Sunday, January 20, 2013


I believe in learning styles. I really do. I can’t make sense of most of what I hear people saying about them, but I do believe in learning styles. Any responsible teacher has to. When you see some students drawing charts and other students counting things out on their fingers and yet others writing word patterns to help themselves get through tests, you know that different people get at information and skills in different ways. So, yeah, I believe in learning styles. Of course I do.

Here are some things I don’t believe. I don’t believe there are only seven. I don’t believe that each person has only one. (We each have most of them, and we’re each better at some than others.) I don’t believe it’s ultimately the teacher’s responsibility to address all the learning styles with each lesson. And I don’t believe that recent studies of learning styles prove that the lecture should disappear from the planet. If anything, I’d say that awareness of learning styles actually supports the tried-and-true lecture format. If I say something, write the key words on the board, and draw a chart, and the students take notes on it all and then read and study their notes, they use their eyes, ears, voice, and hands while employing verbal, visual, auditory, and kinetic learning styles. If the lesson includes a rational train of thought, they engage in logical learning. If they get together with a study group, they’re involved in social learning.

If I turn this formula around and think of myself as a student, it becomes clear that, if I want to learn and retain anything from all these wonderful books I read, I need to take notes and then review my notes. Well, of course, I do just that. I’m up to sixty-one pages of single-spaced notes on Aquinas, forty-five on Plato, and so on. And I try to write at least a paragraph on everything I read and then review it all at least once at the end of each year.

But last week, during two longish car trips, I read to my wife, and now I can’t remember much of what I read. We were in the car, so I couldn’t – or at least didn’t – take notes. We made it through about fifteen of the essays and addresses in C. S. Lewis’s God in the Dock, and I spent several hours in constant amazement. But right now, I only clearly remember two things. I also thought of what seemed like a really good idea for a blog post (one not entitled “Mistakes”), but even though I’ve reexamined the essays – twice – I can’t find the passage I wanted to write about. And now I don’t even quite remember what the passage said, despite the impact it had on me at the time. I only know that it went along so well with the Plato I’ve been reading, I felt sure that Lewis must in fact have had the Gorgias in mind as he wrote.

I’ve just moved past another big mistake. When I first set up my ten-year plan, I had James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom split over two years. But then I remembered one more Civil War book I wanted to read, so I fit last year’s Forged in Battle into year 6, and collapsed McPherson into a single assignment. I figured that since it was a great book I remembered loving, its 860 pages would fly by. The problem is, I don’t necessarily want pages to fly by in a detail-rich book that I love. So I generally spent two or three hours a day on the book across three or four weeks in order to finish it. It was a mistake, a flaw in The Plan, and one that I got away with only because of a long winter break. But considering that it took me seven years to come across my first scheduling mistake, I guess I should say I’m doing pretty well. I surprised myself by finishing the first ten-year plan in just eleven years (while raising two kids), and it’s looking more and more as though I’ll get this one in right on schedule.


  1. The problem with lectures is when students who don't learn well from listening (such as me) don't take notes and read them later, thereby getting the visual component.

  2. Thanks for commenting! Critiquing your first four words was part of the goal of my post. I agree that you describe a problem; I live with that problem every day of my teaching life. But is the problem you describe located primarily in the lecture, as you suggest, or in the student, as I maintain?