I was first exposed to the Mathematical Learning Styles Inventory last year at Math in Action, our local math education conference. (It's the end of registration season for that - if you're close to Grand Rapids, MI give it a thought if you could come present! Fillable pdf speaker form.) The teaching center folks from Central Michigan University presented it, and had us take it and discuss. An interesting bit for me was having a group of my students there. When they had us move to tables based on our strongest style, all my students were seated at my lowest style! Hmmm - was I providing them with appropriate work and activity.
Photo by michaelcardus@flickrI know learning styles are a controversial topic in some arenas. But I think of them as preferences and predilections. I do not see them as exclusive or predetermined or limiting. As with most assessments, they provide data about what your students prefer or think they prefer. They might indicate areas where I need to provide more or more explicit support for my students. Hopefully they indicate areas where students can become stronger with more experience and application.
Strong, Silver and Perrini do a good job at laying out their inventory in the 2001 ED Leadership article, Understanding Student Differences. One of the things they describe are five great suggestions from their research:
- Have simple, deep standards
- Increase the role of assessment and feedback
- Start writing curriculum that appeals to students
- Collaborate with colleague
- Mastery learners want to learn practical information and procedures (what)
- Interpersonal learners want to dialogue and collaborate (how)
- Self-expressive learners want to use their imagination to explore (how)
- Understanding learners want to learn why things work (what)
I reworked the inventory for an inservice with middle school teachers because I thought that most secondary students would see it as repetitive and onerous. Especially if they have to score their own inventory. Also, people often complained about hard choices and having to choose between equally weighted (to them) options. I thought about just giving nine points to distribute among the choices, but that would take even longer for students. (Although I like the elegance.) So ultimately I decided to break up the questions and have students indicate strong, partial or dis- agreement by giving items 2,1 or 0 points. That turns this into an informal assessment vs. a research-based inventory. Sorry! But I can share:
I gave it to my preservice K-8 teachers, and they had interesting results. The different structure seemed to lead to more balanced styles numbers, though still indicating a preference. It sounds like some of the middle school teachers are going to give it to their students, and I'll share their feedback on the assessment if they do.
Of course, if you try it with your students, I would love to hear how it goes!
I also made an easy data recording sheet to get a glimpse of your students' results quickly. (Plus bonus line plot lesson!) Out of my cold-depleted class, I had strongest traits as follows: 7 mastery, 9 Inter-personal, 0 Understanding and 10 Self-expressive. (Ties I counted in both categories.) I expected more mastery learners, as that's what most math teachers tend to be. I personally have high scores in everything but mastery, so you can see why I worry that my preferences keep me from seeing my students. But even more interesting (and relevant for planning) to me were the distributions.
I do want to reiterate what I put on the assessment: This shows the ways you are comfortable to learn math now. People can learn new ways to learn math and try ways that other people like. Everyone can learn to do math better.
In other words, remember the importance of a growth mindset.
PS> I've added a new post describing my use of this inventory and the results from a group of preservice teachers.