Wednesday, July 8, 2009

So I Guess Everything I've Been Doing Was Wrong?

Well, maybe that's overstating things a bit. I've recently finished reading Dr. Daniel Willingham's book, Why Don't Students Like School? He presents some great ideas that are simple and straightforward and I was right with him, until he started talking about learning styles and multiple intelligences are a bunch of "hooey". He's a cognitive scientist, so he didn't actually SAY that. His point was more that while there are differences in preferences and talents (rather than the more loaded word "intelligences"), the way many of are using this research is not the way it was intended. Gardner, himself, agrees that the "different abilities (or intelligences...) are not interchangeable. Mathematical concepts have to be learned mathematically, and a skill in music won't help." (p.125) Willingham concedes that "music and rhythm can help us to memorize things, including mathematical formulae, they won't help us to gain a deep understanding of what the formulae do." (p.128)

Should I feel guilty that I just made my graduate students read a book based on mutiple intelligences theory? Is all that time I spent reading about and trying to implement learning styles into my instruction a complete waste of time? My self-serving bias says "Of course not!" I found hope in that Dr. Willingham tells us to think in terms of content, rather than students in this regard. Different modalities should be match to what you want students to experience and learn from the lesson. A map or diagram should be seen; a song or poetry should be heard; and dribbling a basketball requires students to move in order to best learn the content. Admittedly, I was never one to "force fit" an intelligence into a lesson if I didn't think it was a good match. I like the idea of looking at my lessons and curriculum through the lens of learning styles and multiple intelligences instead of ensuring everyone has their intelligence or style addressed at some point but rather because students need to interact with content in a variety of ways and learn in the modality best suited for the cognitive processes of that content area.

1 comment:

  1. Kim,
    I find this very interesting. As an intervention specialist I have witnessed first hand how using differeny modalities can get children to process information or understand a concept. I had a student with fine motor problems and a written language deficit. When he wrote math problems on paper, he was constantly discouraged. However, when he wrote the exact same math problems in large print on the Smartboard, he would answer every problem. I couldn't help but think the Smartboard met his "kinethetic" need whereas the paper/pencil didn't cut it. Using the Smartboard is another example. The visuals that can be shown to students and then displayed in an interactive way meets visual and tactile needs. Then discuss the visual and that adds auditory. When using more senses, students clearly learn more.

    Just my two cents worth...Andrea