Thinking and Doing, Comparing and Contrasting

Today was a beautiful day in Manchester: the trees are just beginning to add touches of yellow in their edges and the sun battles to provide us with some last warmth.

In between classes, I sat on a park bench with a thermos of brought-on-over-from-Germany, sage and honey tea, to reflect on the learning provided in the morning session with our Dutch professor Juup Stelma.   He started off the course, Psychology of Language Learning, with one of those very popular psychometric questionnaires. 

The problem with this sort of test is they force you into answering YES/NO -and well, if you, like me, have lived, then you know that being forced into black and white answers can intimidate and perhaps irritate  -  too much of what we do and think is grey;  too much is

'it DEPends,'
'er, when I'm hungry'  &
'aye, when I'm in a grand mood.' 

Or, worse, if you've any intelligence then you quickly notice the relationships between the different questions separated out by a few lines and despite the valiant attempt to be "honest and truthful to oneself" you wind up wondering if you may be being tricked (why do we so distrust the psychological) and thus, forced by the pressure and the immediacy laying in wait behind the stopwatch, the demanding YES or NO, you attempt to reply in exactly the same way each time, whether or not it is the "truest" answer. 

Anyway, the resulting results are that I am a pragmatist-activist.

Oddly enough, true. 

But not surprising news.   Of course, I like life and learning to be practical (I'm a teacher!) and to be immediately applicable (tick-tock!), that's why out of all the MAs in the world, I wound up here, doing this one TESOL with real-life applicable educational and technological aims!  

Juup then acknowledged the lack of contextual reference presented through the questionnaire and wrapped up the exercise with a drawing made up of stick figures walking across the whiteboard, challenging us to think about what and who we, as people, as learners, interact with and how those things directly influence our learning.

The interpersonal and intrapersonal aspects.  

He provoked us into thinking about how the results of this non-contextual questionnaire, by Honey and Mumford, could ultimately provide a teacher with enough data to then create contextual materials and hinted at the potentiality of separating learners according to 'type.'

I'm intrigued by this idea but not sure.

In fact, it forces me to mull back over the whole concept of individual learner types - you know the now tossed out, theory of folks being auditory/kinestic/visual learners?   (gotta admit I still subscribe in part,as I know I always learn so much more from a picture than a droned lecture) but I actually tried separating out my students this way and it never really worked.   Even in the small classes.   Noticing was one thing but preparing, presenting, teaching, working together, another.   What about you?

And what do you do if you're teaching 30 or even 60 as some of my Asian colleagues need to?

Apart from the feasibility, is it practical or even worth the effort, to divide up students into theorists, pragmatists, activists and reflectors?   Aren't we all different because it is through the cooperation and collaboration of our differing skills that we make the better, more dynamic whole?   If we separate our learners into groups, won't they become flat and one dimensional?

But then, later, as I walked home, crisping my way through the first batch of dead leaves which rustle in oranges on the concrete lanes, after my class with Gary Motteram, on the Evaluation and design of Digital Software, I began reflecting once more on the infinite potentiality for well-designed computer programs to cater to these issues - whether on the surface level or deep within our id, in areas we don't even know about yet…  and how this potentiality may soon be within the reach of technology  - to teach and treat each individual learner individually while we work collectively.


Useful links related to this posting:

I received an invitation from Anne to take part in her blog challenge, of finding two similar pictures.   Why did I choose these two and how do you think they discuss the text above?

image credits:
Buddhist monk in Sirikit Dam by Tevaprapas Makklay
Sri Mariamman Temple, Singapore by AngMoKio 

4 Responses to “Thinking and Doing, Comparing and Contrasting”

  • Anne Hodgson says:
    September 28, 2011

    Go for it, Karenne :) I am also very sceptical about putting people into shallow little boxes (and only 4, to boot!). Still, I find Honey & Mumford and similar learner questionnaires very worth doing if you use them to look for areas that come naturally to yourself and to your learners, where you can pick them up and challenge them - and challenge yourself.

    It has great relevance for learning as a social experience.
    Applying it to myself: The teacher I team-taught with was the complete opposite of me in terms of perceptual preferences; our differences made us a good pair! I apply similar tactics to pairing up learners.

    I'd be curious how that translates to social networking, whether similar people or opposites attract naturally. Presumably depeneds on their aims...

    My preferred questionnaire: I'll be using the Learning Style Survey by Cohn, Oxford and Chi with a college group this fall. It's my favorite for its fine distinctions, e.g. between global-particular, synthesizing-analytic and sharpener-leveler. The downside: it's so long. Many business clients are familiar with the Meyers-Briggs Indicator, which plays into Rebecca Oxford's work.

    Enjoy your group meditation, must be quite a contrast :)

  • Darridge says:
    September 28, 2011

    I hate those things!! There is something about the positivist nature of them that grates me, as if it were as simple as Anne mentioned - boxing people up. I mean, even if you know it, what then? Does it affect how you interact with the person in the class, or are we still talking about designing discrete activities? If we mean interaction in a dogme sense - real conversation, then learning styles aren't really of any help are they?
    Anyway, I dont think people actually know that much about themselves. I love reading, but who says I learn that way? I read a book by Professor Tim D Wilson who pointed out how little we actually know about what goes on in our heads to that regard.

  • Anne Hodgson says:
    October 15, 2011

    Hi Darridge and Karenne,
    Fair enough, I also get a lot more out of a conversation than from ticking boxes, and am often completely stuck because all options seem equally valid. Self-reflective analysis is popular, though. How about turning this type of questionnaire into a communicative activity and balancing it out with concrete storytelling/referring to experience?

    October 18, 2011

    Hi ya Anne,

    The funny thing about both options, self-reflective and story-telling sharing is that some of the people in your room will react positively and negatively to one or the other!

    After mulling this all over, over the last weeks, going back to your original comment

    I do think they're worthy of doing, but I reckon the problem is when you get a test like this...

    a) you don't know WHY the person giving the test wants to know so much about you

    b) you don't know if the person will use the test to YOUR benefit or if it

    i) may be used against you in some way
    ii) is a gap-filling exercise because the teacher had nothing better to do
    iii) will (the results) ever show up with any real value in the classes that follow after

    Your key point regarding the Learning Style Survey (in your first comment) is that they are so long - this makes a task that should be motivating, demotivating and like you, I have trouble when both answers are a "yes" or worse, both answers are a "no"...

    There is a middle ground, or a solution to this somewhere, because yes, like you, I do see validity in doing these sorts of things particularly in raising metacognition.


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