Learning Style, Teacher Choice and School Choice (Andrew Pass)
When I was a child my parents knew me better than anybody else. They knew what I enjoyed doing, what I hated to do, what made me mad and what made me sad. They chose my doctor who I saw once a year. They chose my dentist who I saw twice a year. They even chose my barber who I saw once a month. They were not allowed to choose my teacher, who I saw five days a week. I was lucky. I could learn in a variety of different ways. Many of my peers did not have these skills. Their parents might have known that they learned in specific ways, but they had little authority to find teachers that could effectively teach their children in the ways that they needed to be taught. Parents should have this ability.
Educational research demonstrates that children learn in different ways. While some learn kinesthetically, others learn visually, and still others are auditory learners (Riding & Douglas, 1993). Research also demonstrates that teachers rely on their own preferred ways of teaching (Lortie, 1976). It would certainly be valuable if students with strong visual learning skills were placed with teachers who had strong visual teaching skills (Riding & Douglas, 1993). I wonder how often school principals intentionally match up students and teachers who share teaching/learning styles? How often do principals invite parents into the process of deciding class placement? Unfortunately, they’d have a very difficult time doing so.
Most students are kinesthetic learners. They learn by doing. They become bored and inattentive when they are asked to sit and listen to something or look at something. These students must be involved in order to learn effectively. Most teachers teach frontally a lot of the time. In short, there’s a mismatch between the way that students learn and the way that teachers teach in many of our nation’s schools.
Here’s what would happen if school principals and parents got together to collaboratively decide on each individual students’ placement for the next school year. Teachers who were well known for being personally caring and capable of developing exciting learning activities would attract the most students. Teachers who employed dull teaching strategies in their daily practice would attract the fewest students. Principals would be forced to find more and more caring teachers with the ability to develop exciting learning activities to accommodate the students who wanted to learn with them.
Now imagine that in a world where two schools existed and total school choice existed. Both schools were equal distances from every home. The quality of the teachers was equal at both schools. One of the schools paid close attention to matching students and teachers who shared teaching/learning styles. They invited parents to participate in selecting their child’s teacher to ensure that they properly understood the child’s learning style. The other school paid little attention to matching teaching/learning styles. Which school do you think would attract more students? I suspect that the school that invited parents into the decision making process of choosing student placement would attract the most students.
If parents had the ability to choose their child’s school and their child’s teacher, most children would be placed with caring teachers who had the ability to develop exciting interactive lessons. Teachers who did not have these abilities would be pushed out of the profession. Schools that could not help their teachers develop and maintain these abilities would lose their students. Would these two results be so bad?
Variables to Consider
I recognize that there are two important “ingredients” that are necessary to make this choice plan work. The first is involved parents. Parents must have the desire and the ability to understand their children. They have to share this understanding with their child’s school to promote effective class placement. Civic and educational leaders would have the responsibility to help parents develop these skills. The second essential ingredient for the above plan to work would be enough qualified teachers. Certainly, financial compensation and adequate professional development would go a long way towards producing this teacher workforce.
Lortie, D. 1976. School Teacher: A Sociological Study. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Riding, RJ. & Douglas, G. (1993) The effect of cognitive style and mode of presentation on learning performance. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 63: 297-307.