Learning Styles vs. Environmental Fit

I hated grade school. My two daughters love it. I found it, by third grade, to be too arbitrary, too restrictive, too bound up with power. My daughters love the structure.

I did poorly grade-wise at school, graduating in the quarter that made the top three quarters possible. I didn’t just refuse to do homework – I seemed emotionally incapable of it. I scored perfect tests, but completing vocabulary homework (where we were to look up words and write down definitions to turn in) was painful to me. My daughters find this a Zen-like exercise.

Here’s the odd thing: in every way I can observe, my older daughter approaches problems in a way identical to me. She jumps in with both feet, soaks in example (as opposed to reading recipes) and tries to understand the principles by which the examples operate by changing elements and seeing what breaks.  My daughter’s style is so close to mine that I can watch her work and actually learn about my strengths and weaknesses as a programmer by watching how she goes about figuring out how to make a pop-up book.

Which makes me wonder – if our styles of problem-solving are similar, yet our experience of class-like environments is so different, what does that mean?

Maybe it’s not as big a problem as I suppose – I always tested at the top of the class; in that way, our similar styles led to similar success. But I can’t help but wonder if when we think we see differences in learning styles we might be seeing something even more basic, something that is not specific to learning. Thoughts?

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One Comment on “Learning Styles vs. Environmental Fit”

  1. Jenny says:

    You know you hit on a topic that’s been on my mind a lot lately. As we dive into professional development for teachers we begin to have brief and flitting conversations about learning and how learning happens. While it’s an important topic and a one that we need to nurture, it’s just half of the equation. Eventually I hope we get to the point where we can discuss teaching styles and AND learning styles…together…in a single conversation. Don’t get me wrong; this is happening but the scale is tiny.

    So, when my 4-year old enters 1st grade I hope my parent-teacher conversation is about the kind of kid he is and the kind of learner he. Let’s talk about how HE learns and what challenging activities are offered to him. I doubt this will happen though given the kid-teacher ratio. This is why classroom management (i.e. the power dynamic that you refer to) takes top priority. And here lies one of the biggest challenges to education.


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