Learning Styles and Introductory Economics: A matter of translation Mary R Hedges University of Auckland, NZ DEE, September 2007 Cambridge,UK Introduction • How did you feel when the language changed? • 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? Classroom? • 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 students. – Traditional university students? – NESB students? – Marginal students? – Students studying across disciplines? – Students studying compulsory papers? • What happens if we consider learning styles as languages? • 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 BEHAVIOURISM COGNITIVE INTERACTIONIST THEORY THEORY THEORY (environment) (mental processes) (mental processes and environment) Learning/Cognitive Styles Personality Types Social Interaction Brain Dominance Environmental (Myers-Briggs) (Grasha-Reichmann) Inventory effects and Chronopsychology Sensory Preferences (VARK) 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 kinesthetic. • 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 error 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 year. What about Maths?? • Two ways of thinking about maths and learning. • These relate to the degree of maths inability or fear. • 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 acquisition? 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 language. • "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 interlanguage. – 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 discussions. • First test result poor but a very clear pattern visible. – He avoided all questions that had graphs either as a part of the question or required as a part of the answer!! • 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 versa). • With practice fluency (and results) improved. Case 2 • Another student could deliver back in the language (style) the question was asked in. – 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 solutions. – 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 often. – 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 problems. • 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 • 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 them – 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? Solutions? • 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. Questions? Feedback?
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