An off-handed comment Mrs. H made a few weeks ago has gotten me thinking. She was telling me about the teachers' recent professional development day. In one of their workshops, they assessed their own learning styles. The model they used for the assessment is one developed by Anthong F. Gregorc, and my admittedly very limited understanding of it was gleaned from a one-hour workshop that the school principal gave for parents last year. Briefly, the model looks at two key factors: perception and ordering.
There are two types of perception in the model - concrete and abstract - and people usually show a preference for one or the other. Concrete perception is based on the information we take in with the five senses, the things we can see, hear, taste, touch, and smell. It is the literal, actual, reality of what is right here right now, and people who use it tend to think "It is what it is."
By contrast, abstract perception happens when we take in information by looking for themes and patterns, looking beyond what is actual to imagine the more subtle implications of what is possible, using intuition to form our ideas about what we are experiencing. People who use abstract perception tend to think, "It's not always what it seems."
The model also presents two styles of ordering - sequential and random - and, as with perception, people tend to prefer one over the other.
People who use sequential ordering tend to prefer organizing information in a linear, step-by-step manner, follow a logical progression, and take a traditional approach to problem-solving.
People who prefer random ordering tend to organize information by "chunks" in no particular order. They tend to leap into the middle of the problem they are solving instead of starting at a clearly defined beginning, and they jump around as they work, skipping steps when the step is not needed to get to the goal.
When people assess their preferences and abilities in these two areas, they typically discover that they fall clearly into one of four preferred learning styles:
When I did the assessment a year ago, I was not surprised to discover that my learning style is Abstract Random. I have worked a great deal with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and my clear preference for INFP suggests the same sorts of attributes. I was interested to learn, however, that Mrs. H is also Abstract Random. Even more interesting was the fact that so is nearly every member of the team who works so well with Bud.
As I read through the descriptions of each of the learning styles, it seems to me that Bud (and perhaps many others on the spectrum) is uber-Concrete Sequential. Some parts of the description that resonated most (thoughts in parentheses are my own):
What makes sense to them:
- Working systematically, step by step
- Paying close attention to details (that are important to him)
- Having a (visual) schedule to follow
- Literal interpretations
- Knowing what's expected of them
- Routines, established ways of doing things
What's hard for them:
- Working in groups
- Discussions that seem to have no specific point (that are of a particular interest to him)
- Working in an unorganized (overstimulating) environment
- Following incomplete or unclear directions
- Working with unpredictable people
- Dealing with abstract ideas
- Demands to "use your imagination"
- Questions with no right or wrong answers
Sound familiar to anyone else?
What is most interesting to me is that although Bud has such a strong (overwhelming?) preference for Concrete Sequential learning, he responds least to the educators and methodologies that are also Concrete Sequential. I suppose it makes sense. If Concrete Sequential educators are concerned with finding and teaching the Right Answers, it would be difficult for them to comprehend - never mind appreciate - the answers that are Not Even Wrong. For most Concrete Sequentials, the "correct" approaches, responses, and products are the conventional ones. But Bud's concrete reality enters his consciousness through a different filter; his sequence is always logical, but it is rarely traditional.
So, as I think about the teachers and classrooms in which Bud will thrive, I realize that he needs to be in an environment in which he is guided, challenged, and supported by Abstract Randoms:
What they do best:
- Listen to others
- Understand feelings and emotions
- Focus on themes and ideas
- Bring harmony to group situations
- Establish positive relationships with everybody
- Recognize and meet the emotional needs of others
- Personalized learning
- Broad, general guidelines
- Maintaining friendly relationships
- Enthusiastic participation in projects they believe in
- Decisions made with the heart instead of the head
It seems to me that it is the Abstract Random teacher who best understands the difference between consistency and sameness; who sees that while Bud needs consistency and predictability, it is the consistency of philosophy and the predictability of relationship, and not the routine of activity or behavior, that will yield success. He can deal with change; in many ways he thrives on change. But he deals with change best when he has an Abstract Random guide who can help shape his understanding of the change and help him to know that even in transition he is safe and life is stable.
Last year Bud had some testing with a wonderful child psychologist. As we were wrapping up, I asked him what I should be looking for in a classroom environment for Bud. He gave me a few concrete suggestions, then paused. "The most important thing," he said, "is that Bud needs to be with people who love him."
I knew that he was right. The teachers, the specialists, the paraprofessionals who are best suited to Bud are the ones who are primarily concerned with making a difference in his life, who believe in him and in the transformative power of education, who can hear the responses he gives that are not even wrong and without hesitation hone in on the parts that are so very right, who try new things and respond and adapt and change, change, change while always maintaining a centered, rooted, immutable Bud-focused philosophy.
Now how do I explain all that to a potential first-grade teacher?