Question: Do you believe in learning styles?

In my profession there’s a hot debate going on about “learning styles”. You know, finding out whether you are a visual learner and need to see things to understand them, or an auditory learner who prefers to hear things, or whether you are a kinethetic learner and have to do things to really get them. Those are just some of the more famous learning styles, there are many more (such as whether you learn more on your own or in a group, or whether you are more analytic or non-analytic.) I found a video by Professor Daniel Willingham who calls the whole idea of “learning styles” unscientific. I find it particularly interesting, as it got me thinking.

I also liked this response by New Zealand teacher Craig Hansen:

My opinion? If the idea of learning styles helps a student learn, I’ll run with it, whether it’s science or religion. Because, no matter what you call it, learning improves when you’re motivated, and finding out that your way of dealing with learning is taken seriously enough to actually have a name can be very motivating. Students start to learn better once you’ve given them some attention and looked at what they need to become better learners.

What about you, do you believe that we have learning styles? If so, does that knowledge help you learn?

I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts and experiences.

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How I learned Latin… and French

Since I grew up bilingual in German and English, Latin was the first foreign language I learned. My dad taught me Latin when I was 5, using the Nature Method, a book of texts featuring a family with kids my age on up, talking about everyday life, with a brother beating up on his little sister etc. My dad read it to me just as I was becoming an avid reader myself, so I actually started reading Latin in addition to English and German. I cherished our Saturday mornings together, my weekly Latin lesson was when I had my dad all to myself. There was grammar, too, at the end of each story, and I liked being able to solve those logical puzzles, and there was poetry, which I’ve always loved. So there I was, a 5 or 6 year old, reciting Ovid’s love poems. I loved anything romantic and sensitive, so it was great.

Perhaps you’ll think “How precocious!” but it wasn’t at all. I was a totally normal little girl, with dolls and stuffed animals and a head full of dreams, and doing Latin didn’t turn me into some monster. It was just something I enjoyed. When I got Latin in 7th grade it was a cinch for me, because I’d got the basics, and it was fun to have a subject I was always good at.

Then, in 9th grade, we got French. I couldn’t get my mouth around the sounds. I didn’t hear the difference between the vowels. Several other classmates were already fluent, and I was a bit frustrated not to be able to join in the fun. Our teacher obviously adored those few fluent speakers, and I remember kind of switching off in class. The texts in our book were a total bore. Then our teacher got sick, and we had substitutes and then no teacher and then finally another teacher came who started drilling us, and I got one bad grade after the other. At the end of 11th grade I was one unhappy girl, and flunked the grade.

I was so fed up with my school and the whole situation that I went on a diet, lost 15 pounds and decided to change my life. I was 16 and making good money babysitting, so I saved up all my money and bought myself a ticket to France. Burgundy, Auvergne, Province:  I was there for two blissful months, working with French youth to restore old castles and churches. It was great living in a community with people just a little older than me. I naturally fell in love with a French boy, and finally got some useful and real phrases to say. So, to make a long story short, I came back fluent in French. Oh, incidently, I had top marks in my report card from then on. But frankly, I couldn’t have cared less. School was over for me. I knew I could learn, I knew I could make it in life. And I knew that school was simply in my way. Life happened after school.

So there. That’s probably why I became a teacher.

Englischlernen mit Blogs is as easy as 1,2,3

If you are practicing English online by yourself, here are three lovely blogs written especially for you to start with. Each one is special in its own way:

1. Der Englisch-Blog

Dieser Blog von Markus Brendel ist auf Deutsch geschrieben und erklärt täglich entweder einen Ausdruck oder eine Frage aus der Grammatik. Gestern hat Markus beispielsweise das sehr aktuelle Thema “Dienstwagen” präsentiert, und ich habe mich total nach Washington, DC versetzt gefühlt, wo die dicken schwarzen “official cars” mit Tatü, Tata! durch die Straßen düsen. Nicht zu verwechseln mit dem “company car”, den Dolce fährt. Und heute geh’s um den Begriff “mad as a hatter” aus Alice in Wonderland.

