ELLs and Learning Styles – Helpful or Not Helpful?

But that is what I learned in college!

VAK: visual, audial, kinesthetic.

I remember first learning about these three sensory learning styles back when I was in college. I was taught that students learned best if material was presented in the learning style they favored. 

That stuck with me. 

In learning vocabulary, for instance.

I remember thinking that we needed to have lots of pictures for our visual learners. 

We needed to close our eyes and just listen in order to cater to our audial learners. 

We needed to get out of our seats and act out the words for our kinesthetic learners. 

So, I was surprised when I recently started reading that learning styles are a bust.

Scott Barry Kaufman wrote that there is a “growing chorus of learning styles skeptics” in a recent Scientific American blog post, for instance.

Turns out, though, that researchers are not necessarily upending the idea that learning styles exist, just the idea that our students have only one, and that any teacher short of Professor Charles Xavier of the X-Men could figure out what it is. 

Back to our vocabulary example, the variety of activities was fine (whew ?), but not for the reasons I originally supposed. 

It wasn’t because I happened to choose the right learning style for the right student. 

It was effective because the students were interacting with the material in a variety of ways.

The brain is complex and interconnected. The more connections we make, the better we remember. 

So, we should keep up using learning styles in the classroom. There are something like 150 of them after all. 

We should just be very careful about thinking we know what learning style is best for any one particular student.

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