Devil’s Advocate vs Marjorie Rosenberg on Learning Styles

This series is inspired by a conversation between Mike Hogan and myself about examining the controversies in ELT. We wanted to consider the different positions taken by different members of the industry. However, to do so, we’d need a debate, a disagreement of sorts. And it became apparent that we either tend to agree with members of our PLN (flying creatures of the same feathers and all that), or would keep an open mind and be fairly polite and supportive of one another (that is why we tweet and blog). Seeing that, the only way to get a real debate going was to actively play Devil’s Advocate (DA).

The following debate took place as an Instant-Messaging Chat on Skype. The statements of here are of the DA and in no way represent my beliefs about teaching. This is merely a tool to spark a dialogue between you, the reader, and all those involved in this project. You can find previous instalments of DA here.

So the seventh victim on the hot seat is Marjorie Rosenberg.

Marjorie Rosenberg has been teaching English in Austria since 1981. She has worked in a variety of settings in adult education and currently teaches at the University of Graz as well as working with corporate clients and doing teacher training.

Her interest in making business English fun and accessible to a large group of learners prompted her to write the photocopiable business English activity book Communicative Business Activities which is now available on English 360 http://learn.english360.com. She has also written In Business, two Business Advantage Personal Study Books and is a regular contributor to Professional English Online, Cambridge University Press.

Marjorie’s work with NLP brought her into contact with different models of learning styles and she is currently working on Spotlight on Styles, Delta, which is due out some time in Autumn this year.

Marjorie is the coordinator of the IATEFL Business English Special Interest Group.

 

Chia:  Hi Marjorie, it is such an honour to have you on the DA hotseat today!

Marjorie:  Good to be here.

Chia:  I hear that you are quite the NLP expert and that you have a book coming out soon about learning styles?

Marjorie:  Right. I did my Master Practitioner and Trainer’s Training in NLP with Robert Dilts in Santa Cruz, California where it all started.

Chia:  Wow…that’s impressive! I know we talk a lot about learning styles in our teaching and even in teacher training, but could you give us an overview as to what we are talking about here?

Marjorie:  Sure, NLP and learning styles are actually two separate things. In NLP we look at what has been called ‘representational styles’ meaning how we ‘re-present’ the world to ourselves. These are basically the visual, auditory and kinesthetic modes. …

They also include gustatory and olfactory which are more important in some cultures than in others. That’s why it is sometimes called the VAKgo model. …

These representational systems are used in NLP to help us establish rapport and have some idea of ‘how’ another person perceives the world but certainly NOT what they are thinking.

Does the use of colours indicate a visual learning style?
ELTpics: Picture by @acliltoclimb

Chia:  But learning styles are often considered part of NLP, aren’t they? Could you perhaps give a quick definition of NLP just so our readers could understand the subject at hand and see the difference between the two?

Marjorie:  Learning styles are a much broader field as they include the sensory modalities of the VAK model but they also go on to include cognitive processing which deals with how we think and process information – either globally or analytically) as well as the models which deal with our behavior.

These models include our preferred style of learning something new for example. One way to look at this is a model I use, which is divided into four parts depending on how we perceive and then organise the information we have received. This is based on research done by David Kolb and Anton Gregorc but reworked by April Bowie in the US.

To explain the four types in Bowie’s model, I usually give an example of instruction manuals: some people write them, some use them constantly, some have no idea where they have put them as they just push the buttons till something works and others just need to know someone who has read the manual and can explain it to them. These are four distinct styles.

Chia: That, I am assuming is the general definition of learning styles. What about NLP?

Marjorie:  I realised I didn’t answer your question. NLP began as a short-term therapy and then quickly moved into the business world as a communication model and eventually into the classroom. …

NLP makes use of the representational systems as I mentioned, but in order to improve communication, not necessarily to teach someone something new.

Chia:  Okay, for the purpose of today’s DA debate, let us focus on learning styles then, shall we?

Marjorie:  No problem.

Learning styles were around before NLP but I actually learned about them in an NLP for teachers’ course.

