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Alan Cooper: Learning styles

John Hellner: We can all be leaders



Alan Cooper, NZ principal and education consultant, has attended several Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences courses both here and overseas. Last year he attended Dr Rita Dunn’s Learning Styles Institute in New York. Alan’s account shows the welcome focus on the depth and quality of the learning; it’s not just a matter of presenting information using a learner’s preferred learning style, but a carefully orchestrated combination of approaches which help the learner experience the information multi-dimensionally, engaging "the higher level thinking skills of analysis, evaluation, and elaboration." Learners have no problem retaining and recalling information which has become experienced and internalised as knowledge. It’s a lot harder to retain and recall information which has been presented without these opportunities to engage with it and process it...

Learning Styles Institute in New York

Alan Cooper

One of the highlights of the Learning Styles Institute in Yew York was Tom De Bello's history lesson on the war of 1812 between England and America.

It started off reasonably normally. We were all given a single sheet of paper with the narrative of events written as an essay. There were five questions to be answered. Each question was about an aspect of the war: why war was declared, why the American ship Constitution was called Ironsides, why President Madison had to leave Washington, what inspired the writing of the Star Spangled Banner, and to describe one part of the Treaty of Ghent. In each group of five everyone was assigned a different question to answer.

However, the lesson did not proceed normally. The questions had to be answered in picture form. I had the Treaty of Ghent, and took the aspect that neither side won. I portrayed this by drawing a boxing ring with the two boxers in the centre at the end of the fight, but with no one's hand raised as no one had won. I can't draw so my figures were stick figures.

Next we had to find three others from other groups, show our picture to them and, if necessary, explain the picture. We then sat down and someone was asked to stand and explain one of the pictures they had seen. Mine was chosen, and when the explanation was complete I was asked if anything had been left out. Then I had to describe a picture I had seen, and so it progressed until all had had a turn. It was interesting to note the different detail that came up from the different artists.

Focus was then returned to the groups. We arranged the events in order and then used masking tape to affix the pictures to the wall. Then the whole class gathered round each group in turn and had the sequence of pictures explained by a group spokesperson. Other groups could question. Although this was somewhat repetitive again different detail came out. Some used date order, but others what they considered order of importance and so on.

The final act was to use what was by now our storyboard on the wall and write our own essay summarising the War of 1812.

On analysing what we had done it could be seen that a mass of Learning Styles were activated. All the perceptual modes had been involved: tactile for drawing, the kinaesthetic as we moved about, visual reading the narrative, and aural hearing the discussion. The sociological preferences had also been catered for, as were some of the more difficult emotional ones such as responsibility, persistence and structure, and so on.

As well the higher level thinking skills of analysis, evaluation, and elaboration were also strongly engaged. This added another clear dimension to the lesson. Likewise the writing process that was modelled. Up until the pictures were finally on the wall was clearly prewriting, planning and preparation.

This was a master teacher connecting Learning Styles, Thinking Skills, Process Writing, and comprehension skills, to name the more obvious, to have maximum impact on the learner. It certainly succeeded with me. That’s why I’m going to the MI Insitute in St Louis, Missouri, in 2002!