Friday, December 30, 2011

Thank you to all our customers

Thank you for all your support during 2011. May 2012 bring you peace, joy and happiness.
(Please remember that our offices will reopen on 9 January 2012, but you can always reach us on email.)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Season's Greetings

Warmest Christmas and New Year's wishes from Creative Learning. Please be advised that our office will be closed until 9 January 2012 and we will attend to all your enquiries upon our return. Have a safe and pleasant holiday.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Stuck for that perfect Christmas gift?

This Christmas, give the gift that will last more than the lifespan of a battery. Give something that costs as much as a takeaway dinner. Give self-knowledge and peace of mind. Give the future.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The Khan Academy and Learning Styles

Khan Academy is an educational website. Its tagline promises to help you “learn almost anything—for free.” You can choose from over 2,400 videos explaining the principles of maths, science, and economics. Between 7 and 14 minutes long, the videos consist of a voice-over by the website's creator, Salman Khan. All you see is hand-scribbled formulas and diagrams as they appear on your screen. There are no fancy graphics and the videos are not interactive.

And yet, many teachers and homeschooling parents turn to the Khan Academy videos to aid with homework and exam preparation. The advantages, they say, are that the students can move at their own pace and rewind the bits they get stuck on.

The disadvantages lie in the students' learning styles.

Not everybody is suited to learning optimally through an online course. Kinesthetic learners who enjoy working in a group are better off in a face-to-face interactive workshop.
However, if you have a preference in 4 or more of the following, e-learning is for you:
  • visual (reading)
  • visual (watching)
  • tactile
  • learning alone
  • stationary
  • internal motivation.
Are you a good candidate for E-Learning? Find out.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Communication Disorders and Learning Styles

Difficulties pronouncing sounds and stuttering are examples of speech disorders. Mild cases can be sorted by a Speech Clinic, elocution lessons, drama classes or Young Toastmasters Club.

Trouble understanding others and trouble sharing ideas are examples of language disorders. Contact your local speech and language therapist for assessment and treatment.

Difficulty sustaining attention when somebody else is talking may be a sign of ADHD, or a mild hearing loss, or a non-preference in the auditory sensory modality of your Learning Style. Please contact us if we can help you make sense out of your learning strengths.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Learning Styles and Learning Problems

Sometimes your child's learning problems will not be caused by their learning style, although they may be made be co-related. For example, if your child's learning style is auditory and they have a hearing issue, the learning problem will be magnified.

Vision Problems
Your child’s learning issues may be due to poor vision, easily corrected by a behavioural optometrist with eyeglasses or special eye muscle exercises.

Eye teaming: the brain can't combine input from both eyes, resulting in double vision. Largely undiagnosed or misdiagnosed as dyslexia.

Children with tracking problems can't control their eye movements to follow the line of print when reading.

Focus: eyes get tired during reading and cannot stay on the print

Longsighted children cannot see detail at close range (the book).

Shortsighted child cannot see detail at a distance (the whiteboard). This usually manifests at age 7 up and goes undetected. Warning signs: a good student loses interest in schoolwork, doesn’t progress or becomes disruptive.

Vision perception problems: the child experiences difficulties in analysing and giving meaning to what they see.

Fine motor eye-hand coordination problems cause poor handwriting and, as time progresses, lack of learning progress.

If reading difficulties persist after optometric problems have been corrected or excluded, the child should be referred for Irlen Syndrome testing to see if they can benefit from reading through a coloured filter.

Hearing issues
Both learning and behavioural issues may be caused by hearing problems. Schools don’t test hearing routinely and may even misdiagnose mild hearing loss as ADHD.

If your child’s hearing is fine and they’re not ADHD, their inability to listen may stem from auditory processing difficulty (normal hearing but inability to process what they hear), so consult your local audiologist.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Learning Styles and Dysgraphia

Is your child's handwriting messy? Does your child find excuses not to do written work? It could be that their learning style doesn't lend itself to writing, but it could also signify a learning disability.

