Friday, 16 January 2015

A Small Theory

by Catriona Ellis



(source: grandcanyon.com)

Before I start, I need to get one thing straight: what follows is NOT a scientific article in any way. I do not take any science subjects, nor do I wish to do any scientific research for this article or be anywhere near science for the vast majority of the rest of my life so the following article is purely speculative. I am merely theorising. More specifically I am going to hypothesise about the brain, and more specifically than that, about neurology with respects to learning styles.

I distinctly remember an argument that sprung up between my mother and I many years ago when I, as an unknowing and geographically-ungifted child questioned:
“Am I correct in saying that the Grand Canyon is in Austalia?” or something to that effect, (I may not have actually started with “Am I correct in saying” because at such a naïve age I was most probably was unaware of such a phrase, but that is beside the point.) Anyway, in answer to my highly legitimate question my mother got a little angry:
You should know that. Why don’t you know? That’s unbelievable. Go and work it out.”
I was shocked. I was angry. I could not comprehend how I was supposed to know where the Grand Canyon was having never been told, and this is my point: Some people simply don’t learn things for themselves. 

I will illustrate further with a second example:
 More recently my family and I were discussing driving lessons and when I could learn to drive, when this bombshell hit the table:
“Cat, you show absolutely no aptitude for driving.”
Once again, I was shocked. I knew the comment wasn’t meant to be insulting, but I felt cheated that at some point I was meant to have shown an ‘aptitude for driving’, having a) never been told how to drive or how road signs operate and b) never having even been told that I should think about ‘showing an aptitude.’ It was baffling to say the least. I didn’t even know how to ‘show aptitude.’ Was I supposed to have shouted out the new speed limit whenever I was driven from an A road onto a motorway? Should I have been researching stopping distances in my non-existent spare time? In answer to such questions, Mum merely replied,
“Well, you should at least know how the clutch and brakes work.”

WHAT? How was I supposed to know? I don’t even take Physics! Is everyone else simply born with an innate understanding of the mechanics of moving vehicles or is it just me being dumb? I am sometimes told that I have little commonsense but things had now gone far enough. I needed to know why I seemed to apprehend nothing of the world whilst everyone else understood everything. It was time to question back. So, I braced myself and fired questions at my family:
“Why do you expect me to know things when I’ve never asked them before?”
“How do you expect me to learn if you’ve never told me?”
“Is the Grand Canyon in Australia or not?”
And I was merely met with:
“Well, your brother always knew these things.”

Silence. They had pulled the brother card and that was low.
No no, we don’t mean to say that he was more intelligent than you, but that he taught himself how brakes work and which Wonders of the World are in which continent. He never needed to ask.”

At the time, I was too upset to really take on board the last sentence aimed at me before I stormed (very dramatically, I hasten to add,) from the room, but, looking back on it, it raises an interesting question: Do some people simply not learn for themselves? 

After thinking about it for a while (it’s a lie, my Dad only proposed this to me yesterday…), I would have to say that I agree: I think some people just can’t think up answers for themselves. That’s not to say that these people, and I would categorise myself as one of them, can’t motivate themselves or work independently, but it is to say that they need to be told before they can act. Let me give an example:

If my brother and I were given an identical task, let’s say learning how to use a sewing machine, we would approach it very differently; I would probably ask someone to show me how to use it, then watch a YouTube tutorial, (how is there literally a YouTube tutorial for everything?) and then I would sit down and have a go on the machine myself. However, my brother would dive straight in to begin with, pressing all the buttons and making mistakes until he learnt how to perform complex operations on his own. I have to be told, whilst he can do it for himself. I suppose this really comes down to that good old, “What kind of learner are you? Kinesthetic, visual or auditory?” I would argue that someone who has to be told something in order to learn it could be catagorised as visual or auditory whilst a do-it-yourself like my brother is kinesthetic, but it’s more interesting than that because the ‘being told’ element to the first group of learners could be performed in multiple ways: the Internet can ‘tell’ you something if you read it online, a person can ‘tell’ you how to do something by showing you, a documentary can ‘tell’ you something if you watch it and this really sums up my point: some people just have to be told.

Potentially this is why it is often harder for do-it-yourself learners to revise whilst for us ‘being told’ learners it’s easier; we are told the information in class and it’s just a matter of working out how to memorise it, but for do-it-yourselves it would be better never to just give them information in class, but to let them work it out for themselves with gentle encouragement and guidance then it would stick in their heads because it might be easier to remember how they worked something out as opposed to what they worked out. I’m only theorising of course, but I genuinely feel that teachers should use a wider range of teaching techniques to encompass a wider range of teaching styles and that maybe if this were done, results would improve. It’s just a thought.

To conclude, if someone asks a dumb question like the whereabouts of the Grand Canyon please don’t just tell them that they should know because odds are that they wouldn’t have asked if they didn’t know. Please just answer and put them out of their misery because for years the locations of major landmasses were serious issues for me and only recently have I realised that I just need to be told.

P.S: For anyone who doesn’t know, the Grand Canyon  is in Arizona, USA.

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