Here’s a snapshot of most of my classes: My classmates and I file in, getting out our notebooks and pencils, preparing for the same old same old. As the class begins, so does the lecture. The professor will have a PowerPoint up and running. I’ll ignore the discussion going on around me because I have to jot down the notes as fast as I can. Sometimes I miss a point because the professor goes too fast. We continue in this way for the rest of the period, occasionally stopping for impromptu conversation along the way — dialogue the professor attempts to wave off since we have to stay on schedule. At the end of the class I have about three to five pages of notes. For exams, all I have to do is memorize them.
In these sorts of classes, I often find myself in my own world or trying to stay awake because lecture is not my prefered way of learning.
You see, there’s a problem within the education system that we are not accounting for, and that is the fact that students have different learning styles.
In the common read last year, “Spare Parts,” by Joshua Davis, we learned about the concept of multiple intelligences, a concept proposed by psychologist Howard Gardner. The boys in the book all had different abilities to add to their group project of making an underwater robot, a theme we explored through the book during my First Year Experience course. Gardner identified seven different ways the mind works: linguistic intelligence (“word smart”), logical-mathematical intelligence (“number/reasoning smart”), spatial intelligence (“picture smart”), bodily-kinesthetic intelligence (“body smart”), musical intelligence (“music smart”), interpersonal intelligence (“people smart”), and intrapersonal intelligence (“self smart”).
Here at Hesston College we could do well to make the classroom more inclusive of those multiple intelligences. But in order to do that we must make the environment more active and experiential.
An obvious change would be to include more opportunities for students outside the classroom, like field trips and internships. On top of that, aviation, nursing and education have built-in opportunities for experience-based learning. These get students up out of their seats learning through interacting with the world around them.
But as a school we must also cater to the classroom environment, since it’s unreasonable to have our professors take students on field trips every day.
After some observation and research, here’s some creative advice for you, HC profs:
1) Allow unrestricted discussion.
Having unrestricted discussion for class lets students share their opinion about topics professors introduce in class. But it is important to allow everyone to talk who desires or else conversation can be dominated. Often times insight from a peer can connect information better than a professor’s words. In Peace and Justice class John Sharp allows students to debate and discuss the topic of reading for the day among their classmates, sometimes for the whole class period.
2) Create simulations and role-play opportunities.
These opportunities in class help students to engage in “real world” issues or situations without actually going outside the classroom. For instance, in Intro to Youth Ministry class students are challenged to act out situations interacting with youth in order to prepare them for similar situations that could occur in the real world. It is important to understand the perspectives of others, so this learning style really aids to that.
3) Let students choose the format of their assignments.
Independent study and thinking is important, and that form of learning can be encouraged when professors do this. Our very own psychology professor, Kevin Wilder, practices this method well with his concept of bucket points. Wilder assigns a certain amount of points that students must achieve by the end of the semester. Then he assigns multiple projects with different point values, and the grade one gets on them contributes to the overall total for the semester, so students don’t have to worry about being perfect. There are many good aspects of this style. First of all, assignments aren’t limited to only one format or medium, and secondly, one can choose the assignments they want to complete and put time towards.
4) Quiet reflection and daydreaming are needed.
This is an underrated form of revelation in a classroom setting. Jonah Lehrer, an author and expert in neuroscience, said, “[We need] to focus on not being focussed…[There is a] bad reputation of letting one’s mind wander…[but] letting the mind wander is essential.”
Lehrer explains that it’s in these times that our brain can function best, allowing us to develop epiphanies.
The possibilities that professors can involve different kind of learning in their classrooms are endless.
Hesston College professors, you must prioritize incorporating various learning styles within your classrooms. Every student in class has a different mind, a different way of thinking. So they shouldn’t all be told to learn the same way.
Xun Kuang, a Chinese Confucian philosopher, has a saying that translates to something like this in English, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”