Michael Grinder, whose brother John was one of the founders of NLP, runs classes for teachers where his aim is to help educators find out how their students perceive, store and recall the information they receive. Michael says that school success is actually based more on where we have information stored, rather than what specifically we have learned.

What he means with this is that once we have received information, we need to have access to it and if we are auditory for example, we remember best what we hear or say but if we got the information in visual form we may not be able to access it easily.  This is a bit like a computer, data is useless unless we know where we have saved it.

Is the cat an audio learner? Or is the seat in front of Underhill’s IPA chart simply warm and comfy? Is it even a real cat?
ELTPics: Picture by @Senicko

Chia:  Surely that must depend on the type and nature of the information at hand? If we are trying to learn about the geographical location of Sao Paulo, it clearly would be easier to use a visual way of teaching than an auditory way?

Conversely, if one is trying to get their learners to produce the phonological chunking of a text and the correct placement of the tonic nucleus, it would be easier to drill and do it the auditory way?

Marjorie:  That depends on your style and how well you have learned to adapt. Michael also talks about teaching – which is teaching to all styles in the VAK model – and ‘re-teaching’ which means breaking down a lesson into one of the three (VAK) modes in order to make it accessible to someone whose primary system is not the one which was addressed in the original presentation.

An auditory learner may still need to say the places on the map aloud whereas the visual learner probably just needs to look at the map. And the kinesthetic learner may actually need to draw a map or move bits around to really understand it.

Chia:  But saying the places on the map out loud isn’t exactly going to help the learner know its geographical position though…and draw a map and moving bits around just to figure out that Sao Paulo is in Brazil seems like an awful waste of time…

Is there a non-visual way of learning this?
ELTpics: Picture by @SandyMillin

Marjorie:  It may seem like a waste of time to someone who understood it right away but for someone who didn’t, this may be the only way to really learn the material.

A few years ago we helped out the son of friends of ours who couldn’t learn English vocabulary. He did the usual, writing a list and trying to remember the words but as a kinesthetic learner it didn’t help him. I suggested he write the words on flashcards and move them around. He immediately started tearing up pieces of paper, played with the words, his English grades improved and in the end, he went on to study English.  His parents were also surprised at this fairly simple solution.  Another young person recently told me that she doesn’t like having to learn everything from books and would really prefer it if someone would just read everything to her. I have known her since she was four, she’s now 22 and has always been auditory.

Chia:  But are we really either visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learners? Aren’t most of us just a mix of all of the above?

Marjorie:  To some extent, we are a mix.  But the latest brain research is actually showing that we are born with one stronger tendency. We learn to adapt but tend to go back to our strong channel in stress situations. It could be that ‘stress’ is the important word here, when we are relaxed we have access to all our channels but when faced with an exam or answering a question, it is exactly then that we need to tend to rely on our strongest channel.

However, learning styles are NOT an excuse. We still have to put up with whatever is done in the classroom, we just have to find the best way for ourselves to deal with it.

A classroom that is always ready to deal with different learning styles
ELTpics: Picture by @mrsdkreb

Chia:  You use the phrase ‘put up with whatever is done in the classroom’, which seems to suggest that most teachers are not very attentive to their students’ learning styles. Do you think most teachers do not take this into consideration?

Marjorie:  I think a lot of teachers don’t have the time to try and accommodate all the students they have. When a teacher has a group of 20 – 30 students, it just isn’t possible to do activities in three different ways. And most of us tend to teach in the way we learn.

I co-train with a friend who is auditory – kinesthetic (motoric) and I am visual and kinesthetic but emotional. We once started a training session and there was no flip chart, which didn’t bother her at all, but I insisted we find one. She goes running at lunch and I find someone who I can talk to who I like.

Chia:  I can see the benefit applying our knowledge of different learning styles and varying our lessons so that most of the students feel motivated and catered for. But don’t you think it is a bit essentialist and categorical to say ‘You are visual’ and ‘You are kinaesthetic of the emotional sort’? Surely, everyone reacts and learns well when what they are presented information they can connect emotionally too and can discuss that with a partner?

