Helen (heleninwales) wrote,

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On having a visual reflective learning style

Rather belatedly, when I was doing my teacher training course, I discovered that there were different learning styles. All became clear. I suddenly understood why (despite being bright) I'd always done averagely at secondary school and badly at university. My learning style is visual and reflective. I thus do very badly in lectures, but much better when I can engage quietly with a variety of materials and absorb things at my own pace.

Being visual, I need information presented either already in a visual form, or in such a way that I can convert it into pictures or analogies on the fly, in my head. Being reflective means that I like to slot new information into my existing knowledge as I absorb it. Some people must be able to cope with a whole lecture-full of new stuff and then process it afterwards, I can't do this. If something catches my interest, I'll be away, testing it against stuff I already know, seeing whether it backs up or contradicts it. Mentally muttering, "Well I never! Goodness," or "I don't think that can be right..." I finally surface again to discover that I've just missed 5 minutes of stuff and I've now hopelessly lost the plot.

Knowing my own style helps me in new learning. It also makes me aware that not all my students learn as I do, so I need to vary my teaching methods to cope with them. And last night, reading Jane Eyre, I spotted a fellow visual reflective learner. Poor Helen Burns suffers under the teaching methods at Lowood. As she says to Jane:

"I observed you in your class this morning, and saw you were closely attentive: your thoughts never seemed to wander while Miss Miller explained the lesson and questioned you. Now, mine continually rove away [...] often I lose the very sound of her voice; I fall into a sort of dream. Sometimes I think I am in Northumberland, and that the noises around me are the bubbling of a little brook [...] then, when it comes to my turn to reply, I have to be awakened; and having heard nothing of what was read for listening to the visionary brook, I have no answer ready."

"Yet how well you replied this afternoon."

"It was mere chance; the subject on which we had been reading had interested me."

When Helen Burns has to listen to a lesson, her mind drifts; when she can read the material herself and engage with it (the passage goes on to describe how she sympathised with Charles the First, whilst also being critical of him), she absorbs information readily.

Even now, people fail to do well at school and university because the teaching methods don't suit their particular learning style. This is why I've always been an advocate of life-long learning. There are an amazing number of "late developers" who only get their act together later in life when they finally find out their best way of learning.

Sometimes I feel envious of people who can attend university full-time to devote themselves to study, but deep down I know that I've been there, done that -- and blew it completely. Things haven't changed enough, so I'll always have to study part-time and in my own way.

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