Howard Gardner came up with the theory of multiple intelligences he never meant to suggest that students could learn math, literature, or social studies by physical actions or listening to music. He has been appalled that it has been used that way and that it’s become a multi-million dollar industry with no scientific support. He simply meant the theory as a way to explain why some people are highly adept in some areas but not in others- why someone could be very gifted at music but not read well, or why another person could have immense athletic ability but poor math skills. He never meant that students should be taught to read by manipulating paper objects with words on them.
Recently a meta-analysis was conducted by real psychologists and scientific researchers (not educators with EdDs whose idea of research is reading polemic works on educational philosophy). The study examined whether there was scientific evidence for the efficacy of using learning styles within the classroom to stimulate achievement. The only way to provide this evidence was to use a very specific research design—a randomized sample had to be used, and those students whose preferred mode of learning matched the type of instruction being applied, whether it be visual, audible, tangible, etc., had to perform better in that condition than students with learning styles that contrasted the type of instruction.
The researchers combed through every piece of published work on learning styles and multiple intelligence and found less than five studies that used a design capable of validly testing the question. And here’s the kicker: out of those very few studies with a quality research design, all of them either showed inconclusive results or found evidence AGAINST the learning styles approach. There is no evidence for it. Period. Yet we are forcing teachers to teach using this method that does not work and are spending millions on training and teacher development tools for it. There is evidence that if given a survey, students will happily indicate what they prefer, but no evidence that tailoring instruction to those styles assists their learning.
As a psychologist (and certified teacher), my view is that we are actually handicapping students with this approach. Humans have to learn in many different ways. When they become adults their occupations will not tailor the training or the job to their whims. If we only teach students using the particular learning style they prefer, it may cause the other pathways for learning to atrophy. We are essentially making sure they can only learn in one way. This could have devastating long term consequences for them.
The research on many of the other “research-based methods” being pushed in our public schools is similarly dubious. This is because most educators don’t understand research and read secondary (and subjective) sources for their information. Teachers have expertise in their subject matter but often don’t have the time, or the means, to immerse themselves in statistics or psychology in order to gain the prerequisite knowledge necessary to understand what “research-based” really means and how to critically review it. And the administration generally doesn’t even have subject matter expertise, nor do they have an understanding of research because they received degrees in ridiculous fields like leadership. But they’re the ones making the decisions and pushing the agenda. And here we are…
Originally posted by Progressive Humanist
on the Get Schooled blog at the AJC