Sunday, February 20, 2005

Teacher-Parent Wars and Learning Styles

Three articles in Time, Newsweek, and Edutopia talk to us about the stresses of teachers, the stresses of parents, and the stresses of teachers-vs-parents. Some of the complaints of teachers and parents seem remarkably parallel- exhaustion, a realization that it is impossible to 'do it all' and there is "too little time."

The Time magazine article is a bit incendiary. At the core of the disagreement is an important issue - how should we help children who are falling behind or failing? Some teachers seem to feel that a 'tough love' approach is appropriate; whereas, some parents think the answer is change the teacher or change the school. It is a real dilemma knowing how much to challenge and how much to help.

Teachers seem to have some legitimate gripes about manners - and parents have some legitimate gripes about non-personalized or negative education. The gap between the ideal and reality may be too great. Some teachers may have up to half of their class on IEPs - how can you possibly individualize the education for 20 people at one time? Is she supposed to be a carnival clown juggling visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning - even if she manages to hit all the learning styles in one classroom session, she'd lose the other half to distraction or working memory overload.

The Edutopia article offers more food for thought. The statistic that caught our eye was the fact that the attrition rate for teachers was twice as high if they hadn't received training in child development or learning styles. Why should any teacher not have training in child development or learning styles these days?

The more we observe the variation in learning styles among children - is that many of these learning differences are not intuitive. Sometimes the way a person memorizes best, or solves a problem seems exotic or roundabout compared to how we have approached it. We have to be very conscious of our own biases in our learning preferences before we figure out the best way for someone else. But before we condemn a teacher for not knowing how to optimize learning for a particular style, how much training have we given her? Is there a good model available, or only checklists?

What we are trying to do in our upcoming book is provide a usable model for how different modes of thinking and learning fit into what we know about the working of the brain. Different modes of thinking are much more dynamic and combinable than learning style surveys and checklists would have you think. And before you begin teaching others how to use their learning styles best, it's good to know what you have yourself. What's the ideal? A flexible approach to the use of different modes of learning, and an awareness of strengths to bypass weaknesses and disability areas. The good news is we haven't even begun to tap all the power that's under the hood.

Teachers Leaving School
MSNBC - Mommy Madness
TIME: Teacher's Pests (A)

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