A specific learning disability that affects written language, impaired letter writing by hand and spelling, usually characterised by extremely poor handwriting. It sometimes combines strong verbal but particularly poor writing skills. Copying will be slow and difficult, even if the end result is neat (which it often isn’t).

Although children with dysgraphia do not have motor control problems, they may have difficulty touching the thumb to successive fingers on the same hand.

A student with any degree of handwriting difficulty may be labeled "dysgraphic" by some educational specialists, but may or may not need special education services. Conversely, most learning disabled students experience difficulty with handwriting.

Coping strategies include the child speaking their thoughts into a voice-recording device (if their learning style lends itself to this method of producing output), learning to type, learning shorthand. Dysgraphic children should be provided with all the learning materials and notes without the need to copy anything.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

How To Study For Exams

With exams around the corner, most students' minds turn to the process of studying. Do you know your particular method for assimilating information? Do you know what works best for you? Here are a few general tips:

  1. Get your attitude right. Positive thinking won't make you pass the test if you haven't studied, but negative thinking can make you fail even when you know the work. It's the magic of our brain, the "mind over matter" phenomenon. So tell yourself you'll do well in the exams. Tell yourself you love to study. Once you've studied hard, tell yourself you know the work.
  2. Get your health right. Make sure you get enough sleep. If you're underslept, you won't be productive. Sleep is never a waste of time - your body and brain need it.
  3. Do you know what helps you learn well? A dim room or a bright room? Morning or evening? Bullet points or understanding the overall picture? Working on one thing or many things at once? Buy a copy of LSA Adult to help you answer these questions.
  4. Some fun tools to help you study (careful though, or they can become too time consuming and counter-productive): mind maps, reading textbooks, remembering.
  5. A fellow student talks about studying here.
Good luck!

Friday, November 04, 2011

Learning Styles and Exam Preparation

Barbara Prashnig explains the importance of understanding the role of learning styles in studying and exam preparation:

"Thousands of students will soon be preparing themselves for the next round of exams in schools all over the world. Many will suffer from anxiety, frustration and despair because they know they are fighting a losing battle.

Considering learning styles in the context of information intake (learnining) and output (sitting exams), our research over the last twenty years shows that the points of difference are this:

a) During the presentation of new and/or difficult information in class, learning styles need to be accommodated to ensure understanding, longterm memory and the best possible learning.

b) When students study and prepare for exams they need to be made aware of their personal learning styles and should be allowed to learn in their own way, in the right environment, and with the most appropriate study techniques for their own style.

c) During tests and exams, learning styles are not so crucial because most students have enough flexibility to cope with adverse situations; this is especially true when the learning process preceding the exam has been accomplished with teaching methods matching their personal learning styles. When students are allowed to learn in their best way, they understand and remember better and are much more confident in showing what they know in an exam situation, even when their personal learning styles are not being matched during the exam. Yet they are less prone to failure or having memory lapses because with LS based study techniques, curriculum content is more readily available, even under pressure."

Friday, October 28, 2011

E-Course: Last Chance to Register

Here, at Creative Learning, we are dedicated to the subject of learning. This means learning in all its forms and in every environment; from formal settings to home study to the workplace. Our speciality is HOW we learn, before WHAT we learn. If you'd like to learn more about Style Analysis (the HOW of learning), here's an opportunity for you: we are offering an online course during the first ten days of November 2011. Please email to register. Teachers, parents, students - all welcome.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Reminder: Our Learning Style E-Course in November

Have you ever wondered what it implies for a child’s learning when they are highly holistic or internally motivated? Or looked at a group profile of your class and compared it to your own Teaching Style Analysis report?

Now is the time to dig deeper into the concept of Learning Styles.

