Sorry, I don’t fit into a box!

Sometimes I like to write these waffles to reflect on a topic or to talk about something which is on my mind. Sometimes, I feel like I want to have a rant. Recently, this is the mathematician in me, I have realised that I am paying one pound extra to have gingerbread syrup in my latte on the morning when, as a gold member, I usually get it free…yes it is a big deal and I have emailed πŸ™‚ .This, however, is not what I want to rant about today – this week is a ranting waffle about boxes!

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Some time ago now I wrote a waffle for the institution’s LGBT blog focusing on why I wore a rainbow lanyard at work, the range of diversity which exists in the world and how we should be accepting of this. As I continue to develop my academic prowess, I have started to think about more basic viewpoints I have and, believe it or not, form opinions about these. I continue to expand and develop my viewpoint on labels and how they promote stereotypes and it was while thinking further about this that I came across an article discussing how, like the returning undead in horror movies, people still return to the now redundant ‘learning styles’. I often listen to practitioners discussing the advantage and disadvantage of an approach and it still makes me blood temperature rise slightly when they state that allowing some children the use of physical resources would support the ‘kinaesthetic learners’ further compounded when this is echoed to me by the child themselves! Trying to allocate learners into specific ‘boxes’ is probably about as inaccurate as the Myers Briggs labelling system. But why do I think this? Well here are some further thoughts to consider in addition to the usually ones found on the internet/journals.

  • We learn differently – Education and learning is a very complex process. I always remember when I was a mentor in school, talking to student teachers and saying that if education was the same as making sausages in a factory, teacher training would be a lot easier! I am very pleased that learning is difficult and varied, this is one of the reasons I enjoy the job so much – every day and topic is a challenge which requires the generation and implementation of a range of strategies. I was asked recently, in an interview, how do I prefer to learn. While thinking about this, I realised that I prefer to learn in a range of different ways but it is when all these come together that I tend to remember things. The important thing with learning that it is not just the way we learn but other factors also contribute majorly to the process, e.g. motivation, available time and even content. I am a solitary learner, only wanting to discuss things when I have gained a complete understanding of the concept. Yes, I like watching video tutorials on topics, but this is only one small fraction of my learning process. What I am trying to say in this section, is that learning is complex and it is fine to accept this. Accepting its complexity reduces the need to allocate learners into boxes of preferred styles. Much better to treat learners as individuals and match learning to the actual learners.

  • Learning or remembering? – I have recently completed a mathematics session on connections. Within this session we talk about how theory suggests that making the connections between different areas of mathematics can actually support and develop learning. One activity we do is to ask the students how were they taught and did it support their learning. Knowing and remembering their multiplication facts is often an area which is discussed and people share their ways of remembering times tables facts – e.g. 7×8=56 since it contains the numbers 5,6,7,8 – always reminds me of the Steps song. How we remember things is important and many learning activities can be designed to promote the memory of the either the activity or the fact/concept. As pointed out by one of my students, this might be considered as rote learning, however how we remember things is as varied as how we learn. I have a very strong visual memory. I tend to remember things as images, remembering content as powerpoint slides and completing calculations via mental images. This does not mean I am a visual learner! I like watching videos of procedures (not medical – things like editing videos etc) but it is only when I actually complete the activity physically that I actually complete my learning and start to both remember the activity and increase my skills – this is probably why I continue to play Black Ops even though I am rubbish at it – there is always hope :).

  • Importance of assessment – If you are wanting a solution to replace the de-funked learning styles then I think the answer lies in assessment. The two most important results from effective assessment is that you know about the child and know how the child learns. With reference to the latter, I mean you know what motivates the child, their interests, their barriers, the topics they like, the topics they hate, the times of day when they are engaged and those times when distraction is at the highest and concentration is low. It is only when we can understand the child that we can facilitate opportunities for the child to learn. This sort of knowledge about the child is not gained through summative assessments whether these be end of term assessments or weekly spelling times. It is gained through discussion and interaction coupled with observation and the engagement with a range of different opportunities. When teaching, I often fall into the trap of creating activities which I would find either motivating or engaging and, while some of this might be appropriate for some learners, it is worth remembering that not all children/learners learn like me and that we ourselves need to venture out of our own comfort zones when planning and teaching. I’m not a great fan or either the outdoors or modelling materials such as clay. To avoid these completely would prove a disservice to my learners and, when I do venture into these areas, I need to be as enthusiastic and motivated as I am when engaging with technology or gamification.

  • I feel that this waffle is actually just that…a waffle. I’m not sure if I have communicated the points effectively throughout but maybe that is just a characteristic of a rant. There is some security in placing learners into boxes and designing activities which address the labels on these boxes. It has the appearance of making teaching and learning manageable. You might be muttering at the moment, thinking that it is all well and good assessing the children and trying to design activities and opportunities for individual children but that actual application of this is almost impossible. Maybe this is the case in every single lesson, but generally variation within teaching strategies will support all learners across the year. Rather than becoming set in a routine and ‘style’ we need to adapt and change every now and again in an attempt to support all learners. Not easy? I agree it is very difficult and a constant challenge – but who ever said that teaching and learning was easy?

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