Sunday, August 30, 2009

Film isn’t a media that I’m very attuned to

Last week I had to write a paper for my History class. The questions had to answer were not about dry facts, dates, and dead guys. My instructor asked my how I felt about some specific issues and why I feel the way I do.

Really? You want to know how I feel? My personal thoughts and feelings about historical events that happened during my lifetime?

The opening sentence of my paper was "Remember, you asked for it...".
My paper was far from politically correct. I gave heartfelt, emotional responses and received a grade of 99% . My professor said I did well passionately arguing my point of view.

The assignment reminded me of a video I've watched several times. Many find this clip inspirational. I thought my instructor might enjoy it, so I sent him a link to this video.

I was expecting to stimulate an interesting conversation with a college professor. I missed my mark completely. This is his response to the video:

"Hi Scott -- I just now went back and viewed the YouTube segment. Taylor Mali is a name new to me. I don’t think I grasped what his point was. Film isn’t a media that I’m very attuned to. – Cheers, (name deleted)"

I was speechless. Couldn't grasp the point? Not attuned to 'film'?


Granted, the teacher-turned-poet in the video is a little 'over the top', but how could you miss the point? I am reminded the we each have our own preferred learning style; and that some people are more specific than others.

Is this specific to college professors, or am I going to meet an elementary student with such a strong aversion to a particular form of media.
  • What if elementary student Johnny is 'not attuned to' print media?
  • Will the system allow Johnny learn in his preferred method?
  • How can Johnny be tested if he is 'not attuned' to print?
  • How will Johnny succeed in school?

Can he succeed at all with our current model of education?

I'd love to hear your thoughts.......


Todd I. Stark said...

I'm ambivalent on the idea, and I'll explain why.

There is some research behind it but it is very weak when you look closely, it doesn't really support the idea that people learn according to different styles and should be taught that way. The evidence for that is particularly weak.

It does up to a point support the notion that paying attention to individuals and their needs makes sense. That's the good of it, it's a useful heuristic sometimes for educators who need simplistic principles because they don't have the expertise to really understand individual differences. Rather than do a really bad job of teaching everyone the same way, they can at least look for distinctions. But "learning styles" is not a particularly useful distinction as it turns out.

So I think the notion of learning styles has occasionally been an effective way of at least getting people to focus on individual differences in students, like an educational placebo effect.

But I doubt very much that it is an accurate model of how cognition works. And I don't believe it should be perpetuated as if it were valid educational theory. It is at best a popular heuristic that captures gross complex distinctions in a simplistic way for guidance, sort of like "left brained and right brained." It is not a valid technical model in my opinion, and in my opinion that *should* make a real difference to sincere and motivated teachers.

Some followup:

I think a good intro to the principles and spirit of the typical critique is Dan Willingham's clip at:
More technical critiques can be found in ...
Different Strokes for Different Folks? A Critique of Learning Styles.
SA Stahl - American Educator, 1999 - EJ598437

"Discusses whether teachers should consider individual students' learning styles when teaching, examining research on learning styles, explaining what people mean by learning styles, and noting why the notion of learning styles has such enduring popularity despite the lack of supporting evidence. Discusses test reliability and uses reading development to illustrate how to accommodate student differences."

From the intro:
"The reason researchers roll their eyes at learning styles is
the utter failure to find that assessing children’s learning
styles and matching to instructional methods has any effect on their learning"
A Critique of the Research on Learning Styles.
L Curry - Educational Leadership, 1990 - EJ416434

"Learning styles advocates claim long-term improvements in four aspects of teaching and learning: curriculum design, instructional methods, assessment, and student guidance. The application of learning style theory encompasses three pervasive problems: confusion in definitions, weakness in measurement reliability and validity, and identification of relevant learner characteristics. Includes 33 references."


ejr said...

It is quite possibly less about learning styles and more about familiarity. If this professor taught using only art, for example, I'd be lost. I'm not very familiar with art. I know lots of folks who are more than "attuned" to media, but I do know many college professors who are not. I think you should not try to extrapolate behaviors and attitudes of elementary kids from that of college professors. Those are amazingly different worlds, perspectives, and experiences. Your professor lack of familiarity, perhaps even comfort with, film may have to do with his preferred way of working in his content area.

There are many ways to differentiate instruction; there are many ways to work with the reluctant and struggling reader. You may have to work harder if Johnny doesn't particularly like to read, but there are plenty of ways to instruct and assess, and plenty of ways to encourage Johnny to learn without relying on a single mechanism for that instruction and learning experience.

Todd I. Stark said...

I was probably too harsh in my critique in retrospect, I was thinking about this issue for a while and this blog post was not the place for this critique. I just happened across it and it made me think. Sorry.

Of course we need to peer into the world of people we are trying to communicate with and teach, that's the whole point. To see how they see the world differently.

I just don't think "visual" vs. "auditory" vs. "kinesthetic" adequately captures that difference well enough to teach based on it. It is just the very beginning.