Do learning styles exist? Are each of our brains wired in a pattern that is unique to the individual? Research done by Howard Gardner proposed this theory: there are eight types of intelligence, that we each have a few areas of strength, that we learn best when our area of strength is engaged.
My professional and educational background is in the field of early childhood. When working with young children, an informed teacher would never dream of teaching by having the students sit at a table and listen to her lecture, placidly filling out a worksheet or completing a written assignment based on the lecture. This type of learning activity is not appropriate to the way a young child learns about their environment. Young children learn best by having all of their senses engaged. This theory of developmental learning was proposed by Jean Piaget, and is explained more thoroughly here. His theory is not without controversy itself, but the field of early childhood education bases its methodology on this theory. Thus, we plan activities that are varied and short in duration, to appeal to all aspects of a child’s capacity to learn.
Is this sounding familiar? To me, this bears a great resemblance to Gardner’s learning theory. What Gardner has done is simply propose Piaget’s theory in a new way, and applied it to all ages. We definitely see the bodily/kinestetic learner being engaged in the early childhood classroom. These classrooms are visually appealing. There is usually auditory learning occurring. Piaget’s theory proposes that we progress from this sensorimotor period to more sophisticated levels of mental processing. In his final, or highest, stage of development, we are able to think abstractly, and there is no longer a need to engage all of the senses in order to grasp a concept.
However, some content calls for engaging more than one “learning style”. I am currently in the field of Family and Consumer Sciences, and while this does involve learning concepts and memorizing facts, I would find it hard to teach cooking skills without having the students actually engaged in that activity. These skills are learned by practice, not theory. So the field in which I will be teaching sidesteps the issue of learning theory altogether, as it is a “practical art” which demands a different style of teaching. Inclusion of practical and fine arts into the secondary education curriculum addresses the need for students to acquire more than a theoretical knowledge of the world. Inclusion of practical arts such as Family and Consumer Sciences, Industrial Technology, and Agriculture, supports the theory of appealing to all learning styles by definition.
So, do I support this theory? In a sense, you could say that my choice of discipline supports the idea that I do not learn best by the traditional methods seen in most classrooms. Not necessarily true, as I have been very successful in a traditional classroom setting. As a teacher, however, I am much more of a “let me show you” teacher than a “let me tell you” teacher. It is difficult to separate the two- learning style versus teaching style.