There’s an obvious paradox that seems to have pervaded our schools today and it has brought about the miseducation of our students.
During my formative years, my parents bombarded me with books instead of toys in an effort to cajole me to parrot and learn my ABC’s and 123’s and was subsequently lauded for such behavior. At this early stage, my self-worth was conditioned and developed as both my parents, relatives and teachers showered me with doggie treats in the form of praises, hugs, kisses, certificates and presents. I started reading the newspaper at the age of 3, or so my mom says. My parents could not have been more proud. My ecstatic parents enthusiastically raved about my teacher, her noble efforts and her effective model of teaching.
I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this experience. This ego gratification goes on all the way from grade school to high school where smart and talented students are separated from the “inferior” students. When I was in grade school, our teachers would change our seating arrangement every quarter depending on our scores during the recently concluded quarterly exams. Some teachers would choose to place their “star” pupils in front, while others preferred to put them in the back (the rationale being “star” pupils require less guidance than their “not-so-bright” counterparts who occupied the front row seats so teachers can keep a close eye on them). As a student, my self-worth became dependent on the seating arrangement.
It was a cycle that my teachers and parents put me through and which I happily obliged. I listened to the lectures, copiously and diligently took notes, memorized and regurgitated one complex material after another in my quarterly tests. Listen – Absorb – Regurgitate – Receive doggie treat – Repeat. I felt like a Pavlovian lab rat.
I’m an auditory learner, a type A personality (obsessive-compulsive personality) and the eldest among my siblings. Luckily, I also have good memory retention. There was just no way that I could have been anything but the “star” pupil. My skills, birth order and personality just refuse to allow anything but. I went to a traditional school and a science high school later on, and my teachers’ style was primarily lecture-type. Looking back, my education was a fortuitous event because my learning style matched my teachers’ mode of teaching.
My younger sister was not so lucky. She’s a tactile-kinesthetic learner. Lecture was not her thing, and school (or rather, the traditional mode of teaching in our alma mater) was not her cup of tea. It wasn’t until she transferred to a progressive school that her star started to shine.
I think the miseducation that has pervaded schools today stems from this mismatch. No two teachers are the same just as no two students learn the same way. Some students have no problems learning under the teacher-centered method depending on their culture, upbringing, beliefs about learning and learning style.
When I started in the field of training, I admit that I had a very pedantic approach. As a teacher who learned through the traditional lecture method, I realized I had to make the conscious effort not to teach my trainees the way I was taught because not all of them have the same learning style as I do. I realized that my knowledge of the course content and the materials are just secondary to the learning context. Being an effective teacher is not a matter of intelligence but flexibility in altering one’s teaching style in order to create a teacher-student style match through a wide-range of activities that will cater to the different learning styles. I must be learner-centered and consider learner-related factors such as students’ needs, prior knowledge, talents, interests, social orientations, linguistic abilities, and cultures” (D.M. Brown, 2003) After all, how can I equip them with what they need if I don’t know their needs? How will I teach them if I do not know how they learn (Dunn & Griggs, 2000)?
I’ve read articles justifying why some teachers fail to take into consideration their students’ learning styles, most of which attribute it to the sheer number of students a teacher has under her wing. It is indeed such a huge feat to be held responsible for your students’ learning. But in the end, don’t we all want the same thing for our students – a meaningful, rewarding and enjoyable learning experience? Can we expect all students to be willing Pavlovian lab rats and merely reward them with doggie treats?
Brown, D.M. (2003). ‘Learner-centered Conditions That Ensure Students’ Success in Learning’. Education, Vol. 124, No. 1, pp. 99-104, p. 107.
Dunn, R. & Griggs, S.A. (eds.). (2000). Practical Approaches to Using Learning Styles in Higher Education. Connecticut: Bergin & Garvey.