In defence of Learning Styles

I am getting increasingly annoyed by those who are definitively declaring that ‘Learning Styles don’t exist’. To me, that’s the same as saying ‘Clothing Styles’ don’t exist or ‘Handwriting Styles’ don’t exist. Of course they do!

A style is merely a choice, a preference. 

I would say that in my own learning, I like to make use of a range of learning styles – particularly visual and auditory. In terms of being a visual learner (dirty word) I believe I have quite a photographic memory (although I’m sure in writing this that someone will choose to declare to me that they don’t exist). I believe I am very fortunate in that I can picture things I’ve looked at in my mind’s eye (yep, probably doesn’t exist either). Amongst other things, I believe I can spell some words because I’ve looked at them in a dictionary and I conjure that image in my mind. So, in many ways I would say that at time I make use of a visual learning style.

In terms of auditory learning. I know it helps me to process information if I can say it out loud. I’m pretty sure that when I studied Psychology (if that still exists) that this has something to do with my phonological loop and auditory processing. Sometimes, I will choose or prefer it if someone told me information – rather than me reading it. Sometimes, I feel that hearing information can help clarify meaning – but apparently this isn’t a learning style; they don’t exist.

And, even though I wouldn’t say I’m very kinaesthetic, surely there are things that we definitely learn better by doing: driving a car, brushing teeth, making a sculpture?

The truth is: learning styles do exist but they are context bound.

No, you won’t necessarily be able to write a better essay on volcanoes if you’ve made one out of newspaper – but you might become a painter if you look at lots of paintings.

The disadvantaged Head of English

I grew up in South Wales in a small town where drugs and suicide thrived.

I am the youngest of five children and, at some point in my school life I would have appeared on a list of ‘disadvantaged children’.

My father was a plumber and worked seven days a week to provide for his family. My mother worked part time as a nursery assistant then care worker.  Despite this, I was classed as coming from a low income family and I vividly remember my laminated FSM card – complete with photograph.

I was fortunate.

Looking back I can confidently say that I had excellent parents. Not perfect parents: my mother is the world’s biggesr stress-head and my father’s hard discipline (of my brothers rather than me) was difficult to justify – but I was loved.

All that being said, I was still disadvantaged. My parents failed the 11plus and went to comprehensive schools. They left said schools at 15 and went to work. They met in their early twenties, got married and raised a family. They did their best to raise four boys and one girl.

I remember fondly all of the stimulation my mother gave me. We painted with potatoes, made pictures with egg shells, pressed leaves under the mattress and picked shells on the beach. We went to the library. We went on holiday. I was very fortunate but I was still disadvantaged.

I was disadvantaged compared to my peers whose parents had more money and more education. I would have started secondary school knowing less words than those who were more advantaged than me. I would have started secondary school knowing less factual knowledge than those who were more advantaged than me. And, those gaps still exist.

I can still, as a Head of English, be confronted by my peers with words I do not recognise. I can still, as a Head of English, have to dodge questions from my superiors because I do not understand the words being used to ask them or, at best, I have to rely on the context to try to figure them out.

But what does all this matter?

It matters because you can still be a success if you are disadvantaged. It matters because even as the Head of English I do not need to know the meaning of every word but just know that I will continue to try to learn and be better. It matters because if you build the right relationship with a disadvantaged child then that child will grow into an adult who is continually striving to achieve. Who knows they will have to work twice as hard to keep up and so will work three times as hard to compete and four times as hard to win. It matters because that child will grow into an adult who will be humble and gracious and not take things for granted. It matters because that child will grow into an adult who acts with integrity and transparency and want the best for all.

Not every disadvantaged student is  the same but every disadvantaged student is a student who is capable of becoming something wonderful.