Marjorie:  Not everyone connects emotionally to material, this is also dependent on type. This is one of the reasons I wanted to do a book on learning styles. The idea is to give teachers more insight as to the different styles in their classroom and expand their repertoire to try out activities aimed at specific styles. As a non-auditory type, I don’t do a lot with listening comprehensions I have to admit, even though I used my guitar for years in class. But CDs were not at the top of my list of teaching tools.  Pictures and photos were, however!

Chia:  I don’t think I’m a visual learner at all, considering the fact that I tend to think in words rather than pictures, I can never remember faces and I always dream in black and white or sepia tone. But I see the words, rather than hear them. And although mindmaps don’t work for me, I often have a photographic memory of lists and paragraphs with words. So I’m visual only when it comes to words. Does that make me a visual learner or not? It’s all so ambiguous!

Could memorising all this be a turn-on for some? Am I just weird? Or plain nerdy?
ELTpics: Picture by @acliltoclimb

Marjorie:  This still sounds visual to me.  However, you may be an analytic learner as well rather than a global one, which would mean that the individual words are more memorable than a picture. VAK is only part of the mix – we have to look at the whole picture. …

Having said that, however, I never analyse my students unless they are having problems learning something and ask for advice. Then it may help them to suggest that they approach a task in a different way and that just may do the trick.  However, using a variety of tasks taking these different styles into account or allowing groups to organise themselves when it comes to completing a task gives them the chance to make us of their individual strengths.

Chia:  That’s interesting that you say that because on the CELTA course, one of the criteria states that trainees have to show an awareness of different learning styles in their assignment ‘Focus on the Learner’. This means that most CELTA tutors deliver an obligatory input session on learning styles, coupled with multiple intelligences and the different kinds of motivation, just to fulfil the criteria. But CELTA trainees never seem to know what to do with this information, and neither do the tutors, to be honest. The end message, of course, is always ‘VARY YOUR LESSON AND METHODS’ but that message can be delivered without mentioning learning styles at all. Do you agree?

Are cuisenaire rods for the visual or the kinaesthetic learner? How can we better connect emotionally with the rods?
ELTpics: picture by Scott Thornbury

Marjorie:  Yes, I do agree. It would be good to actually teach the background of VAK which means that teachers can determine the input and output of the information but not the storage.  That is up to the individual.

Then if someone is more global and needs the big picture or more analytic and prefers details, that also makes a difference in how they learn/remember information, for example.

Then we can look at David Kolb’s model of those who perceive concretely but reflect on the information or need to actively experiment with it and those who prefer abstract concepts and then reflect on it or experiment with it – these are the four styles April Bowie worked with which I mentioned earlier.

Chia:  …or we can also talk about learners with more organic learning styles and those who prefer systematic approaches, couldn’t we? There are just so many…

What then should we teach on CELTA training courses, if any of these models…?

Marjorie:  Good question. I am concentrating in the book on the VAK, global-analytic and the model of the four styles April researched. In my opinion, these are the models which come up most often and include academic research. I haven’t touched multiple intelligences as they are more talents for me although some of the categories overlap with the other models. …

Visual-spatial, for example, is similar to visual but the standard visual model does not include the spatial aspect. This means that although I recognise a house on a street I still get lost because my spatial orientation is not very acute.

Chia:  My spatial orientation is terrible! Ask anyone who knows me! I could walk into a shop on the high street and by the time I walk out of it, I would have no clue which side I came from!

My teachers should have done more spatial orienteering with me when I was at school. I blame them!
ELTpics: Picture by @Raquel_EFL

Marjorie:  I understand as I have the same problem. However, to sum up some of this discussion, I would say that what is important for me in the whole learning style debate is that it is important for teachers to recognise their own preferred modes and to be able to stretch out of them from time to time in order to reach more of their learners. We also need to be tolerant of someone who does something in a different way. We criticise students who mouth words while reading, for example, but auditory learners may actually need to do this.

Since I began working with styles I find my students to be fascinating as I observe the way they do things when left to their own devices. There is a jigsaw puzzle game with phrases on it in one of the photocopiable books. I gave out the game to two groups – one read the phrases aloud and put the puzzle together based on the phrases which matched and the other group simply looked for the pieces which went together and looked at the phrases at the end. That was really interesting to watch!

