|Environmental Education in the Schools (Peace Corps, 1993)|
|Teaching tips and tricks: Strategies that work|
Mary Jo Larson, an Education Specialist at Peace Corps, uses a video camera in her workshops to illustrate the point that many of us feel most comfortable with a certain learning style. Holding up a video camera, she asks participants to think about what they would do if someone gave them a new and unfamiliar piece of equipment. She asks if they would be most apt to:
* talk to someone about it
* watch someone use it and listen to what they say about it
* read the instructions
* just pick it up and try it
In tallying the responses, she finds that some would pick up the camera immediately and "fool around with it." Others would read the instructions from start to finish before even taking it out of the box. Some say they would talk to people who had used a similar camera before trying it out, and others say they would watch someone use it before trying it themselves.
Mary Jo uses this simple demonstration to reinforce the idea that all of us learn in different ways and have definite learning preferences. In The 4MAT System-Teaching to Learning Styles with Right/Left Mode Techniques (Excel, Inc., 1980), author Bernice McCarthy describes four general types of learners:
* those that learn best by relating to people
* those that learn by watching and listening
* those that learn through intellectual understanding
* those that learn by doing
"Every human being is intended to have a character of [his/her]
own; to be what no others are, and to do what no others can
-William Ellery Channing
Although some teachers instinctively include activities that cater to a variety of learning styles, many of us tend to teach in the style that we find most comfortable. In Sophia's case, she learned best by listening and taking notes. So, she felt most comfortable lecturing to her students-a method that is teacher directed with little input from the students. The chalk-talk method of teaching allows the teacher to be in control throughout the lesson; however, it often inhibits student involvement. On the plus side, it does provide the opportunity to convey a lot of information quickly and in many cases, efficiently. And many students are very interested in facts and need the teacher to demonstrate, lecture, explain, and clarify.
What type of learner are you? David Kolb, an educator who has worked extensively with adult education, has developed a simple survey or learning styles inventory that helps you determine your preferred learning style preference. By filling out a questionnaire and tallying the results, you can find out more about your individual learning style. See the box on the next page for how Kolb generally describes the characteristics of the four groups of learners. Also see the ICE Manuals, Teaching Training and Nonformal Education Manual for more about the Kolb survey and theory.
THOSE THAT LEARN FROM FEELING
Learners in this group tend to be more sensitive to feelings and people, and they learn best from specific experiences. They don't find theoretical approaches as helpful as talking with peers, discussing experiences, and exchanging feedback. This group, in general, tends to be more oriented toward peers and less toward authority. In learning situations they are open-minded, intuitive, and adaptable.
THOSE THAT LEARN BY WATCHING AND LISTENING
These learners rely heavily on careful observation in making judgments and prefer learning situations that allow them to be objective observers. In general, this group relies on patience, objectivity, and careful judgment and is hesitant about taking action. They rely on their own thoughts and feelings to form opinions, view things from different perspectives, and often look for the meaning of things. Learners in this group enjoy lectures and demonstrations.
THOSE THAT LEARN BY THINKING
The third group of learners take an analytical, conceptual approach to learning that relies heavily on logical thinking and rational evaluation. This group is more oriented toward things and symbols than people. They learn best in authority-directed, impersonal situations that emphasize theory and systematic analysis. They are often frustrated by "discovery" learning approaches and prefer systematic planning and learning.
THOSE THAT LEARN BY DOING
The last group of learners are the doers. They rely heavily on
experimentation and learn best when they can engage in projects or small group
discussions. They generally dislike lectures and other passive learning
activities. Individuals in this group like to get things done and don't mind
"Every tale can be told in a different
- Greek Proverb
Another way to think about learning styles is to think about how students use their senses to find out new information. For example, some educators divide students into kinesthetic learners (those who learn best by doing-running, jumping, walking-and who learn best through simulation and role plays); auditory learners, who remember what they hear; visual learners, who remember what they see or read; and tactile learners, who need to get their hands "dirty" by building things and working directly with objects and models. Students, in addition to having one or more of these perceptual strengths, may also be more analytical or global. Analytical learners do best with step-by-step instructions, while global learners often need to see the big picture before understanding the facts.