When: 1 - 10 November 2011

Where: online

How much: USD149.00

Click here for more information.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Secret of Personal Learning Style Differences

Our popular online course (Introduction to LSA) is back!
When: 1 - 10 November 2011
Where: online
How much: USD149.00
We don’t have set times when you have to be in front of the computer - do it at your own leisure. Nor do we have Real Time participation, though email participation is encouraged. 
Classes will be held on a designated Yahoo Group. The way it'll work will be fairly structured yet informal, to accommodate all learning styles and most schedules:
  • the tutor will post a lesson on the forum (this will be available on the yahoo group's website and as an email sent to your address), usually with homework assignments
  • the participants will ask questions, post feedback and share homework - all by means of an email/post to the yahoo group
  • although the lessons will be posted on designated dates, the participants will be free to do them whenever it's convenient, bearing in mind that it's always best to do it when most of the class is doing it, of course....
Click here for more information.

Friday, October 07, 2011

The Art Of Doing Nothing

The Chinese philosopher Lin Yutang once said that an afternoon spent doing nothing is an afternoon well spent. When was the last time you can honestly say you did nothing the entire afternoon? Imagine a whole afternoon, five precious hours of it, spent gazing at the clouds, or lying in the grass watching toddlers stick fingers into each others' nostrils, or with a trashy book.

If your working style has a preference for high responsibility, high perseverence and sequential processing (goal-driven), you'll probably feel guilty if you're not busy. It may seem too decadent, or simply wrong, to devote precious hours of free time to… nothing.

We have lost the fine art of not doing. Our lives are full of traps to ensure we fill our time. The devil makes works for idle hands? Bah! The devil actually makes idle unimportant work for hands that are too busy to notice the difference.

Think of all the emails we feel obliged to respond to, all the newspapers we feel we should read to remain "current", all the web sites we visit out of habit. Do clothes really need to be ironed? What's wrong with eating takeaway or popcorn for dinner on a weekly basis? What's the point of applying make-up only to wipe it off again at the end of the day?

It's time to stop feeling guilty about walking out of bad movies, it's time to stop feeling guilty about giving books ten pages to grip you and putting them aside if they fail the test, and it's high time to start feeling guilty about all the time-fillers we clutch to in order to avoid doing - nothing.

Next time you're waiting at a supermarket checkout, resist the temptation to flick through all those magazines you wouldn't normally buy. When stopped at a red traffic light, be grateful for the pause. Grab every single opportunity to be out there and do nothing. Remember, it's an art. And it's far more difficult than you think.

Now for the test. Click here to do nothing for two minutes. This mini-break was brough to you by Creative Learning, because we care.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Misunderstood Child

Learning Styles are a scientific miracle cure capable of addressing many problems a child experiences at home and at school, such as homework aversion, being disruptive, being bullied, underachieving. Sometimes, however, learning difficulties are not simply a result of a mismatching learning style.

Sensory Processing Dysfunction

Dysfunction of sensory processing is a neurological problem with processing sensations. Children interpret sensation from the environment or from their bodies in an inaccurate way: sensory-seeking, sensory-avoidance and dyspraxia. All three variants have to be diagnosed by a specialist and are usually treated using sensory integration therapy (a fun process in a sensory-enriched gym with lots of swinging, spinning, tactile, visual, auditory and taste opportunities).

Sensory Seeking

Children with sensory dysfunction do not necessarily exhibit every characteristic, for example, a child with vestibular dysfunction may have poor balance but good muscle tone, or show characteristics of a dysfunction one day but not the next.
 Children with "sensory seeking" behaviour do not always process incoming sensory input. They may appear hyperactive, engage in dangerous activities (climbing too high), be unaware of pain or extra loud sounds. Their learning style will typically include tactile and/or kinesthetic preferences.

Sensory Avoidance

Children with "sensory avoidance" hate crowds, noise, dirty hands, walking on sand and being touched. Their learning style will typically not include tactile preferences.



Children with dyspraxia (a motor planning problem, also known as Developmental Coordination Disorder), have trouble learning new things even though they may be very intelligent. The problem is that the connections that link the brain to the rest of the body don’t work properly, and the child’s body finds it difficult to do what the brain is telling it to do. Lots of practice usually helps to master a new skill.