Chia:  I love doing tests that help me know my learning styles, etc. But a lot of the time, these tests are so obvious to the people answering them that I wonder if they are really testing my learning style, or what I THINK my learning style is and reaffirming my assumptions about myself…in a placebo effect sort of way? Also, doesn’t categorising people and letting them think they are a visual or auditory learner close them off to other ways of learning? I know people who would say stubbornly, ‘That just won’t work for me because I’m not auditory!’ before even trying things out.

I love doing personality tests from these magazines…! Oh, have I let on that I am a bit of a bimbo…?
Photo from http://meggiecat.blogspot.co.uk/2004_08_01_archive.html

Marjorie:  I was just thinking about that. One possibility is to have students or learners observe themselves in relation to any learning style survey before actually ticking the answers. And, as I mentioned earlier, it is really important to remember that this info is most important in a stressful situation. I can listen to the radio in the car when I am not stressed but the minute I have to park, it goes off.  My partner, however, is auditory and the radio is on non-stop as it relaxes him. I collect photos – he collects CDs. But again, styles ARE NOT an excuse.  In order to be successful we all have to learn to accommodate to the world around us.

I would say that the goal of the teacher is to help a student (who is having problems) to learn how to stretch out of one mode if that is what is holding him / her back and learn to work in other ways which are necessary for the task at hand (looking at a map for example or learning chunks of language).

Chia:  And will your soon-to-be-published book be showing us teachers how to do that?

Marjorie:  That’s the plan.  The first section deals with the general information about styles, then there is a transition part with surveys, learning characteristics and learning tips and the middle part is full of activities for the different styles including ideas on adapting the activities to suit more than one style …

Chia:  That sounds brilliant! What’s it called and when can we expect it on the shelves?

Marjorie:  It is called Spotlight on Styles, being published by Delta and is about 3/4 done. Hopefully out in the late fall this year.

Chia:  I’ll definitely be looking forward to getting a copy!

Thanks so much for taking time to be subjected to the DA grilling today.

Will you still sign my copy despite me playing DA with you today? : )

Marjorie:  Thanks for asking me.  I hope that some of the ideas I presented will help teachers to work with types who are different than they are. It takes patience and tolerance but the end result is worth it. And yes, I will sign your copy, no problem.

Chia: Fantastic!

Hmmm…does my obsession with this picture make me a gustatory learner? Feed me and I will learn!
Photo by Chia Suan Chong. Food courtesy of http://www.highlife.ie

Epilogue: Marjorie’s views are her own and do not represent any organization she is associated with. Chia was mainly playing DA but did have some genuine doubts and queries about the topic in question. Marjorie hasn’t kicked Chia out of IATEFL BESIG yet, so that must mean that they are still due to have those few drinks together at the BESIG Summer Symposium in Paris in June.

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Author: Chia Suan Chong

I am a writer, communication skills trainer and a teacher trainer based in York, UK. I have been English Teaching Professional's resident blogger since 2012 and have a regular feature in their bimonthly magazine. My book Successful International Communication was published in Dec 2018.

27 thoughts on “Devil’s Advocate vs Marjorie Rosenberg on Learning Styles”

  1. If only I could find the few thousand dollars required to get myself properly trained up in the ways of NLP, I too would be able to tell whether my learners were auditory, tactile, visual, oral, etc. Until then, I’ll just have to do a bit of reading, some listening, some speaking practice and write examples up on the board and pray.

    1. Actually NLP was developed as a short-term therapy and uses the VAK model for communication. This was based on the work done by family therapist Virginia Satir, the developer of Gestalt Therapy Fritz Perls and the hypnotherapist Milton Erikson. As I mentioned, it is not a learning style per see. But you can spend a few pounds to buy the book I am writing on learning styles which would give you some background as well as classroom activities to try out. It will be out in the next few months and is part of the Delta teacher development series so watch this spot for more info!
      Marjorie

  2. my limited understanding of both NLP and learning styles is that neither have much support from academic research?
    also from my readings on other issues trying to extrapolate from brain research is fraught with difficulties.
    are there any references for interested teachers to follow up regarding the issues involved here?
    ta
    mura

