Last year, I was introduced to the Barsch Learning Style Preference Inventory during a professional development, prior to COVID sending us into remote learning. It really resonated with me as an educator, a teacher who tries to reach as many of her students as possible by understanding where they are coming from; however, COVID kind of took center stage and after doing a quick inventory and review with my students, we moved on to other things and I kind of forgot about the concept. Last week I realized I wanted to revisit these learning style preferences with my students and so we did. What an eye-opening experience–especially after this past year!
For those who have never heard of it, the Barsch Learning Style Preference divides individual learning types into 3 groups: Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic/Tactile.
Last year when we did this activity in PD, teachers looked at the above descriptions of each type; took the Inventory Assessment to find out what group we were in; then we grouped together by learning styles and discussed how we–ourselves–learned. I was shocked that rather than Visual being my most dominant style, Kinesthetic/Tactile was my style. Don’t get me wrong, my Visual numbers were high and my Auditory numbers are decent, but my Kinesthetic numbers were higher, and that was where I was grouped–with only 3 other teachers, out of 25-30 teachers in attendance at the PD. While the 4 of us were discussing our similarities and how we learned, all of us were unconsciously chewing gum or playing with something like a paper clip, money, or reading glasses. It was wild. And I can still remember which colleagues were in my group, a year later.
Here are my current numbers after a year of remote learning (Visual-34; Auditory-24; Kinesthetic-36):
Frankly, it has been fascinating to do this activity with my students at the same time we have been adjusting to hybrid learning these past two weeks. It has helped me realize why my auditory learners need me to read things to the group and why my visual learners depend on Power Points during lectures.
For me personally, I’ve added a new layer to my understanding of how I learn and interact with new material–and why I don’t only teach to one learning style. It’s also heightened my awareness of why the act of writing and of blogging has become so important to me over the past 8 or so years. As a Kinesthetic and Visual Learner, blogging really connects with me, from using my computer as a ‘tool’ to ‘seeing’ the writing of others. It’s why I care so much about the visuals, my photography, and the act of ‘doing’ my blog–and why I have struggled so much with adapting to the use of the new WordPress platform. It’s because I need time to practice–and I haven’t had any! But once I have practiced and ‘done’ a number of posts, I think I will be ok with the transition to the updated WordPress.
This tool also explains just why adapting to a hybrid teaching schedule the past three weeks has been so difficult and exhausting after a year of remote education from home.
My school’s new hybrid schedule has freshmen and juniors in the building on Mondays and Tuesdays, while sophomores and seniors are at school on Thursdays and Fridays. Since I teach predominately sophomores and seniors, last Friday ended up being my first day with any of my students in person. Mind you, I have less than 20% of my students who have opted to return to our school building, but I had 2-6 students in all 6 of my classes. It was great to see my students in person, but at the same time, it was really disconcerting. I’ve spent nearly 9 months navigating 6 virtual classrooms each day and creating a positive learning environment with a variety of things going on in each of my classes. I have created ‘alternate’ classrooms and virtual learning spaces adapted from my traditional classroom model, but they have been uniquely different, with lots of technology support that I never leaned into like this before.
My students and I have adapted to this reality–we have all learned how to control this technology and our COVID realities the best we can. Many of us have learned how to use this technology to our advantage: more than two-thirds of my students are doing as well or better than they did last year in their classes and I feel that this reflects in the results of my Civics students.
One thing I have to add, so that I remember in the future, is that I found out a couple of weeks ago that I have a fan club! Yep, a handful of my sophomores, who had me last year as freshmen, are big fans of mine. Finding out about this was totally unexpected, but very appreciated.
But back to a return to on campus learning.
What would returning to in-person learning do to those carefully constructed classrooms–and relationships–of mine?
Well, to be perfectly honest, I felt like the Wizard in the “Wizard of Oz” when Toto pulls back the curtain and reveals that the Wizard is just an old guy who is controlling the levers, but isn’t this bigger than life wizard.
What if my students found out I was just a very bad teacher after projecting a good one in the virtual classroom for the past 8 or so months? What if suddenly seeing me in person or how I actually taught seemed different than what was expected or that I didn’t project to my classes in the same way? Needless to say, it was an unsettling experience.
After this second week of hybrid, I can honestly say I no longer feel like the Wizard being outed by Toto, and that my jitters have calmed down considerably. However, I have found that school staff and teachers doing two jobs at the same time–teaching the students in front of us at the same time as teaching other students remotely–is exhausting and not to be discounted.
But I am hopeful. There were good things happening in my school community last week.
This next week is Teacher Appreciation Week here in the U.S. I want to say to all of the teachers out there: “You are seen and appreciated for all you have adjusted to this year! You Rock!”