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Learning Styles and Introductory Economics A matter by qym17251


									    Learning Styles and
Introductory Economics: A
    matter of translation

         Mary R Hedges
    University of Auckland, NZ
      DEE, September 2007
• How did you feel when the language
• Did you recognise the new language or
  were you totally lost?
• Did it make a difference to you whether it
  was a language you recognised versus
  one you did not recognise?
• Even once things came back to English,
  did you immediately start to focus again?
• In introductory economics courses we
 tend to give students information in
 several ways:
  – Words
  – Graphs
  – Algebra
  – Experiments (MUCH less common)
• Presumption is that the methods provide
 repetition to the students and therefore
 reinforcing the ideas, but is this the case?
                   Learning Styles
• When we then embed learning style preferences,
    and how these relate to the ways we tell
    economic stories, we are increasing the issues for
    –   Traditional university students?
    –   NESB students?
    –   Marginal students?
    –   Students studying across disciplines?
    –   Students studying compulsory papers?
• What happens if we consider learning styles as
•   Let’s start by looking at theories of learning and
    what learning styles are.
           Theories of Learning
• Large and diverse range of theories of learning.
• Can be grouped into three groups
   – Behaviourism
   – Cognitive
   – Interactionist
• While all make an important contribution this
  paper will focus on the cognitive strand.
• One thread of this is that of learning style and
  specifically preferred sensory modes.
      What is a Learning Style?
• It is the way in which a student begins to
  concentrate on, process and retain new and
  difficult information.
• It affects how the student acts in a group,
  learns, participates, relates to others, solves
  problems, teaches and works.
• Problem is first year university teaching
  styles, particularly large classes, tend to
  focus on particular styles that may not
  match the student’s styles, particularly those
  of marginal students.
                  Theories of Learning
   THEORY                     THEORY                   THEORY
  (environment)             (mental processes)      (mental processes and


