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Back to School: Learning Is Just Plain Learning
I often like to think that I'm different kind of learner. I didn't do particularly well on the SATs before college or the GREs afterward, or even my driver's license test. My children, too, I found, suffered from the same plight. They didn't score well on our city's Gifted and Talented exams, despite my flashcards and enforced workbook sessions. Could it be, I wondered—loudly, repeatedly, insistently, to anyone that would listen—that none of us were wired for important, multiple choice questions? Was it all about how and not what we learned?
Imagine my chagrin at the findings presented recently on NPR's Morning Edition, which suggested that none of us learn particularly differently and that teachers shouldn't alter their teaching styles. Talking to Doug Roher, a psychologist at the University of South Florida, the radio show reported that when it came to learning styles, Roher found no scientific evidence about different kinds of students. "We have not found evidence from a randomized control trial supporting any of these," he said, "and until such evidence exists, we don't recommend that they be used" in the classroom.
But what impressed me most was the opposite idea, presented by Dan Willingham of the University of Virginia who suggested it might be more useful to figure out similarities in how our brains learn, rather than differences. For example, "Mixing things up is something we know is scientifically supported as something that boosts attention," he told NPR.
For me this opened a whole new window of opportunity. My kids and I will now spend 15 minutes learning to advance ourselves in terms of math (them) or bill-paying on line (me), then 15 minutes learning hand-eye-coordination sling-shotting parrots into cargo boxes for points on Angry Birds, then spend 15 minutes picking up Legos (okay, that's not learning, but I like not slipping on a lethally slippery plastic cubes on the way to the bathroom) until, by god, we are all geniuses—or maybe just normal people, trying to pick up what they can, as best they can.
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