Meeting Six — Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence

Harold Pash ler, Mark McDaniel, Doug Rohrer, and Robert Bjork (2008) “Learning Styles — Con­cepts and Evidence” Journal of Psychological Science in the Public Interest December 9(3105): 119 (.PDF)

Summary: The term ‘‘learning styles’’ refers to the concept that individuals differ in regard to what mode of instruction or study is most effective for them. Proponents of learning-style assessment contend that optimal instruction requires diagnosing individuals’ learning style and tai- loring instruction accordingly. Assessments of learning style typically ask people to evaluate what sort of information presentation they prefer (e.g., words versus pictures versus speech) and/or what kind of mental activity they find most engaging or congenial (e.g., analysis versus listening), although assessment instruments are extremely diverse. The most common—but not the only—hypothesis about the instructional relevance of learning styles is the meshing hypothesis, according to which instruction is best provided in a format that matches the preferences of the learner (e.g., for a ‘‘visual learner,’’ emphasizing visual presentation of information).

The learning-styles view has acquired great influence within the education field, and is frequently encountered at levels ranging from kindergarten to graduate school. There is a thriving industry devoted to publishing learning-styles tests and guidebooks for teachers, and many organizations offer professional development workshops for teachers and educators built around the concept of learning styles.

The authors of the present review were charged with determining whether these practices are supported by scientific evidence. We concluded that any credible validation of learning-styles-based instruction requires robust documentation of a very particular type of experimental finding with several necessary criteria. First, students must be divided into groups on the basis of their learning styles, and then students from each group must be randomly assigned to receive one of multiple instructional methods. Next, students must then sit for a final test that is the same for all students. Finally, in order to demonstrate that optimal learning requires that students receive instruction tailored to their putative learning style, the experiment must reveal a specific type of interaction between learning style and instructional method: Students with one learning style achieve the best educational outcome when given an instructional method that differs from the instructional method producing the best outcome for students with a different learning style. In other words, the instructional method that proves most effective for students with one learning style is not the most effective method for students with a different learning style.
Our review of the literature disclosed ample evidence that children and adults will, if asked, express preferences about how they prefer information to be presented to them. There is also plentiful evidence arguing that people differ in the degree to which they have some fairly specific aptitudes for different kinds of thinking and for processing different types of information. However, we found virtually no evidence for the interaction pattern mentioned above, which was judged to be a precondition for validating the educational applications of learning styles. Although the literature on learning styles is enormous, very few studies have even used an experimental methodology capable of testing the validity of learning styles applied to education. Moreover, of those that did use an appropriate method, several found results that flatly contradict the popular meshing hypothesis.

We conclude therefore, that at present, there is no adequate evidence base to justify incorporating learning styles assessments into general educational practice. Thus, limited education resources would better be devoted to adopting other educational practices that have a strong evidence base, of which there are an increasing number. However, given the lack of methodologically sound studies of learning styles, it would be an error to conclude that all possible versions of learning styles have been tested and found wanting; many have simply not been tested at all.

Discussion Points:

  • Before reading this paper, did you believe in the idea of different learning styles? Did this affect your teaching approaches?
  • Did reading the paper change your opinion about “learning styles”?
  • Are there other ideas about teaching that are widespread that would benefit from such analysis?
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Meeting Five – Connecting High School Physics Experiences, Outcome Expectations, Physics Identity, and Physics Career Choice: A Gender Study

Zahra Hazari Gerhard Sonnert, Philip M. Sadler, Marie-Claire Shanahan, “Connecting High School Physics Experiences, Outcome Expectations, Physics Identity, and Physics Career Choice: A Gender Study”, JOURNAL OF RESEARCH IN SCIENCE TEACHING VOL. 47, NO. 8, PP. 978–1003 (2010) PDF

