Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Group work and learning styles

A simple four group rotation covers all learning styles

It seems, these days, new ideas come along, pushed by their enthusiastic supporters, which inadvertently make teaching more complicated.

All too often these ideas are not that new and are often already in place in many classrooms without teachers even knowing it. One such idea is 'learning styles'.

All sorts of 'learning styles inventories' are 'peddled' around schools simply adding more confusion to what already is a difficult job.

Teachers of young people have aways known that their students are all different but as students go through the system they are increasingly treated as if they have more in common with each other. Those who don't learn, it's their fault, they just didn't have what it takes - old fashioned exams proved this!

But if we want all students to realise their full potential ( usually written into every school's charter) then their individual talents and styles need to be recognised. A standardized system 'one size fits all' does not fit anyone. All too often school failures are students whose learning styles have been ignored or neglected.

Most teachers use for literacy ( and often numeracy) a four group rotational system which allows them to work with small groups while the other students get on with their assigned tasks.

It turns out such teachers are using the major findings of learning styles thinking.

The concept of 'fourness' has been around since the ancient Greeks. It seems people fit into four basic types or personalities. In the 30s Carl Jung clarified such ideas. He developed them into four functions relating to how we absorb and judge information.

These functions create the four basic styles
that, interestingly enough, relate to the main characters in 'Star Trek', or the TV sit-com 'Seinfeld'.

In 'Star Trek' the hard logic of Spock is the 'thinking style', the 'free wheeling' Captain Kirk represents the 'imaginative style'; the 'hands on' engineer Scotty represents the 'practical style'; and the caring Dr Bones the 'feeling style'. In 'Seinfeld', Jerry's obsession with analyzing everything ( thinking style), Kramer's 'off the wall' plans ( the imaginative style) , George's procedural rigidity (the realistic 'practical style') and Elaine's burning need to loved ( the 'interpersonal feeling style').

The four identified styles are:

Interpersonal Style - sociable,,feeling and relating.
Understanding Style - likes to think things through ( researching).
Mastery style - action orientated, practical, realistic, remembering.
Self Expressive Style - imaginative, developing creative ideas

Of course every one of us uses a mixture of styles but we do have preferences, and each style can be amplified through practice and experience. Every student will develop their own learning profile and teachers need to cater for all styles by developing a range of suitable tasks.

Integrated programmes naturally cover all learning styles as does a well organised literacy programme, as mentioned earlier.

The four reading groups teachers rotate are ; shared reading ( interpersonal); reading for comprehension ( understanding); some practical work ( mastery); and some imaginative work ( expressive).

If you want a simple symbol for each group they are: the heart ( interpersonal) ; the head ( thinking); the hand ( mastery); and the eye ( imagination. Teachers could place the appropriate symbol by the appropriate group - learning styles without effort!

In content studies the approach works just as well but is not often seen. A group working with the teacher doing an experimental activity; a group researching negotiated key questions; a 'hand on' practical activity; and an imaginative task applying what they have learnt.

It seems nothing is really new. People just keep eventing new terms for old ideas but it is important that both teacher, and students, develop awareness of their particular mix of learning styles

Maybe, in the past, the successful students are those styles who matched the style of their teachers!


Anonymous said...

I think you are right - we need to keep our focus on quality teaching and learning.

Anonymous said...

The only students who like school are those who have the same styles as their teachers - God help us!

Bruce Hammonds said...

There a are lot of people peddling 'mumbo jumbo' learning styles ideas out there that seem to atract many schools - all sorts of style inventories etc. They all have elements of truth in them but it aways boils down to the idea that we are all different and that we need to create learning environments that take this into account.The latest push is for 'personalized learning'. Definitly a 'back to the future' idea but wouldn't it be great if everyone had their own Individual Learning Plan and were able to work with others on projects that were meaningful to them.