Learning styles & preferences versus past papers for exam prep: psychological warfare 

One of my GCSE English students has tried his best all year, despite having been told at the start of it by someone that he was a kinaesthetic learner, giving rise to the thought for him that therefore he couldn’t like or get on very well with English GCSE classes. 

It had made me cross to begin with and I told him that actually using a pen and paper to write with was fairly kinaesthetic. This seemed to actually temporarily con him and he zoomed away with renewed self belief in the idea that he might enjoy English after all, speedily writing several very long paragraphs, which were actually quite beautifully written. 
He ebbed and flowed with enthusiasm and achievement throughout the year, also undergoing an operation and managing to maintain engagement with the subject until recently. Then I asked the class before the Easter holidays what type of tasks and activities in class they liked and loved, what they didn’t like, and how we might maintain motivation and enthusiasm right down until the exam. 
This young lad said with gritted determination, “I like kinaesthetic activities”. It seemed as if he had bore resentment against me the entire academic year while secretly maintaining the view that he liked to be somehow physically engaged with tasks while learning, and doggedly refusing the idea that this was possible if what we did in English classes was focused on reading and writing. 
I decided to respond to a psychologically thrown down gauntlet. I went to Hobby Craft and bought some stuff to do and make with that could largely be related to activities of the more kinaesthetic kind. I also took the trouble of designing a range of group activities that students could choose from, that could be selected from a folder of laminated group tasks. I then had the real tasks I knew the students needed, past exam papers and SPAG exercises, available as a third option on the side. 
Mr Kinaesthetic was at first bemused and wary when I presented him with a make it yourself peg board, string of neon flashing lighting, and batteries, with which he had to create words. In this case, language features. He spent some time pushing holes out of the peg board, putting in pegs, wrapping the neon lighting string round the pegs, and fashioning a few words with it: namely, ‘verb’ and ‘irony’. We then took photos of his newly made words. He cast me a suspicious glance and asserted his idea that this photo would be on the front of ‘English Weekly’ tomorrow. 
So. Having engaged in this little kinaesthetic activity, I paused to talk to him about it. I asked him how effective he thought this type of task might be in preparing him for the exam, which is an assessment in reading and writing. He said not very. I agreed. Although these two words may well stick in his head more memorably than before now, he had used a lot of class time basically developing his manual dexterity, and enjoying the flashing lights, when what was really needed was to perhaps give a past paper a once over and maybe practise a few questions, and receive feedback from me or a peer on how he might improve his answer the next time. 
I asked him a few leading questions about the value of his preferences against the types of tasks that might help better prepare him for the exam. He then asked me for a copy of a past paper and got his head down into it. He was engaged. Afresh. The battle had been won again, at least temporarily. Learning styles 0 – common sense 1?
I had a similar discussion with the rest of the class about the so called group activities at the end of the session. I asked them how they had enjoyed them and then asked them to consider what they were going to be faced with in about 6 weeks time and whether the group tasks were really going to be the best type of thing to help them prepare for the exam, or perhaps past papers. Everyone reluctantly agreed past papers were the way forward. 
I feel we had made progress. We had moved along a rocky path together and somehow grown. 
I confess that three hours is a long time for 16-19 year olds to just sit going past papers and nothing else, so perhaps I’ll throw in a few five minute breaks of hangman and taboo, debate cards and word puzzles… Just to break things up a bit. I might also throw Mr Kinaesthetic a few making tasks once in a while just for the laugh. But I think we’ve all agreed that just because we like certain types of tasks and activities, they aren’t always what we need. 
The flashing lights were brill though 😉 


6 thoughts on “Learning styles & preferences versus past papers for exam prep: psychological warfare 

  1. If he is Kinaesthetic, does he like acting out plays ? or perhaps make models of the characters and move them as he is reading a play eg to where they would be on a set (made out of cardboard box 🙂 ). i am also thinking maybe if he has a poem, perhaps scan it and print onto card, chop it up and he could re-arrange the lines into order, so at least he is beginning to look at the lines.
    Or take start of lines and end of lines in a poem and join up – this is how i learn a poem to start with. And maybe he could use memory techniques to memorise the order of the starts of the sentences …. using that technique where you blend each word with for example a familiar route or your own street and this allows you to memorise a sequence.
    Maybe some ideas there hopefully that you could use.h


    1. Thx. Nice. Although in the GCSE English language exam there won’t be any poetry or lit. We’ve done controlled assessments on poetry and lit but to be honest we don’t have time in our 9 month programme for the tasks you suggest at the expense of covering structure, language, context and meaning / writer’s ideas.