Kolb, McCarthy, and other learning style educators emphasize that all of us learn in a variety of ways, but have certain preferences. By recognizing your own learning style preferences and those of your students, you will be better able to design lesson plans that cater to a variety of learning styles and don't just promote your own natural preferences. (See page 80 for how to apply Kolb's learning theory to a four-step model for lesson planning.)
"Everything [people], animals, trees, stars, we are all one
substance involved in the same terrible struggle. What struggle? ...Turning
matter into spirit. Zorba scratched his head and said, "I've got a thick skull,
boss. I don't grasp these things easily. Ah, if you could dance all that you've
just said, then I'd understand...or if you could tell me all that in a story,
-from Zorba the Greek
RECOGNIZING STUDENT STRENGTHS
Keeping learning styles in mind as you develop lesson plans will help maintain your students' interest and help them excel. It's also important to recognize that students have different natural strengths. Howard Gardner, an educator at Harvard, says schools have traditionally tested for mainly two forms of intelligence-the logical and linguistic. Although Gardner says that measuring the scientific, mathematical, and language abilities is important, he emphasizes that it is equally important to recognize the other measures of intelligence. This is especially important to environmental education, which relies on a variety of individual strengths to help solve complex problems. Below are the seven broad categories of intelligences Gardner describes. Do you recognize any of your students' strengths-or your own?
LINGUISTIC: the ability to understand and use words (fullest) expression in poets, storytellers, writers)
Environmental connection: write a story or newspaper article about an environmental issue or natural history topic
LOGICAL/MATHEMATICAL: the ability to reason abstractly and conceptually using deductive or inductive modes of thought (scientists, mathematicians)
Environmental connection: analyze data or solve an environmental problem.
SPATIAL: the ability to perceive the world of objects accurately, imagine transformation and modifications of what one sees, and recreate visual experiences from memory (architects, sculptors, navigators, designers, artists)
Environmental connection: make a model of a more efficient solar car
MUSICAL: the ability to recognize variations of tone and pitch, and a capacity to combine tones to create new sounds (composers, conductors, singers)
Environmental connection: express feelings by writing a piece of music inspired by the natural environment or by writing a song that can educate others about an environmental issue
KINESTHETIC: the ability to use one's body and muscle structure in a coordinated, planned way (dancers, athletes, mimes)
Environmental connection: plant trees, play an environmental running game, or perform an environmental dance
INTERPERSONAL: the ability to deal effectively with others (teachers, politicians, psychologists)
Environmental connection. take part in role plays and simulations or get involved in a community outreach project involving an environmental issue
INTRAPERSONAL: the ability to know one's own feelings, to understand one's own behavior (having a model of yourself and using that model to solve problems)
Environmental connection: keep a personal journal about your feelings concerning environmental issues
" There is no single horizontal capacity such as memory,
perception, problem solving, learning or originality that cuts across diverse
contents. Rather individuals can have a good or bad memory, can be rapid or slow
learners, can exhibit novel or stereotyped thinking in any one of these
intelligences.... In this view, there is not general "brightness" or
"smartness." People can be "smart" or "dumb" in one area, but this tells us
nothing about their intelligence in other domains."
According to Gardner's definition, everyone has all intelligences, but not in the same strengths. Gardner suggests that students concentrate on their strengths, but try to build on their weaknesses. He also says that it's important to understand and accept that students can't learn everything and that providing students with an opportunity to excel in each area will help build self esteem and lifelong skills.
Gardner is just one of many researchers looking at intelligence. Another, Robert Sternberg, challenges the notion that "smart is fast." He argues that many smart people are reflective, take their time to figure out problems, and keep at something until they get it right. However, most schools around the world test for "quickness" with timed tests throughout a student's schooling. He also says that traditional tests don't help teachers understand how well a student can critique and analyze a problem or argument. He says that a lot of people are "very good analytically, but they just don't have good ideas of their own."
As far as environmental education is concerned, it's important to help students realize their potential and not stereotype students as "smart" or "stupid" and assume that if they do well on an IQ test, they will become an environmentally responsible citizen or excel in school or in life after school. And likewise, if a student does poorly on tests, it doesn't mean the child is stupid or will not be a productive member of society. Intelligence is a complex stew of many types of mental abilities and is influenced by a variety of factors. It is important to help all students feel that they have the potential to learn and to excel!