When I was a sophomore in college, one of the most talked-about psychology books since the days of William James and Sigmund Freud was published: John Gray’s Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus: A Practical Guide for Improving Communication and Getting What You Want in Your Relationships. The book was an immediate and lasting sensation; it ended selling over 15 million copies and was the best-selling nonfiction book of the 1990s. Gray’s argument was simple: men and women (“the sexes,” to Gray, as opposed to “the genders”) inhabited “different planets,” were accustomed to the environment of their own planet, and thus not familiar with those of the other. It was a seductive argument: all those relationship problems you were having could be blamed on poor communication, which was now, it turns out, was just because we were from different planets. What are you going to do? I’m from Mars, after all; HELP ME UNDERSTAND YOUR STRANGE VENUTIAN WAYS.
One of the most confusing and frustrating episodes in my entire teaching career came with an attempt to do what I thought was a “best practice” for enhancing my students’ learning. I was teaching Strategies for Academic Success, a course designed to help at-risk first-year students develop a strong foundation for their college careers. The textbook I adopted for the course had an entire unit on “learning styles,” and it asked students to complete something which was new to me at the time–the “VARK Inventory.” From this assessment, students would be able to find out what their “learning style” was: Visual, Aural, Reading/Writing, or Kinesthetic. Some students, the instructor’s guide told me, would be “multimodal”; that is, share two or (rarely) three styles. But, it said, a student’s strongest learning style should dictate the way they went about their academic business–what study strategies to adopt, what in-class methods they should use to retain material, on and on. I assumed this would be an excellent tool to get my students thinking about themselves as learners, that they would see that learning is multifaceted, and that they could take ownership of discerning what was most effective for them. Continue reading “Learning Strategies, Not Styles”
For several years, I had the privilege of teaching LIBA 103, Strategies for Academic Success, as part of Grand View’s Freshman Academy program. The class was designed to introduce academically “at-risk” students to the demands–intellectual and otherwise–of collegiate education, and build a foundation for future academic success. I designed my sections with an emphasis on consistent writing, reflection, and metacognitive learning for my students. My guiding assumption, informed by some of the best teaching and learning research, was that the more metacognition–learning how to learn–I could get my students engaging in, the better. Continue reading “The Learning Styles Neuromyth”