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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Learning Styles

I've been thinking some more about one of the morals in the book My Name is Brain Brian that I read last weekend. In the 6th grade classroom, dyslexic and functionally illiterate, Brian, gets randomly paired up with bookworm, straight A, Isabel to complete an extended project about Canadian Geese. Isabel, a classmate, who always thought Brian was retarded, learns a big lesson from Brian-- going out in the field and observing nature is an important way to learn. Because they have have completely opposite learning styles and a very intuitive teacher sensitive to both their needs, they do a terrific job on their project and presenting it to the class. Both students learn a lot from each other's style. The book shows how important team work is and how different learning styles blend.

Roll back the clock a bit. I take my boys on an educational outing with a group. We've been to this park many times by ourselves. I like to look for turtles, fish, and birds. So do my boys. When we go to the park they automatically peak over the pier and observe wildlife. We are on the pier with the group now. My boys are doing what comes natural. They are looking out for fish. They are totally engaged and into what they are doing, behaved and happy. But the program director has "rules." Everyone get away from the edge. We don't want anyone falling in now, do we. He passes out papers with the lesson and expects everyone to follow along. It's windy and I couldn't hear the reader. Mine don't really listen and care anymore. Sigh. This was two years ago. I wondered why mine could never behave in structured learning activities. Well, my oldest was old enough to go with the flow. That wasn't the problem. My youngest was only three. He'd rather look at fish. We'll talk about Scott in a minute.

As a parent, you get frustrated wondering why your kids can't be quiet and well-behaved. I rationalized it at the time knowing that this educator is overall inflexible to modify the agenda. I know that my kids could swim. My kids know my rules which allow them to peep over the pier. At the time I wished I would've anticipated and been able to warn my kids there may be rules that are different from our rules and we might have to do things a different way. Anticipation and gentle warning, I thought, may have helped.

The book I read, made me think about Brian and his intelligent curiosity for observing the birds out in nature. It made me realize that my curious son Scott was totally into what he was learning was "cut-off" from learning. If we look at it from Scott's perspective, he was told by a teacher not to make any observations. He was told to back off. He was given a piece of paper which meant totally nothing to him and told to follow along. Who knew at the time that "observation" was his learning style, his only learning style at the time. He wasn't misbehaving on purpose. He wasn't misbehaving because he's bad. He only wanted to learn and was learning the only way he knew how to learn. An educator told him STOP. He was frustrated, confused, and discouraged.

At the time I realized that all my kids, not just Scott, liked to observe animals. I had no idea how important and interesting and critical the observation was to Scott. I had no idea how much his mind was thinking and taking in. I had no idea his NEED to satisfy his curiosity (or else). I always suspected he wouldn't do well in a classically structured environment. But I wasn't totally sure why. When we are out alone, I can follow his interest, but with a group, there were different expectations including the one that I could keep my kids controlled. I've always been the one different. I walked away from that event frustrated wishing all my boys could follow the rules and make me feel proud, not defensive and protective.

Some people consider these group activities important to a child's socialization skills. But is it really good for their self-esteem when an educator lacks insight and can't adapt to different learning styles and skill levels of children in the group. Looking back I am so glad incidents to this extreme have been few and far between. Fortunately I usually don't feel pressured to follow the group. I usually can choose not to participate in outings and schooling that expects me and my boys to conform. I feel good being independent when its in my best interest and my boys.

An opportunity has presented itself to me. I am on the verge of making an important decision weighing the pros of staying or dropping from a group activity "that's suppose to be good for them" versus independence and totally non-traditional but will offer student directed learning. I am trying to sort through and understand some things first and make sure I am not flying off on a whim. This was one of the incidences that left me with a little scar.

PS-Even though this educator didn't last long with the group, the overall non-flexible philosophy of the groups still keeps me a bit defensive.


ScienceGeek said...

Awesome observations! You are so right that the majority of educators (especially in the school sytem, but also in the homeschooling community) teach to the left brained children at the exclusion of others in the class. There is little hands-on exploration or movement allowed. Our kids are seen as disruptive, undisciplined or not paying attention. (I think this is especially true of boys). A GOOD teacher would realize that there is more than one learning style and would try to play to all of the strengths in the class.

There is a book I'd like to read (I read an excerpt in a magazine) that addresses these issues. It's called: Boys Adrift, The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men by Leonard Sax, M.D., PhD. The author also has a website at
It talks about better ways to engage boys in learning.

Becky R said...

I have that book and it is on my reading list.

My son is a very hands on learner and at school it was like it took all he had to not try and touch, so he was not learning at all. That is why I like homeschooling.
Now what to do about one kid who needs complete quiet and one who needs lots of noise (in our 600 square foot house.) Thank God spring is here. Back to being outside most of the day.

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