Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Students Learn in Different Ways

Sometimes you read something from a reputable source, such as the BBC website, and you have to stop and say "Did I just read what I thought I read?" In an interesting article on the BBC Website entitled Teaching Maths the author describes how we need to do a better job of helping  parents understand how we teach maths in the twenty-first century. We have known this for years and yet we seem to somehow completely ignore the fact. There's nothing worse for a parent of a ten year old than not to understand how she is doing her maths homework. Many years ago I taught workshops for parents entitled Math for Moms and Dads in which we explored mathematical concepts and ideas. I notice that in the article Nick Eastaway has just written a book title Maths for Mums and Dads.

But what is so staggeringly and utterly senseless are the reported words of the Schools Minister for England and Wales, Nick Gibb, "who has stated publicly that he favours the older methods that he himself was taught by, and that he believes it is not an issue if children do not understand why they work". The fact that anyone connected with education can say that we should teach children things by rote, without understanding, seems completely without foundation. Imagine teaching young children vocabulary words for which they did not know the meanings; imagine teaching young children names of cities but not where they were located; imagine memorizing 2x3=6 but having no idea what it means. It would be like learning "spig x toog = dasc".  

This is not the first time I have heard the cry, "If it worked for me it should work for everyone else". It is not difficult to understand how certain individuals who have been successful in life should think that what worked for them should work for everyone. In my experience, these individuals are usually middle-aged men who are usually, like Mr Gibb, of a conservative persuasion. The problem with this point of view is that not all people learn in the same way. There are vast amounts of research supporting the ideas of different learning styles and multiple intelligences, to name but just two theories, that show there are many ways of learning information and developing an understanding.

'Maths', by the way, is the British abbreviation for mathematics, as opposed to 'math' as used in the US. 'Maths' always seems more grammatically correct!

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