Students taught pseudo-scientific ‘rubbish’, experts warn

Aug 6, 2016 by

Timna Jacks –

A teaching style embraced by schools across Australia has been condemned as nothing more than a fad.

Leading education academics have warned that the strategy of tailoring teaching to students’ so-called “learning styles” was based on flawed theories that were not based on any evidence.

‘Kinesthetic’ learning is just a fad, says leading academic

Photo: Peter Braig PBR

Yet this teaching style – which identifies learners as “visual, auditory or kinesthetic” – is still being promoted by state education departments as best practice teaching.

Professor Stephen Dinham, who has been teaching, researching and advising governments on education policy for 40 years, said schools were administering unreliable tests that categorised students as different types of learners.

Professor Dinham said the strategy was grounded in a pseudo-scientific notion that students were hard-wired to absorb information in certain ways, and teaching this way, he argued, is damaging to students’ learning.

“Would we tolerate doctors continuing to use a disproved, harmful treatment?” said Professor Dinham, who took aim at the strategy in his new book Leading Learning and Teaching, which will be launched by deputy premier James Merlino on Thursday evening.

“These things become almost like a superstition, people in schools are developing unquestioning beliefs. We need to focus on the things that we know work.

“Learning styles might seem intuitive, and sound reasonable … [but] there is little hard research, and of the hard research that there is, the finding is that ‘learning styles’ don’t exist.”

Learning styles

You learn by seeing and looking. Take detailed notes rather than get involved in discussions. You will make comments like: “How do you see the situation?”

You learn by hearing and listening. You will hum and/or talk to yourself. You will make comments like: “This sounds good”.

You learn by touching and doing. You will remember what was done, but have difficulty with what was said or seen. You will make comments like: “Are you in touch with what I am saying?”

Professor Dinham said schools administering the program – which costs up to a few hundred dollars – had taken the program to extremes, by forcing students to wear coloured shirts, hats and bands which signified their learning style.

He was also concerned that the use of learning styles had divided students on racial or ethnic lines, alleging that Indigenous students in the NSW were consistently being diagnosed as “kinesthetic” learners.

“When you put people in artificial categories it changes something in people’s mind … it gives kids the message that their abilities are fixed,” he said.

“If kids get the idea that they’re bad at maths early on, that can lead to real blockages in learning maths down the track.”

Professor Dinham said when he raised these concerns with teachers and bureaucrats, he was told that it ‘”doesn’t matter”.

The learning styles theory was also criticised by leading academic John Hattie in his well-respected text Visible Learning in 2009.

“It is hard not to be sceptical about these learning preference claims,” Professor Hattie wrote.

The strategy was also found to lack any supporting evidence in an extensive review published by Australian Council for Education Research (ACER) in 2010.

Dr Catherine Scott, who wrote the 2010 report, called the strategy “rubbish”, and said teachers were using the students’ learning type as an excuse for poor student performance in literacy and numeracy.

Victorian education department spokesman Steve Tolley said the learning styles strategy was among “a large range of techniques available to help teachers engage students in the learning process”.

He said the strategies were not made compulsory by the department or recommended as the sole teaching strategy to be used.

NSW education department spokesman Liam Thorpe said the department “does not endorse any particular type of learning styles as a product for teaching and learning in government schools”.

Source: Students taught pseudo-scientific ‘rubbish’, experts warn

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