The dyspraxic child may display the following symptoms:
seem clumsy,
  • not know today what they knew yesterday,
  • not understand multiple instructions,
  • be disorganised,
  • lose things,
  • have illegible handwriting,
  • not know how to draw,
  • be bright and intelligent, but fail academically.
Their learning style will typically exhibit holistic preferences.

What learning preferences does your child exhibit?

Find out.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Homework + Learning Styles = The Creative Way

The Question of Creativity

Is homework in your household creative? Creativity is the ability to produce something new, to generate unique ideas and solutions. The process of creating should be a fun energizing activity. Is homework in your household fun and energising?

Learning Styles
It should be. It can be. With the help of learning styles.

Kinesthetic - the child learns better through own physical experiences:

·        Bake a cake together to teach conversion from grams to kilograms.
·        Pantomime or act out a history lesson.
·        Play a board game to discover new facts.
·        Take a field trip to the zoo, a court house, a factory.

Tactile - the child has a strong need to use hands when learning:
·        Make use of question-answer jig-saw puzzles), electro- boards (a bulb lights up for every correct answer), flip chutes, etc.
·        Encourage your child to make their own memory aids: sculptures of molecules or board games depicting new topics.

Visual - the child remembers and understands best through watching:
·        Create a mind-map, illustration, cartoon, poster, slide show, costume, historical time line, illustrated report.
·         Watch a DVD about the topic (“The King and I” about Thailand, “Little Einsteins”).

Auditory - the child likes to interact verbally:
·        Make a learning tape together with your child. Let her explain the new topic into the tape recorder.
·        Discuss the lesson together.
·        Encourage your child to compose and record a song, a poem or a radio play about the topic (e.g., World War II, global warming, flower pollination, Mexico).
What is your child's learning style? Find out.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Asthma and Learning Problems

Asthma is more than a respiratory condition that causes difficulty breathing. The latest research conducted by Canterbury University (New Zealand) shows that children with asthma are more likely to fall behind with their reading after a year of school than children without asthma. Asthma is now a recognised physical learning disability, alongside visual impairments and hearing issues.

Unlike wearing glassess to combat short-sightenessd, however, suffering from asthma has no easy medical solution. Fortunately, learning disabilities caused by asthma can be overcome with the help of learning styles

It's really as easy as 1,2,3:
  1. Let your child answer the Learning Style Analysis questionnaire.
  2. Read the report on how they like to learn.
  3. Create the optimal learning environment.
You'll find you may need to change the time slot in which you schedule homework. You may need to change the room's lights or allow your child to do homework on the floor. There are many environment, physical and social elements that can affect your child's performance. They are impossible to guess without an expert tool.

Our Learning Style Analysis questionnaire is an expert tool. We invite you to use it.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Parents and Working Styles

What can you change to achieve a better environment in which to be a parent? Think about your daily schedule and about your house, in the context of your Working Style preferences.

· If you hate early mornings, can your partner take the early parenting shift?

· If the bright house lights make you see red, it’s a good investment to change them, before they affect your health and the well-being of those around you.

· The mess is the biggest problem for you? Then make one room in the house a no-go zone for the children: the kitchen, your bedroom, the laundry. Take refuge there with a cup of coffee whenever there are more than 11 toys lying around on the floor.

· Do your partner’s eyes glaze over when you say: “Right. Please take out the garbage, feed the children: the lasagna is in the oven, turn it off in fifteen minutes, remember the teeth, don’t let them watch too much TV, I’ll be back at nine”? If so, find another way of communicating with him (a written list, a recorded message, a video even if you have a camera with playback). The extra effort will be well worth the end result.

· Get enough sleep. Parents who are night owls by nature tend to do chores or have couple-time till late in the evening, then feel exhausted come morning.

· If you’re a planner, plan every day at home with the children as though you were a manager in a big company: plan the outings, the meals, the crafts and what music you’ll put on. If you are a spontaneous person, let your imagination dictate what you do every day and don’t stress trying to execute a plan just because everybody else seems to do it that way.

