There is a landfill of studies—more than 3,000 articles and 600 books. If you Google “learning styles” you will get 9.7 million hits in 0.16 seconds. “Learning styles workshops” produces 7.8 million hits and even “critiques of learning styles” garners 460,000 items. By the numbers of instruments, handbooks, and workshops advertised online, learning styles must be a sizable industry. But after diving into the pile, my mind was full of grit and cynicism. A zealous quest has created claims and theories so bad they aren’t even wrong. There had to be something useful in all this effort or despair would settle over me like so much dust.
Teaching and Learning
In the October 3rd issue of Faculty Focus, Maryellen Weimer underscores the idea that faculty need to take care of their instructional health and recognize the importance of emotional rejuvenation. She ends the post by asking readers: What are some things you do when you feel your teaching may be growing “tired?”
I was inspired by Maryellen Weimer’s article on “Teaching Metacognition to Improve Student Learning” and the accompanying article by Kimberly Tanner on “Promoting Student Metacognition.”
Tanner reflected on a comment I have heard many times: “…it’s my job to teach [your discipline or learning outcome goes here], not study strategies.” How often have we heard that our students don’t know how to learn? Regardless of whose fault it is, Weimer’s article shows how relatively easy it is to incorporate practical “meta-learning” strategies into our lesson plans. It’s a no-brainer if a teacher conducts a structured pre-test review class, and a post-test follow-up activity, where many of the issues on clarity, confusion, and preparedness will be brought into the light.
Today’s classrooms require that instructors possess competencies for teaching all students. Robust instructional strategies and culturally sensitive curricula are critical, but more important is an instructor who is sensitive and responsive to the unique differences of each student. Recognizing the need to strengthen specific competencies to reach and teach all students requires an understanding of new ideas and a willingness to view instruction through varied cultural lenses.
Should instructors care whether or not students find their exchanges satisfying? They should, because as this research (and previous studies) document, those levels of satisfaction correlate positively and significantly with something these researchers call “affective learning.” Affective learning involves student feelings and emotions toward the subject matter and the teacher.
Students walk into college classrooms with values and beliefs that are nonnegotiable. They do not see themselves as broken vessels, blank slates, or empty cups ready for filling. Many students whom I have encountered accept that they may not know everything, but they still seek affirmation that their experiences and beliefs are valid. In any course, there is room for students to doubt and dismiss ideas that contradict what they hold most dear. As educators, we must consider their starting points in order for our dialogues with them to be more authentic.
In her 2010 presidential address to the Midwest Sociological Society (a published version of the speech is referenced below), Diane Pike proposed three ideas about teaching that she says are dead. She borrows the concept of “dead ideas” from a book by Matt Miller, The Tyranny of Dead Ideas: Letting Go of the Old Ways of Thinking to Unleash New Prosperity (2009). Pike explains, “Ideas are dead because they are no longer correct, if they ever were. They are tyranny because we cling to them despite the evidence. Thus, we fail to act as we should.” (p. 2) Here are highlights from the three dead ideas Pike discusses in her speech.
The title of Nadine Dolby’s recent piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education makes a great point about teaching that often goes unspoken: “There’s no learning when nobody’s listening.” It seems to me that most of us take this for granted. How many of us take steps to ensure our students are not only hearing the words uttered during our classes, but actually listening to them. Should we? And what might this entail?
As I left my desk to attend the faculty development workshop, I picked up four thank-you cards for the rotations program, a report to read, and a newsletter to edit. I’ve been to dozens of development seminars, and I’ve learned to be prepared with something else to do in case the presenter is mind-numbingly boring. The pleasant surprise of the morning was that the speaker engaged us in learning for more than three hours! How did he do that?
Most professors want students to know how to research and write in their fields. In fact, many degree programs now have introductory courses for majors with content that addresses these research and writing basics. However, the assumption that students learn everything they need in one course is a faulty one. All of us who teach courses for majors need to regularly revisit this content if students are to develop these research and writing abilities. Let me be specific and suggest six things professors can do that help students improve in both areas.