Lately, I’ve been questioning whether given the choice, I would want students to become better learners or teachers to become better educators. True, in an ideal world, both would be optimal, but it seems that for much of the history of education, we have operated on the principle of “the greatest good for the greatest number of people”. Such a principle might work well in society or in government, but is it really the best principle for education?I would argue that it is not.
History has shown us that there are always students who lag behind, those that need additional help whether out of lack of motivation or something else. And, if educators continue to follow the fads of finding the next best way to educate, I fear we will continue to cause detriment to students.
The most popular teaching methods of late are those that teach to a particular learning style. Whether using Dunn’s PEPS assessment, Myer’s-Briggs Temperament Inventory, or Kolb’s Learning Style Inventory, teachers are instructed to look for the common denominator and teach their classes according to that common denominator. What they fail to realize, I believe, is that there is no one common denominator. The PEPS assessment, for one, provides analysis for 18 different factors including for example, whether a student prefers auditory instruction or whether a student prefers to work in groups. Knowing that a result of this one assessment can produce a myriad of characteristics for just one student makes me hesitant to believe that a teacher can find a group of factors that holds true for the majority of one class.
Perhaps instead of bringing new instructional methods to teachers, we instead focus on helping students be better learners. It has been said that finding a student’s learning style strength is nothing more than finding what the student believes is the most comfortable way he knows to learn or perhaps the only learning environment to which he has been exposed. One might argue then that learning style assessments are not reliable for that one reason. However, I would disagree. If a student has discovered a way in which he can learn, why not capitalize on that: not on teaching to the student according to the way in which he learns, but in providing further strategies to the student so that he can continue to learn regardless of the environment.
Because so much research on learning styles has been focussed on aiding the teacher, new research needs to be done on finding assessments designed to help the student. One such assessment is the TIPP Learning Styles and Temperament assessment. This tool has been used successfully and extensively with older students; however, it has not yet been proven reliable with younger students. The first step is to test its validity and reliability with younger students, and then allow further research to prove or disprove that students who know how to learn are better than teachers who try to teach to the majority.