Abstract: This study explores how students’ physics identities are shaped by their experiences in high school physics classes and by their career outcome expectations. The theoretical framework focuses on physics identity and includes the dimensions of student performance, competence, recognition by others, and interest. Drawing data from the Persistence Research in Science and Engineering (PRiSE) project, which surveyed college English students nationally about their backgrounds, high school science experiences, and science attitudes, the study uses multiple regression to examine the responses of 3,829 students from 34 randomly selected US colleges/universities. Confirming the salience of the identity dimension for young persons’ occupational plans, the measure for students’ physics identity used in this study was found to strongly predict their intended choice of a physics career. Physics identity, in turn, was found to correlate positively with a desire for an intrinsically fulfilling career and negatively with a desire for personal/family time and opportunities to work with others. Physics identity was also positively predicted by several high school physics characteristics/experiences such as a focus on conceptual understanding, real-world/contextual connections, students answering questions or making comments, students teaching classmates, and having an encouraging teacher. Even though equally beneficial for both genders, females reported experiencing a conceptual focus and real-world/contextual connections less frequently. The explicit discussion of under-representation of women in science was positively related to physics identity for female students but had no impact for male students. Surprisingly, several experiences that were hypothesized to be important for females’ physics identity were found to be non-significant including having female scientist guest speakers, discussion of women scientists’ work, and the frequency of group work. This study exemplifies a useful theoretical framework based on identity, which can be employed to further examine persistence in science, and illustrates possible avenues for change in high school physics teaching.

Discussion Points:

As a teacher, to what extent do you ever think about “identity” as a factor which affects how students learn?

Do you ever explicitly discuss women’s under-representation in science? (Paper said this has a positive effect)

Male students report significantly more knowledge of physics from hobbies etc. Is it our duty to address this imbalance in schools?

There are no quick fix solutions offered in the paper. What, if any, changes might you make following reading of this paper?

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Meeting Four – Test Enhanced Learning (20th September)

Please note that this paper is not science-specific. The Science Teaching Journal Club would like to invite all teachers, not just science teachers, to participate in our fourth meeting; please invite your friends and colleagues.

Roediger, Henry and Jeffrey Karpicke, “Test-Enhanced Learning”, Psychological Science 17(3): 249-255. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01693.x (.PDF 121kB)

ABSTRACT: Taking a memory test not only assesses what one knows, but also enhances later retention, a phenomenon known as the testing effect. We studied this effect with educationally relevant materials and investigated whether testing facilitates learning only because tests offer an opportunity to restudy material. In two experiments, students studied prose passages and took one or three immediate free-recall tests, without feedback, or restudied the material the same number of times as the students who received tests. Students then took a final retention test five minutes, two days, or one week later. When the final test was given after five minutes, repeated studying improved recall relative to repeated testing. However, on the delayed tests, prior testing produced substantially greater retention than studying, even though repeated studying increased students’ confidence in their ability to remember the material. Testing is a powerful means of improving learning, not just assessing it.

Discussion Points:

  • The paper suggests that the act of being tested, not just simply revising for a test, can improve learning (“the testing effect”). Does this result surprise you?
  • The authors argue that “testing in all levels of education is misguided” and that “if students know they will be tested regularly … they will study more and will space their studying throughout the [term] rather than concentrating it just before exams”. Do you agree? Should we be including more testing in our teaching plans?
  • The results from the paper showed that immediate testing produced better long-term retention than repeated studying. Should we do away with infrequent end-of-unit tests in favour of more frequent end-of-lesson tests?
  • Does this paper suggest that we should we make more use of the spacing effect in our teaching?

Some key phrases from the paper:

“We believe that the neglect of testing in all levels of education is misguided. To state an obvious point, if students know they will be tested regularly (say, once a week, or even every class period), they will study more and will space their studying throughout the semester rather than concentrating it just before exams. However, more important for present purposes, testing has a powerful positive effect on future retention. If students are tested on material and successfully recall or recognize it, they will remember it better in the future than if they had not been tested. This phenomenon, called the testing effect, has been studied sporadically over a long period of time, but is not well known outside cognitive psychology.”

“Immediate testing after reading a prose passage promoted better long-term retention than repeatedly studying the passage. This outcome occurred even though the tests included no feedback.”

“The positive effects of testing were dramatic: Students in the repeated-testing condition recalled much more after a week than did students in the repeated-study condition, even though students in the former condition read the passage [far fewer] times. Testing has a powerful effect on long-term retention.”

“Many study conditions and strategies that produce rapid learning and short-term benefits lead to poor long-term performance. Our results show that testing versus studying is another case in point: Testing clearly introduced a desirable difficulty during learning.”

“This outcome on the immediate tests in the present experiments reveals just how powerful the testing effect is: Despite the benefits of repeated study shortly after learning, repeated testing produces strong positive effects on a delayed test.”

“We suspect that tests will produce strong effects when they occur relatively soon after learning and permit relatively high levels of performance.”