· If the kids do something that annoys you, put yourself in time-out with a large box of chocolates.

· Most important of all: have fun with your children. It’s the best way to de-stress.

If all this sounds too simple and obvious to make a difference, think again. Every journey consists of small steps. And you are about to make a giant leap towards a healthier happier you. Start with discovering your own Working Style.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Learning Styles on YouTube

Yes, we do walk the walk as well as talk the talk! For those of you out there who enjoy watching videos (this translates to a preference in external visual input and external auditory input on the LSA Pyramid), we've collected the following clips:

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Handwriting and Your Learning Style

Does handwriting matter? For many years, the general consensus was, in a nutshell, no. Ideas counted. Creativity. The contents behind the scribbles. Then the personal computer came along and typing replaced most forms of handwriting. A god thing? Not so, claim the experts.

"Study after study suggests that handwriting is important for brain development and cognition — helping kids hone fine motor skills and learn to express and generate ideas," says Gwendolyn Bounds in The Wall Street Journal.

Virginia Berninger, a psychologist from the University of Wisconsin discovered that students produced more ideas when composing essays in longhand. Her research showed that the sequential finger movements required to write by hand activate brain regions involved with thought, language, and short-term memory.

Cursive writing in particular develops the small muscles in the hand and teaches spatial skills as we automatically leave spaces between words while writing in cursive.

To some children, handwriting skills will come more naturally than to others. It all depends on their learning style: how visual and tactile they are, whether they have a preference for mobility, their motivation and perseverance.

What is your child's learning style and does it make handwriting a messy business?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Is Your Job Killing You?

This blog has been telling you for years. You've always suspected it. Now you have proof. Your job may indeed be killing you - literally.

A research study conducted by the Tel Aviv University has discovered that people with little or no social support from their co-workers were 2.4 times more likely to die in the next three decades than those who said they had close, supportive bonds with their workmates.

Their conclusion implies that people whose Working Style has a preference for working with peers on in groups may be in danger in toxic workplaces where they can't find colleagues to team up with. Similarly, people whose Working Style strength is working alone, may be able to cope better in an unfriendly workplace.

There are other ways in which the workplace can lead to stress: incorrect lighting, unsuitable room temperature, shift hours that are incompatible with your Working Style.

Check your preferences today!

PS: The good news? Having a horrible boss is not correlated to your chances of dying within the next few decades.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


(a guest blog by Nicholas Reid, writer and critic)

A question has been jangling in my head recently and keeping me awake at night. Is the appreciation of literature really being taught?

I know at first glance the question seems self-evidently absurd. Of course the appreciation of literature can be taught. Otherwise why do we have all those English and other language departments and programmes in universities and colleges? And why do high-school teachers force Lord of the Flies, The God Boy, The Color Purple, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Whale Rider, The Old Man and the Sea, Man Alone, The Scarlet Letter into young and unwilling heads?

But think carefully about the question and you’ll see there is a real problem. If the appreciation of literature means responding perceptively to what authors have actually written, then is it really being taught?

Let me illuminate the problem by telling you what I know about a specific writer.

I’m quite knowledgeable about Elizabeth Gaskell and her novels. I know that she was not quite up there with classics like Dickens, George Eliot and Thackeray, but that she was an esteemed Victorian writer who has retained a considerable readership. I know that she is now much lauded by feminist academics because she gave a distinctly female account of early industrialised England. I know she wrote Mary Barton, Cranford, North and South, Wives and Daughters and other novels and short stories of small town, industrial town and domestic life; and I know that some of her work first appeared as serials in periodicals like Household Words and All the Year Round.

