Now I know that it was not I who was the problem. A University of Virginia Teaching Resource Center workshop taught me that the problem was the presumptive, conventional teaching and testing method. Dr. Linda Grynkewich's workshop (March 1999) described how each of us has a personal "learning style." These learning styles characterize the ways people collect information and make decisions about the significance of the information. Research shows that we collect information by either "sensing" or "intuiting." And we judge information by "thinking" or "feeling." As a result, four distinct combinations occur: Sensing-Thinking (ST); Intuitive-Thinking (NT); Sensing-Feeling (SF); and Intuitive-Feeling (NF). For example, SF students need the opportunity to explore, change, and develop attitudes and values in reference to others. ST learners prefer step-by-step directions when assigned a task and become impatient if instructions become long and involved. NT students approach learning in a logical and analytical way. And NF learners balk at step-by-step instructions and will stress tasks important to them and comfortably complete other tasks poorly.
As a landscape architect, I am not surprisingly an intuitive thinker who loves to explore ideas, who is interested in theoretical models and constructs, and who is able to take intuitive leaps. Sitting squarely on the boundary between NT and NF, I judge information (almost equally) through thinking and feeling. Learning style theory could have predicted that I would have trouble with the kindergarten test, and it would have suggested to my teacher that the conventional method of one kind of question with one possible answer would have denied the validity of my ideas and approach to learning. I do not learn like her or, for that matter, half of the population. Consequently, half of the story's delivery and half of the testing questions might be reconfigured to be more effective and embracing of those of us who do not think in a way that conventional teaching and testing theory supports.
This is not to suggest that we should categorize our teaching or develop some strict methodology that in effect intensifies learning style behaviors. Rather, learning style theory stresses how individuals' preferences are dynamic, responding to particular content or environments and adopting different learning styles when necessary. What is important is that each learning style can be characterized by needs, values, intellectual habits, and learning behaviors. As educators we can use an understanding of these characteristics to more effectively help our students learn-in whatever ways that they possess naturally. Therefore, for me the assimilation of learning style theory has some clear and persuasive payoffs, three of which are particularly compelling. Each of these benefits reinforces well-known effective teaching concepts and gives them new dimension:
1. The more dimensions in which students understand a subject, the more complex and robust their understandings are likely to be. By presenting information in ways that satisfy all learning styles, instructors are more likely to develop better rounded and multi-dimensional class experiences.
2. Bolstering the value of diversity within the classroom tends to create a more embracing atmosphere and reduces barriers to learning. By embracing various ways of learning and knowing, we reinforce the value of every student's experience and contribution. Hopefully this also encourages trust and risk-taking.Incorporating what I learned in the learning styles workshop into my lecture class was easy and seamless. I merely retooled my delivery of course material to reach each type of learner: concise and discrete facts (ST); opportunities to explore and develop ideas (SF); theoretical contexts (NT); and opportunities for creative potential (NF). The lecture portions were clearer and richer. I discovered new opportunities for change-ups and active learning exchanges. And I received clear and positive reports of effectiveness in my students' faces and body language. The information has particularly intriguing possibilities for the increasing number of multidisciplinary courses (like my own) where we necessarily have students who have already selected disciplines in part because of learning styles.
Grynkewich and other professors profile each of their classes to quantify
the distribution of their students' learning styles, for me this is
irrelevant. Simply being able to characterize the range of learning
styles will help me ensure that all of my students are equally successful-whether
they think like me or my kindergarten teacher.