All children are…the same?

Many of us have a natural tendency to assume that everyone learns in the same way that we do. I learned about this tendency through my experience with my father, who made the mistake of assuming that I learn in the same way that my brother, and he himself, learn. After several years of struggling, he realized that I learned in a completely different way than both him and my brother, and that my interests were also different, and allowed me to pursue my interests in that way that was right for me. Although this knowledge has been in the back of my mind since that first experience with my father, my personal recognition of  this tendency came much later. My father’s mistakes behind me, I decided I was going to open up a school of my own where movement and physical energy is fostered and nurtured. In my mind, this would be the ideal school, as I think that every child has an innate nature to want to move. However, about a year ago, I was talking to my father about his conversation with one of my friends, who is getting a degree in elementary education. He told me that she had made a very astute observation about me, she said “Bria wants to open a school for people who are like her.” Although I believe this was meant to be a compliment, both from her and from my father when he was retelling it to me, I took it very differently. Something struck me like a weight, and I felt guilty and ignorant about my approach to education. I had inadvertently done exactly as my father had to me, and as many educators have to other children, I had assumed that every child learned in the way I did, and I had planned to design my school based on that assumption.

Since hearing my friend say that about me, I am constantly reminding myself of the differences in learners, in their abilities, skills, ways of learning, and interests. My ideas about my school have become more open-ended, more ready to stretch and mold based on the knowledge that I acquire about education through my studies, and my work in the field. And every time I find myself slipping back to that assumption, assuming that a child does or should learn in a certain way, in my way, I hear my friend’s words in my head, and I remind myself that I want to create a school that is effective for many learners, not just ones like me.

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2 thoughts on “All children are…the same?

  1. Isn’t the whole “learning styles/multiple intelligences” hypothesis of learning pretty thoroughly debunked? I seem to recall a lot of evidence suggesting that acting as if students learn in different ways actually doesn’t increase learning. If your goal is to help lots of people learn effectively, maybe you should get yourself up to speed on the cognitive science field.

  2. First off, I think that you mis-interpreted my post. I read some of what you were talking about (debunking of multiple intelligences/learning styles) and realize that the use of the phrase “learning styles” is misleading and an incorrect implication of my point. I would agree that Howard Gardner’s theories are not based on cognitive findings and have little evidence backing, and that his use of the word “intelligences” is ambiguous and probably, incorrect.

    The idea that I was trying to convey in this post isn’t that people have different learning styles (such as visual or auditory learners) but that they have different interests, and different interests spark a desire to learn in different ways. For instance, if I am interested and drawn to movement, I am going to prefer to engage in activities physically. Some examples of this are martial arts, dance, exploring an environment, playing games outside, etc. When I am having fun and am engage in an activity, it is more likely to hold my attention and interest, and therefore it is the best way to engage me in learning. If someone tries to make me sit and read a book that I don’t find interesting, it will not engage me and I will be bored and probably ignore most of what I am reading.

    So, my point is that learners are different because of our different interests. Our interests cause us to be more engaged in certain activities than others, and therefore more likely to continue to engage and be interested in those activities. Whereas activities that are uninteresting to us will not hold our attention, and we will be bored and unengaged and learn little.

    I believe so strongly in this not just because I have seen it in so many students I have worked with, but because I lived it. My brother absorbed books and programming languages, just like my father did. My father naturally assumed that any child of his should love to absorb books in the same way, and tried to give me the same books and time frame as my brother. It did not work out well. Not only did the computer programming language Squeak look like Chinese to me, but I was frustrated because everyone expected it to look like English, just like it did with my brother.

    Finally, I want to thank you for bringing this to my attention. I haven’t read very extensively about the flaws in the multiple intelligence theory, and I now plan to. Your comment also helped me work out my ideas in my own mind, and clearly sort out what I really meant by “different ways of learning.”

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