If you sat me down in front of a school exam question on Elizabeth Gaskell, or confronted me with an undergraduate essay topic on her, I’d be able to concoct a creditable answer. I could sagely discuss her themes – the circumscribed lives of women; the power of gossip; the clash of older village ways with industrialisation in England’s “railway age”; the beginnings of wage slavery; class divisions between the squirearchy and the middle classes; the ties that bind small communities together and so forth. I could name her main characters, write accounts of them, and neatly précis her plots. I could even make some apt comments on her style and her tendency to focus on the minutiae of life. All this would be off the top of my head from what I already know. Give me spend and hour or two to look some reference material, and I’d do even better.

But here’s the rub. Although it pains me to admit it, and although I should be performing ritualised penance, I have never read a single word of Elizabeth Gaskell’s works, even though three of her books sit on my shelves as I write this.

Having never got around to her, I have simply accumulated knowledge of her from other sources. These include passing references in general histories of literature; what I have heard other people say about her; enthusiastic recommendations from an Elizabeth Gaskell fan whom I knew some years back; and my having seen two BBC TV serial adaptations of her work – North and South and Cranford.

Everything I know about Elizabeth Gaskell is second-hand. My eyes have never travelled across the words she actually wrote and I’ve never experienced or assessed how she wrote.

Which brings me back to my original question – is the appreciation of literature really being taught?

After all, if the study of literature is supposed to be training our responses to the process of reading itself, to a particular writer’s style, and to the impact of the words on the page, then plot summaries, character studies, background sociological or biographical detail, what eminent critics have thought and the neat corralling of themes all have very little to do with it. Those things can be acquired without ever bothering to read whatever is supposedly being studied. They are a form of knowledge, but they are not an appreciation of literature.

I’m not exposing any obscure trade secret in noting this. The world is filled with high school students and perhaps a majority of BA students who have negotiated literature courses not by reading the set texts, but only by reading “study guides” on the model of the old Cole’s Notes or Monarch Notes, or by accessing whatever Wikipedia and the ‘net have to say. Conning lecturer’s notes always helps, too. (Our Humanities departments are so constituted that it is always wise to flatter your lecturer’s opinions when you formulate your answers.)

Regrettably, these methods will often be the very ones that earn an A+. Real literature for adults is allusive, can be read on many levels, and does not often lend itself to simple interpretations of the sort that one dashes off against the clock in exam or term-paper conditions. The student who has dutifully ploughed through, puzzled over and personally responded to something compendious like Bleak House may well be at a disadvantage in comparison with the student who has memorised by heart ready-made phrases about style, plot, character, themes, historical significance and so forth. I have often enough been on the other side of the fence as a (secondary- and tertiary-level) marker, and I know that a forthright, organised, clearly-expressed, information-packed answer will usually trump a sincere but more tortuous answer. Clarity and a genuine personal response to a text are not mutually-exclusive. Yet the organised, clearly-expressed answer is more likely to be the parroted answer.

I am reminded of a true story Solzhenitsyn once reported. An official Soviet-era manual advised students not to bother reading Tolstoy or Dostoievsky, but just to read the summaries of their novels given in the manual. The books themselves would be too “confusing”. Soviet officials may well have had ideological objections to undiluted Tolstoy and Dostoievsky, with all their religious and non-materialist concerns. But the manual’s advice was a frank admission of the same process that is encouraged by our own pedagogy. I’m further reminded of how often, over the years, I have heard blowhards boasting that they won high grades in school and university courses just by memorising bits of a “study guide”. Usually this has been said to me as if it were a sign of the speaker’s extreme cleverness. In fact it merely references a game whose rules all teachers and academics fully understand.

There are some fairly obvious responses to what I am saying.

One would be to ask whether any of it matters. After all, if high school or tertiary students of literature are gaining credits in NCEA courses, or passing their examinations, then what does it matter how they acquired the relevant knowledge? This approach appeals to principals whose chief concern is making their schools look good in a competitive market (between schools, NCEA is just as competitive as older national examination systems were). It appeals equally to supervisors of tertiary academic programmes, whose funding relies on a successful through-put of as many students as possible. But it implicitly negates the whole reason for studying literature in the first place. It says that a real encounter with an author’s written words is less important than knowledge about those written words. Literature is reduced to useless data, encouraging many students to regard the whole concept with contempt and to avoid ever reading anything challenging again, once they have their degree or certificate.

