Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
A lot of attention has been given in recent years to student learning
styles, how they may differ from faculty teaching styles, and what to do
about such differences. The excerpt below is a brief look at this issue
written primarily for beginning faculty. It is from: The Adjunct
Professor's Guide to Success: Surviving and Thriving in the College
Classroom, Chapter 4 - Today's Undergraduate Students, pp. 41-42. by
Richard E. Lyons, Marcella L. Kysilka, and George E. Pawlas, Allyn & Bacon,
A Viacom Company, Needham Heigths, MA. Copyright ?1999 Allyn & Bacon,
reprinted with permission.
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Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
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In recent years, mountains of data have been gathered to help educators more
conclusively understand how students learn. Presenting a great deal of that
information at this stage in your development as an instructor would
probably be counterproductive, but a sample might provide insight to aid you
in your initial teaching assignment.
One of the most interesting efforts, commonly referred to as "brain-based"
research, seeks to understand learning from the perspective of where and how
certain types of information are processed. It suggests there are two major
types of learners - those in whom the "right brain" is dominant, and those
with a dominant "left brain." Right-brained learners tend to be intuitive,
imaginative, and impulsive; they prefer to start with a broad idea and then
pursue supporting information. They learn best by seeing and doing in an
informal, busy, and somewhat unstructured environment. On the other hand,
left-brain learners tend to be analytical, rational, and objective; they
prefer putting together many facts to arrive at a general understanding.
Right-brain learners prefer group discussions, simulations, panels, and
other activity-based learning, whereas left-brain learners prefer
traditional lectures, demonstrations, and assigned readings. Although there
are many exceptions, females tend to be right-brain dominant, while males
tend to be left-brain dominant. The traditional lecture/demonstration
approach is typically more effective with male learners rather than female
students. At the same time, research indicates females are more effective
in utilizing left-brain approaches than men are in utilizing right-brain
approaches, and that females are more successful in transitioning from
left-brain to right-brain approaches, and vice versa than males are.
Another view of learning styles categorizes learners by the types of
activities from which they derive the greatest payoff. It yields "tactile
learners," who respond to physical objects that can be handled while
studies; "visual Learners," who facilitate their learning through us of
charts, maps, and graphs, "auditory learners," who respond more effectively
to the spoken rather than the written word, and others.
In this and other discussions related to teaching styles, the enlightened
instructor probably will ask which of two major strategies is most
effective. That is, should the professor initially adapt to the preferred
learning styles of students or expect students to first adapt to his or her
preferred methods? It is a highly complex issues with no instant answers.
Each situation requires some study and individualized decisions to arrive at
the "best" approach. Some professors can flex themselves quite effectively
to the learning styles of students, while others would lose so much
confidence in themselves in trying to do so that they might become totally
ineffective in the classroom.
Having said all of this, remember that each student in front of you is in
many ways unique. While it is useful to make yourself aware of the wide
variety of issues impacting students today, there is risk in ever assuming
you have heard or seen enough. Get to know each one of your students as
well as you can, first by speaking with each one in the initial class, then
asking each to complete the "Student Profile" form, located in Appendix 6-1.
Later, build an ongoing dialogue with diverse students that will markedly
increase your insights and create an accessibility to you in the students'
minds that will markedly improve their motivation, attention levels, and
understanding of your perspective. One of the greatest rewards of teaching
is allowing yourself to be sufficiently vulnerable that you empower students
to share more of themselves with you and their peers than might at times be
comfortable. It is critical that you regularly assess your values and
predispositions, talk with veteran instructors from whose experiences you
can learn, and reflect upon you teaching experiences.