent schools with and without this technology.

Of course, I doth protest a bit much, in that my own teaching is hugely reliant upon this technology.  Yet, not for a second do I think this technology plays a role in enhancing my students’ critical thinking or helps with their “varied learning styles and modalities.”  It seems education speak is just as bad as MBA speak.

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A Prophet

Short movie review interlude… Saw “A Prophet” last week.  It was terrific.  It is a French film about a young Arab prisoner who is taken in by the Corsican mob who runs the prison.  He absorbs the harsh lessons of the place and it is a fascinating study in character evolution.  Like all great foreign films, after a while you forget you are reading subtitles.   Give it a try.

Theories of learning and how to study

The Times had a really nice article yesterday on how what many people makes for good studying habits and learning is either a) flat-out wrong; or b) entirely unsupported by data.  The basic summary: mix it up.  Study multiple topics in multiple places.  Definitely do not limit yourself to just one place to study and when you do study, mix it up being subjects, types of problems, etc.  This particular part on learning really struck me, as I’ve always been skeptical of this whole “learning styles” business:

Take the notion that children have specific learning styles, that some are “visual learners” and others are auditory; some are “left-brain” students, others “right-brain.” In a recent review of the relevant research, published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a team of psychologists found almost zero support for such ideas. “The contrast between the enormous popularity of the learning-styles approach within education and the lack of credible evidence for its utility is, in our opinion, striking and disturbing,” the researchers concluded.

I’ve always found this stuff a little silly and way overblown among many teachers I encountered in my day.  Nice to see my instincts were right on this.  I’m also a little skeptical, however of the following research conclusion:

Ditto for teaching styles, researchers say. Some excellent instructors caper in front of the blackboard like summer-theater Falstaffs; others are reserved to the point of shyness. “We have yet to identify the common threads between teachers who create a constructive learning atmosphere,” said Daniel T. Willingham, a psychologist at the University of Virginia and author of the book “Why Don’t Students Like School?”

I have trouble believing that, honestly.  What are the measuring?  I think most anybody reading this would have to agree that a teacher who shares a genuine passion for what they are teaching tends to be an effective teacher.  Likewise, a teacher who has the ability to truly relate to their audience tends to be a more effective teacher.  Surely, there’s plenty of other things, too, but I have trouble believing that they truly could not find common traits of effective teaching.

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