Diversity in learning styles leads to a very rich teaching experience, and requires a very diverse set of teaching styles. I believe the current trend in teaching homogeneity (requiring all teachers of the same grade level to be doing the same things in the same way) is responsible for the gigantic increase in “learning disabled” students in American schools. Learning disabilities typically should encompass 2-3 percent of the population. In many schools today 10-15 percent of the students are now identified as “Learning Disabled.” They aren’t learning disabled, they are institution disabled.
Much of the time, when these children are instructed in a way that supports their primary learning style, they learn just as quickly and effectively as anyone else; but it won’t happen as long as we try to lecture them into new knowledge. About 30 percent of students learn best by hearing information (using their “auditory channels”). These kids are doing relatively well in schools today. Lecturing, read-alouds, and lots of talking feed their learning. About 30 percent of children learn best by seeing stuff (using their “visual channels”). They are typically doing okay, too. Textbooks, with their rich images, feed these children what they need and most teachers use lots of visuals along with talk and technology. So okay, about 60 percent of students routinely get their needs met. But about 15 percent of the population learns best by active manipulation of objects, they need to physically take things apart, put things together, and construct stuff to make the connections that build the concepts that develop vocabulary and understanding. They aren’t doing so hot these days. Neither are the kiddos that need simultaneous input from all channels, need more repetitions than we “have time for”, or simply need more time and/or movement to develop understanding. They make up about 15 percent of students. About 3-5 percent of the population may need special education support to help them learn, but that means that at least 90 percent of the children in general education classes should be able to learn happily, healthily, and effectively. But they aren’t.
What is the answer? Intervention? And how about Response to Intervention?
Come on! Why do healthy learners need intervention?
Reduced class size? I think we tried that and ended up with more “learning disabled” students than ever before! (Please don’t throw those eggs and tomatoes at me–I’m only telling you what I’ve experienced!)
As one famous educator said, “If kids don’t learn the way we teach, maybe we need to teach the way they learn.” The real trouble is, I think, that teachers have lost so much of their autonomy. How can we meet the needs of such a vast array of students when everyone has to be doing the same thing on the same day on the same page?
Originally published on March 19, 2010 on another website.