Another response would be to point out that I am really talking about means of assessment rather the study of literature itself. What about those teachers who ask students to compile reading journals, or to compose personal and subjective responses to what they are set to read? What about those who devise tests and exercises that require recall of a text’s actual wording? What about seminars which challenge students’ understanding and discuss specific given passages of a text?

I concede that assessment of students is one of the main things that concerns me. I acknowledge, too, that the more advanced the level of study, the less easy it becomes to hide behind ready-made packages of other peoples’ summaries. Generally, high-school students and undergraduates can get away with it, but at the postgraduate level it is much harder. (Not that it is impossible, mind. And a little creative re-wording can usually circumvent the electronic guards that most universities now use to prevent outright plagiarism in students’ work.).

But I am still on firm ground when I note the prevalence of pretending to teach literature itself, while actually encouraging students to value facts and opinions about literature. Some years ago, as a conscientious high-school teacher, I used to read the “model” essays that were sent out to us as examples of the best students’ work in the old Bursary and Scholarship English exams. I became rapidly disillusioned as I noted how many of them could have been written without even opening the works that were supposedly being analysed. One such “model” essay, earning top marks, was a collection of well-ordered, clearly-expressed current clichés about the role of women in literature. It had only a peripheral relationship with the Virginia Woolf novel that it was ostensibly discussing. Doubtless the student who wrote it was a very intelligent 17-year-old (or Year 13) student. Doubtless, too, she had carefully memorised everything her teacher had told her. But she was not responding to literature. She was repeating something that had been squeezed out of literature before she got to it.

I could pile up the depressing anecdotes along these lines. I once met a high-school teacher at a training day who proudly circulated materials he gave his senior classes, telling them that “there are two ways to study a novel”. One was to read the novel. The other, which he recommended to his students as less laborious, was to watch a good film or television adaptation of the novel and then read a study guide. So much for encountering the words on the page. Then there was the lecturer who claimed that it was unimportant for him to read the works on which he lectured. All that mattered was that he knew the work’s cultural significance, its place in literary history and the chief critical arguments and controversies it had aroused. In effect, the lecturer gave second-hand opinions to his students who (unless they took the unusual expedient of doing their own reading) would eventually give him back third-hand answers.

And so on and so on.

In our senior national high-school Bursary and Scholarship English exams, there used to be a compulsory “unseen” question, in which students had to interpret a poem or piece of prose they were seeing for the first time. It was the one part of the paper that challenged them to demonstrate their own reading skills and perception, as opposed to regurgitating what they had been told. Of course it was eventually judged to be too hard for too many students, and ceased to be compulsory. So it was back to a paper which encouraged students to write what they had been told about literature, rather than what they had personally experienced of it. I am, however, encouraged that a similar “unseen” interpretation question is now part of NCEA exams.

As a teacher, one of my preferred forms of torture was to photocopy extracts from the novel my class was studying, and then make the students, under test conditions, identify where it came from, what it meant and what the passage displayed that was typical of the author’s style. Perhaps one day I will get around to reading Elizabeth Gaskell. I might then be able to answer such contextual quizzing about her. In the meantime, having not read single word of hers, I am fully equipped to pass whatever standard test a standard literature course on her could throw at me.

I know at least as much as an A+ student would.

(to read more of Nicholas Reid, have a look here)

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Your Learning Style: Reading For Pleasure Or For Information?