2. Bite-Sized English

Toby features great topics of everyday life, like getting ready for a baby (which I think he is doing right now) as well as very practical, specialized business English topics. He provides a daily podcast and a worksheet to print out. Often he will feature the same topic several days in a row as a series, so you can really concentrate on it. Right now the topic is cars, or “Automotive English“. I wonder whether he’ll be doing something on having your car stolen?

3. Nik’s Daily English Activities

If you like gadgets and online tools and want to play with all of these fun things, Nik Peachey‘s blog is the place to go. He used to be a jazz guitarist, and I think it shows in his love for experiments. Nik’s very focussed on tools that really help you learn, and his blog for teachers is my main guidebook through this brave world of online learning. Learn to understand English accents, from America to India, using the best of the web, the Speech Accent Archive of George Mason University, in his latest post. Or, to stay on topic, play the eye-opening game in his post on “Driving and Listening to English“.

And those are just three to start with! There are so many, and I promise to feature more. Please have a look at my blogroll “englischlernen” for some of my favorites.

Wenn Sie etwas Spezielles suchen, kann ich Ihnen ja vielleicht einen Tipp geben. Auf Twitter (http://twitter.com/annehodg) folge ich vielen Lehrern mit tollen Blogs. Sie haben echt was zu bieten. Also: Fröhliches Surfen!

How to learn English: Reflective journal

Can keeping a reflective journal help you learn? Yes, but you need focus: good guidelines with a catalogue of questions. Is feedback neccessary? Not really, but it can be motivating – especially feedback from your peers.

At a recent conference on Personal Learning Environments, Marc Graber of the University of Zürich studied the progress that school children made who kept a journal like this. He had four groups: The online jourmal (a blog) with and without guidelines, and a pen and paper journal with and without guidelines. Those writing a blog made about the same progress as those who kept a pen and paper journal. The essential difference was not the medium; it was the method: Those who did not have a structured agenda didn’t make more progress than the control group – students who didn’t keep a journal at all. Writing is not a “Selbstläufer” – that means, it doesn’t do the trick on its own!

I’m convinced – though I don’t have proof – that this can also be applied to the way we adults learn. I’m sure that you can improve your English by writing on your own, but you will do better with an agenda. I’ve noticed that myself: Since I’ve found mentors, I’ve started learning much faster. I also think that we adults profit more from writing online, but (as they say): the proof is in the pudding (das muss ich erst noch testen!)

So you learners of English: I’d like to be your mentor and help you build your agenda. Come join my blog group, and start reflecting on how you use English!

Here are my amateur screenshots of Graber’s presentation:

graber-1graber-2

Hey, this is just the beginning


Found on Gavin Dudeney’s blog.

These kids are a lot more technophile than my adult students. And they have a lot more time on their hands to play with technology. And yet here I am, repeating my invitation to you, hoping to find adults learning English who are willing to share their thoughts online in blogs and other media. Online skills – and English skills – are not kids’ stuff. Those kids will be adults in 5-10 years. This is where we’re going. Most of the people I’ve been talking to about this EFL blog group project say they’re too busy. Pity. It would be fun if you went with me.

Starting an EFL blogging group

Are you feeling clueless about what a blog is and how to set one up to become part of the Island Weekly blogging project group? I’ve made a video for you.

Set up your blog here: www.posterous.com or here: www.blogger.com.

If you’d like to see what a Posterous blog looks like, have a look at mine: http://annehodgson.posterous.com. With Posterous, you don’t even have to set up your blog. Just post an email to post@posterous.com. The subject line (Betreffzeile) will be the title, and the text will be your post. After you have sent off your first email you will get an email from Posterus asking you to “claim the site”. Follow the link and give your blog a name.  Posterous asks you to use your name, but instead you can use any name, so instead of “annehodgson” just give your blog an imaginary, imaginative name.

After your first post and claiming your blog, you always post to Posterous by sending an email to post@posterous.com. That automatically posts to your own blog, and you get a confirmation email with the link. It doesn’t get any simpler than that!

“EFL” stands for “English as a foreign language”. I’d be especially pleased if people who are working on their English would join our group.

Questions? Comments? Just click on the “comment/s” button below this entry.