Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Learning Styles-Making Too Many "Wrong Mistakes": A Response to Castro and Peck/AUTHOR'S RESPONSE

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Learning Styles-Making Too Many "Wrong Mistakes": A Response to Castro and Peck/AUTHOR'S RESPONSE

Article excerpt

The notion that attention to students' learning styles is useful for classroom teaching has been proposed by educators for more than 40 years (Willingham, 2005). The learning styles concept is based on the premise that "differences in individual processing capabilities create significantly different requirements in learning environments. Once identified, advocates argue, it becomes possible to improve the academic achievement of each individual by matching instruction and the learning environment with their individual preferences" (Stahl & Kuhn, 1995, p. 396). Over the years, a number of learning styles models have been proposed but most hold that learners exhibit differences in information processing (e.g., visual vs. auditory or global vs. analytic learners), or vary in dimensions such as their environmental preferences, physiological characteristics, and sociological preferences (see reviews by Coffield, Moseley, Hall, & Ecclestone, 2004; Keefe & Farrell, 1990; O'Neil, 1990; Stahl, 1999).' Despite their differences, each of the models proposes the matching of instruction with a student's style (preference) for learning.

In a recent article published in this journal, Castro and Peck (2005) examined whether a particular learning style is favored by students enrolled in regular and modified sections of foreign language classes. They administered the KoIb Learning Style Inventory (LSI) (1993) to students enrolled in modified Spanish classes who had encountered serious difficulties with foreign language learning and to students without a history of foreign language learning problems enrolled in regular sections of Spanish at a large university in the United States. The authors reported that regardless of any specific learning deficit, students' preferred styles either helped or hindered their performance in the foreign language classroom. Castro and Peck suggested that having knowledge of college foreign language learners' preferred styles is important for both the instructors and students.

In my view, the emphasis on examining students' learning styles in relation to foreign language learning is unfounded. Using the example of Castro and Peck's article, I respond to styles advocates by illustrating the types of problems with the learning styles concept that they leave unstated in their work. Most notably, styles advocates fail to take into account: (a) the preponderance of empirical evidence since the 1970s which has shown that learning styles models have a host of conceptual and empirical problems and that matching students' preferred styles with a compatible teaching method does not improve academic achievement; (b) research studies which have found that learning styles instruments, including the LSI, lack appropriate psychometric properties; and (c) the evidence that shows that students' aptitude (ability) is confused with their style (preference).2 In their study, Castro and Peck also make unsupported assumptions about the use of the Modern Language Aptitude Test (MLAT) and about the importance of styles for foreign language learning. In my response, I focus on the aforementioned problems.

Problems with the Learning Styles Concept and Styles Instruction

In his review of learning styles models, Stahl (1999) acknowledged that the idea of all children learning differently seems "intuitive" and plausible. In his work, he found that the large majority of teachers believe it is appropriate to take learning styles into account and that tailoring instruction to individual styles enables students to learn more easily and effectively. However, a preponderance of evidence over time has found that the learning styles concept has numerous flaws.

In retrospect, there were special education researchers who early on cited problems with the learning styles concept (e.g., see Hammill & Larsen, 1974; Mann, 1970; Mann & Goodman, 1975). Originally, the notion of learning styles was embraced by professionals in the learning disabilities (LD) field (see Mann, 1971). …

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