What do you think is the most misunderstood learning style?
  • Tactile input?
  • Mobility-preference learning?
  • Holistic information processing?
Yes, yes, and yes. It's well documented that tactile learners are often neglected, learners with a strong preference for mobility labelled as unruly, and holistic processors misdiagnosed with ADHD. However, a learning style that can sometimes slip through the cracks is Visual (words).
You know that your child loves stories. You see her reading complex chapter books which are meant for much older readers. She can summarise the plot and describe every single character in the book as though it's her best friend. Who would blame you for assuming your child is good at receiving information through the written word?
And yet, the very same story-thirsty child might not be very good at all at deciphering non-fiction texts. It's as though non-fiction is written in a foreign language or a weird font, and your child struggles to find even the most basic facts in a textbook.
The apparent contradiction is not an inconsistency at all. It simply means that your child can learn through stories (usually associated with a holistic or integrated information processing). Provided the child doesn't have a non-preference in any of the following sensory modalities, she will be able to learn whether the stories are presented in a film, a book or an oral narration.
If your child is a bookworm and yet has trouble processing non-fiction text, let her practice on:
  • newspaper or magazine articles (they are often stories rich in facts)
  • brochures
  • business letters
  • encyclopaedia entries.
Choose topics she's interested in and ensure all her other learning style preferences are satisfied.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Teaching Maths Another Way

I was watching a mathemagic show the other day (that's a magic show in which the magician does multiplications in his head faster than you can do them on the calculator). Right at the end, the performer revealed to the audience the trick he used to square 57683 (i.e., to multiply 57683 by itself). It's not a trick in the magical sense of the word, it's a formula for calculating (x+y) to the power of 2, which we all learned in high school, except he figured a way to make it useful beyond the final exam.

So many of us learn to ace the test without thinking of everyday applications for the things we learn. Isn't it a sign that we should change the way we teach? Remove the notion that math is the same as learning to do sample problems or calculating answers. Maths should be about solving problems, turning an unknown problem into a known one, thinking what data you need instead of having it supplied on a plate. Maths should be about tricks like the ones the "mathemagician" used to break down the problem into manageable chunks.

Not many Western schools teach the Vedic Maths of simplifying calculations, for example, and yet there is something inherently beautiful about the fact that the square of a two-digit number that end in 5 is always the product of the first digit and one more than the first digit, followed by 25. For example, the square of 75 is (7x8) followed by 25, or 5625.

Or the trick for multiplying by 11 (see tutorial 6). This is not calculating - this is playing with patterns.

In another excellent video clip, Dan Meyer suggests how to make maths problems more challenging and more fun for our students. TV has trained us that any problem can be solved  “in 22 minutes, with three commercial breaks and a laugh track”, and his dream is to teach a patient way of solving problems.

For sure, not every learning style is suited to patient problem solving. Not every student will have a natural ability to perform complex calculations in their heads. But if these ideas improve the school experience for even one student, they are worth trying.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

iPads and Learning Styles

In the last ten years, computers have become the answer to the complex issue of lifting education standards. Students dropping out of school? Give them computers in the classroom. Numeracy outcomes deteriorating? Here is a website where you can do sums and compete with people in other countries. Too few teachers? No problem: replace them with computers that work 24/7 and never get sick.

This year, a new sub-trend has emerged, with iPads as the latest panacea. Apparently, all you need to keep students motivated and interested in schoolwork is to get iPads.
iPads are cool, no argument there. The education programs available impress with variety and ingenuity: from spelling through division to scientific reasoning and creative writing, you can download an app to suit every student's needs.

Too simple to be true? You bet.

While almost every child (and grownup) will enjoy playing with an iPad, not everybody's Learning Style is suited to this method of learning, iPads are mainly tactile and visual, with a limited auditory output that's not sufficient to satisfy an auditory person. Kinesthetic learners, dreamers and people who learn in social groups are left behind in the iPad revolution. True, they're also left behind in traditional methods of teaching, but what's the point of replacing one inadequate regime with another?

Learning Style Analysis (LSA) is a tool designed to determine a student's learning strengths and needs. Before you go to the expense of buying an iPad for every student in every classroom, spend 5% of that budget analysing their learning styles. You may discover they don't need an iPad nearly as much as they need a quiet place to concentrate or an electric fan on a hot afternoon.