Exploring Learning Styles: Developing a Flexible Teaching Approach: Reflections on Pedagogy Saturday VI

By Rischin, Rebecca | American Music Teacher, October-November 2002 | Go to article overview

Exploring Learning Styles: Developing a Flexible Teaching Approach: Reflections on Pedagogy Saturday VI


Rischin, Rebecca, American Music Teacher


If only one size did fit all.... If only teaching were as easy as one plus one equals two--a mathematical problem with a single solution. But teaching involves people, not numbers, and while numbers can be plugged into formulae to yield predictable equations, people cannot. They are not perfect squares; they come in many shapes and sizes; they act and react in such a way that similar problems must frequently be approached from different angles. It makes sense, then, that teaching should be as variable as the people it involves. Clearly, one size does not fit all, and teachers should try to mold their methods to fit their students instead of trying to mold their students to fit their methods.

This was the theme of Pedagogy Saturday VI, "Developing A Flexible Teaching Approach," a fascinating day filled with sessions devoted to understanding differences as a means to teaching more effectively. From sessions on intuitive versus non-intuitive learning and temperament-based teaching and learning styles to addressing the various stages of human development, each session provided compelling insight into how to adapt our teaching methods to accommodate the needs of different students.

"Teach as you were taught" is a philosophy with which many of us are familiar. And yet it is no surprise that, in practice, teaching as we were taught is frequently ineffective. Why? Because, in spite of the possibilities suggested by genetic engineering, we are not human clones. Every human being is born with a unique genetic configuration into a unique environment. The result is a unique learning style. This was the premise of the opening session, "No Dumb Students: Teaching the Non-Intuitive Student," by Earl Oremus, headmaster of the Marburn Academy in Columbus, Ohio, a school for children with learning differences such as dyslexia and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

Most of us chose music as a profession partially because we were good at it, said Oremus. We may have known intuitively how to create a beautiful phrase and were probably rewarded for this talent. As teachers, however, we often forget that we are not all "talented" in exactly the same way. We forget that our students may not see, hear, think and feel exactly as we do, and they are living in an era and environment distinctly different from the one in which we grew up. And so, we get frustrated when teaching methods that worked for us do not work for them.

Effective teaching depends on recognizing the differences between intuitive and non-intuitive learning styles, explained Oremus. While intuitive learners usually have an affinity for the activity at hand, non-intuitive learners may have an aversion to it. Intuitive learners are motivated by challenge, are able to persist despite setbacks and are emotionally self-supporting; whereas, non-intuitive learners feel defeated by high levels of challenge, are unable to persist in the face of failure and require a supportive environment and teacher. Intuitive learners are able to perceive the syntax, structure and mechanics of the discipline effortlessly or unconsciously; non-intuitive learners cannot deduce each step from the last but must be taught each segment overtly. Intuitive students require less intensive, less detailed, less carefully sequenced instruction than do non-intuitive learners; they also progress more rapidly, require less practice and review, and retain material more easily.

Problems arise from teachers' lack of recognition of the above differences; namely, our inclination to value and reward the intuitive learner as a "good" student and to see the non-intuitive learner as a "bad" student. We are not inclined to see learning differences as evidence of the need for teaching differences. Rather, we lack training in teaching methods effective for non-intuitive students and expect to have a class of exclusively intuitive learners. …

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