  2. This is what I sent my PT Teaching and Learning when he tried to push AVK as he called it!

    I was interested to see that Parental briefing number 6 on the newsletter concerned the use of VAK. Given that VAK and to some extent, multiple learning styles* are either discredited or in the process of being extensively adapted to modern pedology, is it wise to push this to parents, some of whom may come back to you with the arguments against, a small selection of which are listed below with references, so this briefing will cause a few raised eyebrows 😎 (*Gardner for example is saying he never intended his original 7 styles to be the definitive means of grouping kids into learning styles and differentiating accordingly).
    This is the original research summary which points out the weak premise for VAK from 2008 by Sharp et al http://www.educationstudies.org.uk/materials/sharp_et_al_2.pdf

    “Guy Claxton makes this very point regretting the use of VAK in classroom practice on the basis that it restricts learning.” http://donaldclarkplanb.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=Fleming

    Further, more recent, research has the following warning: http://amyalexander.wiki.westga.edu/file/view/neuromythologies-p.pdf

    “Despite the lack of positive evidence, the education community has been swamped by claims for a learning style model based on the sensory modalities: visual, auditory and kinaesthetic (VAK) (Dunn, Dunn and Price 1984). The idea is that children can be tested to ascertain which is their dominant learning style, V, A or K, and then taught accordingly. Some schools have even gone so far as to label children with V, A and K shirts, presumably because these purported differences are no longer obvious in the classroom. The implicit assumption here is that the information gained through one sensory modality is processed in the brain to be learned independently from information gained through another sensory modality. There is plenty of evidence from a plethora of cross-modal investigations as to why such an assumption is wrong. What is possibly more insidious is that focusing on one sensory modality flies in the face of the brain’s natural interconnectivity. VAK might, if it has any effect at all, be actually harming the academic prospects of the children so inflicted.”

    I believe there is a research study somewhere which points out that children regarded as ‘Auditory’ can actually be mentally as well as educationally harmed by such labels/teaching. I’ll dig it out – think it was the IoE at London a year or so ago. VAK originated via Fleming who also is heavily involved in the NLP marketing scam….
    “Reviews of empirical research find that NLPs core tenets are poorly supported.[16] The balance of scientific evidence reveals NLP to be a largely discredited pseudoscience. Scientific reviews show it contains numerous factual errors,[14][17] and fails to produce the results asserted by proponents.[16][18] According to clinical psychologist Grant Devilly (2005),[19] NLP has had a consequent decline in prevalence since the 1970s. Criticisms go beyond lack of empirical evidence for effectiveness, saying NLP exhibits pseudoscientific characteristics,[19] title,[20] concepts and terminology as well.[21][22] NLP serves as an example of pseudoscience for facilitating the teaching of scientific literacy at the professional and university level.[23][24][25] NLP also appears on peer reviewed expert-consensus based lists of discredited interventions.[16] In research designed to identify the “quack factor” in modern mental health practice, Norcross et al. (2006) [22] list NLP as possibly or probably discredited for treatment of behavioural problems. Norcross et al. (2010) list NLP in the top ten most discredited interventions[26] and Glasner-Edwards and Rawson (2010) list NLP therapy as “certainly discredited”.[27]”

    This is why I find it amazing that people pay £135 for a course for NLP for Educators when, for example, they can pay £5.97 on kindle and get ‘The 7 myths of Education’ by Daisy Christoldolu !


    *must strike down VAK, NLP, Brain Gym wherever they are found* 😎

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The thing that really annoys me further is that – even if there was something to targeting instruction to VAK preferences – in the process of concentrating on this, we would be encouraging the other two modalities to wither and become increasingly redundant. Even just the suggestion to him that the lad above was a kinaesthetic learner seemed enough for him to withdraw from engaging with the other two ways of doing things.

      What kind of preparation for actual life is that? Should we change any activities using hands, to only use the preferred hand…?

      Liked by 2 people

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