    1. We are planning a research project at the University of Graz for the fall and I have been looking into other sources at the moment. I came across a chapter by Andrew D. Cohen in ‘An Introduction to Applied Linguistics’ in which he looks at learning styles in connection with language learning and learning strategies. There is also quite a bit of research that was done by Rita and Kenneth Dunn, for example in their book ‘Learning Styles Inservice System’. David Kolb, who developed a learning style survey, also researched in the field as well as Herman Witkin who created the global-analytic (or field-dependent, field-independent) model. However, this is a statement that I have read a number of times and it seems that the research is not well known. There is also new research coming out from brain researchers which is proving to be quite interesing as they are investigating the fact that styles are set quite early although we have the capability of learning accommodation strategies. All very exciting at the moment I would say!

  3. I think that learners fluctuate from one style to another while doing different tasks (task specific). In fact, they are consciously involved in a process of trial and error to discover an appropriate style or strategy to accomplish the specific goal. They reflect on, test and retest the style and finally come up with one that works. This is how humans are different from animals. Animals take just one course of action at the time to do problem solving. However, humans try many different ways to do that. I wonder if learning styles are somehow related to learners’ strategies.

      1. HI Evan,

        I actually replied to Helen’s post and the article in Business Spotlight when it came out as I simply didn’t agree with it. In my experience, there will always be someone who disagrees with theories, but it doesn’t mean I have to agree with them. I have been working with styles for the last 20 years or so and notice these differences in learners and colleagues on a daily basis.

    1. See my reply above and yes styles have a great deal to do with learning strategies as we tend to use the ones we are most comfortable with. But we have to adapt in order to be successful. Those who cannot adapt may have more problems achieving their goals. There is something called ‘style stretching’ meaning we can go beyond our comfort zone. Lots of info on this in the book I am working on for Delta.

    2. Hi Shahram,
      I’ve been investigating the connection between learning styles and learner strategies and much of the research shows that there is a definite connection. Take a look at Andrew D. Cohen’s work as he deals specifically with this. Of course we all stretch out of our styles and may use different strategies to achieve different goals although David Kolb whose research comprised some 30 years, also says that because learners have different goals and needs, they also use different styles and approaches to acheive them. But when I observe different learner types in the classroom, their approaches vary and it can often be traced back to their learning styles.

  4. I liked this topic.

    It was Scott Thornbury’s mention of some research that seemed to argue/prove that learning styles and using them was not very useful that tweaked my interest.

    http://scottthornbury.wordpress.com/tag/learning-style/
    http://bjorklab.psych.ucla.edu/pubs/Pashler_McDaniel_Rohrer_Bjork_2009_PSPI

    So, I set about using this as the foundation of my MA dissertation. What I uncovered was that teachers had made judgements about the styles of their students and taught with those in mind. However, the students did not actually enjoy what the teachers thought they did. For instance, most teachers believed their students preferred reading but the 100+ I interviewed actually preferred speaking. This was similar in regard to being creative and logical.

    I also found it just impossible to cater to all these styles in a class of 30+ students. If you do try to mix and match with every style then you just end up with an average lesson. I did run a project for a couple of years with used learning styles. Every week I designed a 2 hour Business English task for groups and each worked on a different type of intelligence. It was apparent that each one did suit certain types but after a few months it made more sense to vary styles into one task, especially as I had about 40 students. Each team had a project manager who divided up and allocated work according to team members strengths /intelligences. This seemed to work a lot better than me doing it.

    1. I also don’t think it is possible to cater to all the styles in the classroom, however, most of us tend to teach in the way we learn ourselves. For me, finding out about styles gives me more tolerance for those who are different and reminds me to ‘stretch’ out of my prefered style in order to accomodation those who just aren’t ‘getting it’.

        1. Hi Phil,

          I have taken a quick look at the link you provided and see that one of the main complaints is that people are selling products for testing. However, it is possible to observe and listen to students to find out what they need rather than order expensive tests. But the one time I tried out a test in the States with a friend’s son, he was really excited because he said it was the first time somewhat had asked him HOW he learned best and not WHAT. I probably wouldn’t be too happy in a laptop class but if your students are learning, then things are probably fine. As we say ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ One of the times we recommend finding out about styles is in problem situations when someone just isn’t learning. That’s the time to figure out what the problem and it may be the mismatch between learner style and instruction.