Personality Types Social Interaction     Brain Dominance    Environmental
 (Myers-Briggs) (Grasha-Reichmann)           Inventory        effects and
                            Sensory Preferences
           Why do they matter?
• Students absorb and process information in
  different ways.
  –   Visual or auditory
  –   Logical or intuitive
  –   Competitive or collaborative
  –   Work steadily or more erratic
• Teachers also use different styles
  – Teacher centred vs student centred
  – Theory vs application
  – Auditory vs visual (kinesthetic??)
• Mismatches can then lead to
  – Student failure , frustration, dislike & angst
  – Teacher frustration, poor evaluations, dislike & angst.
          Sensory Preferences
• Obviously these change as we age
  – Babies gustatory and tactile
  – By late teens tends to be related to more
    developed senses of visual, auditory and
• Fleming & Mills (1992) have then split visual
  into two:
  – Visual information presented as text (Read/write)
  – Visual information presented as pictures (Visual)
• This split is important for university study
  and particularly large first year classes.
                   V . A. R . K
• Visual
  – Prefers diagrams, pictures, graphs, arrows, shapes,
    colours, word pictures and space.
• Aural
  – Talk things through, discussion, stories, lectures,
    sayings, speaker skills.
• Read/Write
  – Lists, dictionaries, handouts, quotes, texts, take notes
• Kinesthetic
  – Examples, trips, experiments, applications, trial and
        Traditional Tertiary Study
• Tends to be heavily focussed on the aural and
    read/write options only.
•   Reality is there are more and more students that
    are relatively weak in these areas.
•   At school level this is often mitigated by:
    –   small classes,
    –   close contact and study with peers,
    –   closer student/teacher relationships,
    –   more interactive environment.
• At tertiary level there are seldom these
    mitigating aspects available, particularly in first
           What about Maths??
• Two ways of thinking about maths and learning.
• These relate to the degree of maths inability or
•   Extreme aversion
    – Sees maths as a different language entirely.
    – Polish example from start?
• Limited ability/confidence
    – Can do some aspects of maths. May fit one or other
      learning preference.
    – Similar to recognising language and at least knowing
      where to start.
            Maths and Vark
• Obviously there are different links to the
  learning styles mentioned.
  – Visual - may relate to graphs
  – Read/Write - may relate to algebra
  – Kinesthetic - problem solving ability
• The ability of a student to fit into these
  however can depend on their degree of
  aversion or preference toward maths.
• How does this fit with language
          Language Acquisition
• Researchers have found a very consistent order
  in the acquisition of language.
  – “silent period," in which they speak very little if at all.
     • May be a period of language shock, in which the learner
       actively rejects the incomprehensible input of the new
     • "silent" learners may be engaging in private speech or self-
       talk when they are rehearsing important survival phrases and
       lexical chunks.
  – Period of formulaic speech.
     • Uses a handful of routines to accomplish basic purposes.
  – Experimental phase of acquisition.
     • the semanitcs and grammar of the target language are
       simplified and the learners begin to construct a true
  – Fluency
        What about Fluency?
• Fluency actually encompasses a number of
 related but separable skills:
  – Reading: the ability to easily read and
    understand texts written in the language;
  – Writing: the ability to formulate written texts
    in the language;
  – Comprehension: the ability to follow and
    understand speech in the language;
  – Speaking: the ability to speak in the language
    and be understood by its speakers.
• Look familiar?
    Fitting It All Together - Case 1
• A student in my large first year class (600
    students in my stream).
•   Made use of tutorials and office hours and
    appeared to understand the material in
•   First test result poor but a very clear pattern
    – He avoided all questions that had graphs either as a
      part of the question or required as a part of the
• On discussion he identified that he had poor
    spatial skills so had learnt to avoid them.
                   Solution 1
• Fortunately this student was multi-lingual
• Discussed how he learns new languages (spoke
    5 & was actually a translator!!)
•   Then discussed the concept of the types of
    economic expression being like languages.
•   Learn a new one - visual language usng basic
    graph book (read/write that he liked).
•   Explicitly learn how to translate from the
    languages (styles) he was comfortable with to
    ones he wasn’t comforatble with and vice
•   With practice fluency (and results) improved.
                   Case 2
• Another student could deliver back in the
 language (style) the question was asked
  – Graph question with graph answer or
    algebraic to algebraic solution etc
• Could not cope with a question asked in
 one form and the answer required in a
 different form
  – Algebra to graph or graph to algebra
• Could translate between words and either
 of the other two but not directly between
 the two ‘second’ languages.
                Solution 2
• Problem was that words were ‘first
  language’ and the others were both
  ‘second’ languages.
• Havng identified that this was the issue
  the student immediately found her own
  – Mainly using words as the intermediary
    language even when the question did not
    require it.
• Results in second test substantially better
  – Along with enjoyment levels, confidence etc.
   Back to our Student Groups
• Traditional university students?
  – Tend to be stronger in read/write and aural
  – Therefore what is often perceived as a maths problem
    may be a visual problem or an algebra language
    problem instead.
• NESB students?
  – Often already translating from one language.
  – Explains why they are often more comfortable in
    ‘universal’ languages like algebra and graphs.
  – Then leaves them often having to translate their
    ‘universal’ language into their first language and then
    into the words of current language.
• Marginal students?
  – Often stronger in visual and kinesthetic learning
    styles. University uses these methods much less
  – If a maths aversion is overlaid on this it may also
    reduce their ability ot cope with graphs (see them as
    maths rather than visual)
  – Can help by encouraging them to think in graphs or
    word pictures and then manually translating from that
    into either algebra or words.
• Students studying across disciplines?
  – Different disciplines will tend to use particular styles
    more than others. If crossing disciplines that move
    from visual to read/write or aural it will cause
• Students studying compulsory papers?
  – Issue here is one of assuming it is the whole subject
    that is the issue and don’t pause to see what they can
    and can’t do.
• Identification of these issues only became
  obvious to me when going through tests
  with students helping then find what they
  did wrong (not multichoice).
• Discussing their problem questions with
  – How did they approach the question?
  – What process did they go through in order to
    answer the question?
  – How did they ocnsider the problem?
  – When did they decide to miss it out?
• Making VARK quesitonnaire website
 available to students
  – Enables them to identify their own
    preferences and weaknesses
  – Ideally I’d like to introduce this as a week 1
    tutorial for all first years.
• Explicitly taking students through the
  translation of a concept in class.
• Explaining how it does not matter which
  way you remember it so long as you can
  translate between the different methods.
                 Future Work
• Would like to develop a VARK type diagnostic
    more specifically for economics students.
•   Plan to change teaching notes in order to utilise
    language acquisition and translation processes.
•   Would like to develop support materials for
    teachers and/or students that can provide them
    with help in learning/ translating between the
    economic languages.
•   Obviously has wider implications for the success
    of marginal students but thought to start where
    I am comfortable.


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