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Archive: Meeting Three – Driver and the fallacy of induction

Next meeting of #SciTeachJC starts in about 10 minutes...
Science Teaching JC

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Meeting Three

Driver, Rosalind, “The fallacy of induction in science teaching”, in Teaching Science, ed. Ralph Levinson (London: Routledge, 1994), 41-48. (Google Books)

Discussion points:

  • Students are known to have preconceptions about how the world works. How do you deal with this in your lessons?
  • If it’s true that students can’t “discover” scientific principles for themselves, why do practical work?
  • How do we divide our lesson time between teaching the “facts” of science and “how science works”?
  • Do you think reading this paper will lead you to change your own practice?
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Summaries of meetings one and two

The first meeting of #SciTeachJC took place on Tuesday 5th July 2011. @JustinDillonKCL wrote this summary of the meeting for The Guardian Science Blog:

It’s Club Night for Science Teachers

Good teachers count. In a recent survey carried out as part of theInterest and Recruitment in Science project, first-year  science undergraduates cited “good teachers” as the single biggest influence in their decision to take science-based courses.

So how do you get better at being a science teacher? Practice helps, as does informed feedback from colleagues and pupils. Unfortunately, opportunities to undertake part-time study seem few and far between, and finding time to meet teachers from other schools is increasingly challenging.

Social media tools might provide a way for those thousands of teachers who want to discuss new ideas, and old problems, by giving them access to a wider audience than is available in the typical staff room. Read more…

The second meeting took place on Tuesday 19th July 2011 and @Teachingofsci has written this summary of the meeting:

When #SciTeachJC rules the world…

Let me start by stating, for the record, that I felt no pressure when asked by@alomshaha to write up the second Science Teaching Journal Club session. No pressure at all, despite the fact that the article on the first session was written by one of the authors of the paper we’d discussed, and published in the Guardian. Oh no, I’m fine…

But anyway. The topic for discussion was the Beyond 2000 report, now more than ten years old but credited with changing the direction of UK science education. If you’ve not read it, I recommend it – although I suspect that most practising science educators will find themselves cursing at various points. @Alby has converted the ten recommendations of the report to a simple poster and handout. I have no intention, by the way, of trying to explain or recount all of the posts from the busy Tuesday evening session. If you weren’t there (or even if you were) I recommend reading through the archive. That’s why it’s online, after all. No, I have two aims; mainly to give a flavour of the evening, with a few quotes and summarised discussions, and secondly to share my own personal responses to some of the themes touched upon. Read more…


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Archive: Meeting Two – Beyond 2000

Welcome to 2nd meeting of #SciTeachJC. Please use the hashtag to say hello and let us know your here. Coming up: today's discussion points
Science Teaching JC

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Meeting Two: “Beyond 2000”

For our second meeting, on Tuesday 19th July at 19:30, we’ll be discussing the Beyond 2000 report edited by Robin Millar and Jonathan Osborne (Download .PDF 142kB).

The report set out to answer four questions:

  • What are the successes and failures of science education to date?
  • What science education is needed by young people today?
  • What might be the content and structure of a suitable model for a science curriculum for all young people?
  • What problems and issues would be raised by the implementation of such a curriculum, and how might these be addressed?

The report also made ten recommendations which were hugely influential in shaping the current National Curriculum for Science and way we teach science in the UK – many of the recommendations listed below were adopted in the changes to the National Curriculum for Science made in 2006 and in the GCSE courses that were developed following these changes.