    1. I can list the studies that have been done if anyone is interested. However, I prefer using my own experiences as examples. I held a teacher training session at an institute on styles and was met with a great deal of skepticism by some of the trainers. I later ran into a former corporate client who was visual and kinesthetic. She was very depressed because she had just come from a class at this institute and felt that they were awful teachers as they concentrated on listening comprehensions, rarely wrote anything down for the students and didn’t give them any opportunity to move about. She was a training manager in a company so was in the position to recommend or discourage others from taking classes at this place. This is just food for thought for those who have decided that the volumes of research and investigation (Kolb, McCarthy, Gregorc, Witkin, Swassing & Barbe, Dunn & Dunn, Reid, Kinsella, Cohen etc.) doesn’t have any bearing on this topic. I would like to stress that it is important not to use styles as an excuse and to classify people into one style and not give them room to grow or stretch. That would not be using styles to be beneficial but instead would make them limiting which is not the idea. Tessa Woodward also talks about ‘harmonising’ or ‘challenging’ our students and knowing when to do one or the other can be a wonderful way to expand our repetoire and help our students at the same time.

      1. Hi Marjorie – I think this is a really interesting topic and I think that wherever you stand on whether / how they exist, you are absolutely right when you say about not classifying / pigeonholing learners. I do think that one lesson to be taken from it is definitely that regardless of how you classify your learning preferences, we do learn in different ways, but also that we learn different things in different ways – when I learned to drive I did it very kinaesthetically, but I learn about, say language, by reading and thinking about it, and about teaching by doing and reflecting, so all different ways of learning, all as good as the other. I am a more creative writer / lesson planner if I walk, but a more accurate and elegant writer if I am sitting. As far as learning a language is concerned I have always been drawn to the field dependent / field independent distinction, as it would have enormous bearing on the way in which individuals learn languages, although again, I would always be encouraging learners to move outside of their classification and explore other ways of learning.

        The other lesson from learning styles is the value of reflecting on learning and what works for you as a learner – rather than saying anything about what teachers can do, but what learners can do to learn better.

        But I do hope you haven’t felt picked on by all us mean cynics!

        1. I would certainly agree that we learn different things in different ways. However, I studied voice and learned by looking at the music, trying it out myself, walking around to memorize and other singers learned by listening to the CDs. A friend and colleague who runs learning courses for kids and teaches at a music highschool is always surprised to see how many of the students studying music are not auditory. But as I said, we all stretch to accommodate. One student of mine who wasn’t able to stretch out of his style actually lost his job as he should have been able to react quickly to auditory questions on the phone and simply couldn’t do it. He always needed to go and see the people and bring all the paperwork to show them the answers to the questions they needed.
          Due to the myriad of stories about these things, I truly believe that we all have strengths and weaknesses regarding our perceptions, storage and recall of information – there is so much coming at us that most of us need to filter it in one way or another and those filters are tied into our styles. And yet, it may depend totally on the situation; I had one friend who was totally visual in her work and totally auditory when it came to her private life. She was fascinating to watch.
          And I don’t feel picked on by critics – to each his own I have to say but I feel that I have more chance to help my students by trying to understand what they need (if they ask specifically for help in learning) and I also find that using a wide variety of activities that appeal to different types make teaching fun, even after some 30 years of doing it.

  5. Reading through the comments, it’s fascinating to “see” how questioning everyone is and how reluctant some of us are to accept on face value the truth of the ideas Marjorie is sharing. Essential elements to learning, I would say. We look at things through our own unique filters, developed through a life time of experience and programming. The truth for one is clearly not the truth for another. Personally, I’m totally convinced by Marjorie’s arguments because I’ve experienced different ways of learning and seen others learning in their different ways. What I try to do with what I know is remain open-minded – quite a challenge for me! Then I teach in a way which “feels” authentic to me and – by a process of observation and asking for feedback from my students – I adapt according to what I see, hear and feel in the room. And some days the lesson goes brilliantly, other days not so great. But hey, that’s life. Live and learn is my motto.

    ps: @Hugh – money spent on your personal development is money well spent ;0)

    1. Thanks Michelle,
      I would agree that money spent on personal development is well spent. I have used what I learned doing my NLP training in so many different ways that it was certainly a good investment.
      What I have noticed throughout the comments is the willingness of some colleagues to try new things out. There was a recent article in the New York Times arguing that the social sciences are not really science as it is dififcult to truly prove hypotheses. Therefore, whether or not there is loads of research about a topic (such as learning styles) is less important to me than my own observations and experiences. I can only say that since I have begun using them, it has become clear to me what i need to learn and I have also become more tolerant of those whose styles are different than mine. I would hope that all of us involved in education and training can remain open to new ideas and try things out – this is the joy of teaching for me and I greatly appreciate your comments above. I would also guess that your students appreciate your openness to their differences and enjoy classes or trainings with you!

  6. Marjorie thank you very much for such an inspiring post. Just the day after reading this I taught an individual student whose goal for that lesson was to practice and record her voicemail welcome message in English. We wrote it, chunked it, marked the prominence and then she expressed a clear preference to record the message on her Iphone before. The first 5 recordings left a lot to be desired in her opinion and I started considering what tweaks I could make to the incoming stimuli to help her say this more naturally. I rushed off to the staff room, cut up some coloured card, wrote the chunks in big letters on each piece of card, brought them back to her and we laid them out on the table. My student looked puzzled at me, “why?”, she said. I asked her to trust me and try it again. The next recording was 100% perfect.

    Now perhaps this could be misleadingly conclusive in favour of learning styles. Let’s pretend for a minute that I started the lesson by using card, would similar results have been achieved? I wouldn’t be hesitant to doubt. Nevertheless, I completely 100% accept the value of these ideas firstly in changing the form of input, more so I’d hasten to add, to be able to fiddle with the variables in class to find what works best for the learner. Michelle sang the same tune above “I adapt according to what I see, hear and feel in the room.” and I wholeheartedly agree with her.

    I learn a second language as well. Thanks to my awareness of learning styles I’ve managed to find a way of committing words to memory that maximises retention. I spell the word in the air, making an exaggerated movement with my finger so that I can feel the spelling of the word with joint between finger and knuckle. Then, I do the same but on my trousers or some material near by, to engrain the feeling of the word again in my mind. Thirdly, I then close my eyes and imagine the word and attach it to a picture in my head. I’m not sure which styles this approach pertains to. Perhaps you might shed some light on this?

    Dale

    1. Thanks for the interesting post, Dale.

      It sounds like you are a kinesthetic / visual learner. You didn’t mention anything about saying the words out loud but described drawing them to ‘feel’ them and then making a picture of them, Since this blog, I have been looking at loads of articles, books, on the subject and a number of the researchers say that styles are a matter of doing what comes naturally. It sounds like this is a natural way for you to learn. Michael Grinder also says that the more places we store information (in your case kinesthetically and visually) the more chance we have of recalling it when we need it.
      Your story about your learner sounds like you realised that a kinesthetic (using cards) and visual (writing the words out) approach may be helpful and something the learner had not thought of. Just because something comes naturally to us, doesn’t mean we make use of it, especially if we think for some reasont that it has nothing to do with learning. This came up in a conversation with a 22-year university student who has been auditory / kinesthetic as long as I’ve known her (which was when she was four). She was saying that it is difficult to learn all the things she needs to learn and would be really happy if someone could read her books out loud to her. I suggested she try reading out loud herself and recording it. Her eyes lit up and she said, ‘Wow, then I could put this on my mp3 player and listen while I go jogging.’ a typical ‘kinesethetic – auditory’ response.
      I hope some of this has helped – the field is fascinating and there is loads of info out there, but experimenting with your own learning and looking for different ways to help your students is wonderful. To me, this is less pigeonholing than deciding that one method is the correct one for everyone.