  1. The science curriculum from 5 to 16 should be seen primarily as a course to enhance general ‘scientific literacy’.
  2. At Key Stage 4, the structure of the science curriculum needs to differentiate more explicitly between those elements designed to enhance ‘scientific literacy’, and those designed as the early stages of a specialist training in science, so that the requirement for the latter does not come to distort the former.
  3. The curriculum needs to be presented clearly and simply, and its content needs to be seen to follow from the statement of aims (above). Scientific knowledge can best be presented in the curriculum as a number of key ‘explanatory stories’. In addition, the curriculum should introduce young people to a number of important ideas-about-science.
  4. The science curriculum needs to contain a clear statement of its aims – making clear why we consider it valuable for all our young people to study science, and what we would wish them to gain from the experience. These aims need to be clear, and easily understood by teachers, pupils and parents. They also need to be realistic and achievable.
  5. Work should be undertaken to explore how aspects of technology and the applications of science currently omitted could be incorporated within a science curriculum designed to enhance ‘scientific literacy’.
  6. The science curriculum should provide young people with an understanding of some key ideas-about-science, that is, ideas about the ways in which reliable knowledge of the natural world has been, and is being, obtained.
  7. The science curriculum should encourage the use of a wide variety of teaching methods and approaches. There should be variation in the pace at which new ideas are introduced. In particular, case-studies of historical and current issues should be used to consolidate understanding of the ‘explanatory stories’, and of key ideas-about-science, and to make it easier for teachers to match work to the needs and interests of learners.
  8. The assessment approaches used to report on pupils’ performance should encourage teachers to focus on pupils’ ability to understand and interpret scientific information, and to discuss controversial issues, as well as on their knowledge and understanding of scientific ideas.
  9. In the short term: The aims of the existing science National Curriculum should be clearly stated with an indication how the proposed content is seen as appropriate for achieving those aims. Those aspects of the general requirements which deal with the nature of science and with systematic inquiry in science should be incorporated into the first Attainment Target ‘Experimental and Investigative Science’ to give more stress to the teaching of ideas-about- science; and new forms of assessment need to be developed to reflect such an emphasis.
  10. In the medium to long term: A formal procedure should be established whereby innovative approaches in science education are trialled on a restricted scale in a representative range of schools for a fixed period. Such innovations are then evaluated and the outcomes used to inform subsequent changes at national level. No significant changes should be made to the National Curriculum or its assessment unless they have been previously piloted in this way.

Discussion points:

  • What bits of the report do you agree / disagree with most strongly?
  • Why do you think this report was so influential?
  • Are the arguments still valid today? Could the same critique be mounted again?
  • What does the report fail to say? (What would you include in the report if you were writing it today?)

We’ll be starting our discussion on Tuesday 19th July at 1930 using the @SciTeachJC account and the #SciTeachJC hashtag.

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Archive: Meeting One – ‘Doing’ science versus ‘being’ a scientist

Weclome to all joining the first #SciTeachJC Please use the hashtag for the discussion tonight. Paper is here:
Science Teaching JC

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Meeting One: ‘Doing’ science versus ‘being’ a scientist

The paper we’ll be discussing this week is:

Archer, Louise et al. 2010. “‘Doing’ science versus ‘being’ a scientist: Examining 10/11-year-old schoolchildren’s constructions of science through the lens of identity”, Science Education 94(4): 617-639. doi: 10.1002/sce.20399. Download PDF (146kB)

Abstract The concern about students’ engagement with school science and the numbers pursuing the further study of science is an international phenomenon and a matter of considerable concern among policy makers. Research has demonstrated that the majority of young children have positive attitudes to science at age 10 but that this interest then declines sharply and by age 14, their attitude and interest in the study of science has been largely formed. This paper reports on data collected as part of a funded 5-year longitudinal study that seeks to determine how students’ interest in science and scientific careers evolves. As an initial part of the study, six focus group discussions were undertaken with schoolchildren, age 10–11, to explore their attitudes toward science and interest in science, the findings of which are presented here. The children’s responses are analyzed through the lens of identity, drawing on a theoretical framework that views identity as an embodied and a performed construction that is both produced by individuals and shaped by their specific structural locations. This work offers new insights into the manner in which students construct representations of science and scientists.

Discussion points:

  • Do the findings reported in the paper mirror your own experience – that gender differences account for the degree to which students engage with school science after primary school and that students can “enjoy” science without wanting to “become” scientists? Why?
  • Can you think of ways in which we can challenge the prejudices some children may have about a “science identity” being “undesirable” or even “unthinkable”?
  • The authors state that “in its present form, science appears to be constructed as ‘too feminized’ for (many) boys and ‘too masculine’ for (many) girls”. Would one way of dealing with this be to insist on teaching boy and girls separately?
  • To what extent do you agree that “as Osborne and Dillon (2008) have argued, what is required is a new vision of science education, not only of what we know and how we know, but also what kinds of careers science affords – both in science and from science – and why these careers are personally fulfilling, worthwhile, and rewarding.”?
  • What is responsible for the pupils’ (predominantly boys’) obsession with science as “dangerous”? Why is science “associated with explosions and bangs”? Does this – and should this – have any impact on your teaching?
  • How might the findings of this research influence your teaching?

We’ll be starting our discussion on Tuesday 5th July at 1930 using the @SciTeachJC account and the #SciTeachJC hashtag.

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