      1. Marjorie thank you for such an informative response. I had suspected that I might be a kinesethetic-visual learner, or that such a style might appeal to me. In fact, I am dyslexic. It’s very mild but the problem is that it inhibits my remembering or recalling of words I learn. Since realising this, I have been using this system to learn spelling and committing new words to memory, with somewhat surprising success. This had caused me no end of problems before. I am now wondering if subjects like science and maths, in which I had always performed very poorly, might in fact be accessible to me simply by changing my approach to input.

        Of course, what works once doesn’t work for everything, and what works for you may not necessarily work for your students. Nevertheless, I’ve been testing these ideas out with my young learners with encouraging results. Needless to say, I’m a convert to learning styles. As you said, success lies in helping students realise what style is best for them and working with them. I too have had experiences like your student’s. Recording information on her MP3 player helped her recall vocabulary much more easily and she has since been experimenting with different ways of appealing to her audio-kinesethetic learning styles.

        For my courses next year, I will be including more focus on raising students’ awareness of their learning styles and encouraging them to experiment to find what’s best for them. Would you have any suggestions on where to start? I’ve never been much of a fan of the learning-styles questionnaires. As was mentioned in the DA post, they have a propensity to elicit the desired response from the taker, which could be misleading; I was judged to be audial-kinesethetic, enough said.

        Dale

        1. HI Dale,
          I don’t know where to tell you to look if you don’t want to do the questionnaires. However, you might take a look at the book I’m doing for Delta when it comes out ‘Spotlight on Styles’ is the working title. In addition to doing questionnaires (which I have tried to write so that people answer honestly but you never know) there is the info about characteristics and what people are comfortable doing which is generally a good indication. What we do with kids is give them a questionnaire but tell them to look at it and then observe themselves for a week before filling it in. Then they tend to do it based on how they REALLY behave rather than how they THINK they shoud answer. And you could, of course, do the same thing.

          I am also somewhat dyslexic which is really fun when trying to write down numbers in German as they are said ‘backwards’ for English-speakers. But there is a wonderful book called ‘Unicorns are Real’ by Barbara Vitale which is how to teach to learners with learning difficulties. I also have a book called ‘The Gift of Dyslexia’ by Ronald Davis that I haven’t gotten to yet. However, the last thing anyone should do is to diagnose problems from afar so I don’t know which particular strategy can help you with maths (also not my favorite subject) – but this may have more to do with Garnder’s intelligences than with pure learning styles.

          In any case, it is a journey and one which fascinates me more and more along the way. Delving into styles has made me more tolerant of my learners and colleagues, happier with my own teaching and learning and the exploration helps to keep me thinking and observing. I think being open to new information and possibilities is one of the major perks of our jobs!

  7. Fascinating post in so many ways!
    Not only for what was said but as a window to the different problems you have in language schools. I teach high-school in the national school system in Israel and while EVERYONE has different learning styles, those with more serious problems often are assessed professionally. You should have seen what went on during national exam day last week – students who are tested orally, students who listen to a cd, students who dictate their answers, etc
    I would imagine that in a discussion of this subject here learning disabled students wouldn’t be included – its more of a “given” that they need certain techniques in order to study. But great points are brought up here for the so called “regular” students!
    Great post!
    Naomi

    1. thanks for sharing this Naomi. Sometimes people who are what we would call ‘stuck’ in one style and who are unable to stretch to another one can actually be ‘diagnosed’ as being learning disabled. But this sounds really amazing – taking these different problems into account and letting students do the tests in the way they are most comfortable. Glad you like the post – there is so much that can be done to make ‘regular’ students comfortable in the classroom as well and to improve the entire learning experience.
      Marjorie

  8. I just had a chance to present one of the learning styles models I use along with its relationship to learner autonomy at the IATEFL LASIG conference here in Graz. Great comments from those in the workhsop who agreed that helping learners find out what they are good at can start them on the road to self-confidence and methods for creating their own learning strategies. We again discussed the important facts that the pont of learning styles is not to pigeon-hole learners but to encourage them to find their strengths, to make it clear that learning styles are not an excuse and learning to stretch out of the comfort zone is vital for success and that the way someone fills out a questionnaire may depend on the situation they have in mind when they do it as well as where they are in their own lives or careers. All in all, interesting feedback and discussion on the topic!

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