Monday, December 04, 2006

Learning Styles

I can't help finding myself very curious about learning styles, not least because I suspect that there are broad styles of approach to acquiring information but also that it is far more mutable than is suggested with tests such as this one for left-right predominence. (If Tickle won't load, try this quick Blogthings gave me the pretty much the same answer. Thanks Rosie).

The reason for my belief that these things are subject to change? I am quite sure I started out as a right-brained learner, (as befitting the description here) but have ended up a predominently left-brained thinker.

Why would this be? Could change be dictated genetically? The reason I doubt it is that I can construct a seemingly very feasible story as to the environmental reasons for my different learning styles.

From the beginning as an infant, I was left in the company of strangers and dumped out in the pram at the bottom of the garden. I think this left me with the need to devote most of my mind to reading people's faces and trying to understand what they were thinking in order, as the infant mind perceives it, to ensure my survival. I continued to do this for most of my school years. It left me with almost no ability to manage an equation but with an enormous aptitude for playing "Call my Bluff" and with the terrible side effect of wasting an enormous amount of processing power storing into memory an impressive number faces of people I was unlikely ever to even speak to.

The change occured quite suddenly and at the exactly same time as learning about critical rationalism, after which algebra became much more fun. I now don't remember faces with the same ease and feel I am losing my intuition as to people's emotions. I registered as left-brained on the above test.

Does any of this register with anyone else?

HT: Throwing Marshmallows


David said...

Tickle won't load, dammit.

I'd guess I'm both. I love metaphor and analogy - Sisyphus, for one, but at the same time I love picking false ones apart, which is a matter of logic. My two talents, small though they are, are maths (well, till I let it slide) and music, and I think the two are linked.

I'm not sure if I've ever approached maths from a right brain perspective (where's the line between intuition and the brain seeing the answer so quickly it feels like intuition?*), but I do approach music from both. Music can certainly be mathematical - harmonies, time signatures etc. I try not to be so reductive, because it doesn't actually help; it doesn't add anything to what I can understand 'intuitively', it's simply swapping one means of expression (musical) for another (verbal, or mathematical even). And music is best expressed musically.

"Why does this piece make me sad?"
"Oh, it's a minor key, 3/4 time, funereal pace, occasionally discordant. It's evocative of rain streaming down French windows, empty wine glasses on their side on the floor, nicotine patches forming on the ceiling above the chair where you always sit and cry away the empty hours of your life."
"Well, the first sentence is descriptive, and the second only raises more questions."
"Hmmm. Shall I write you an equation?"

What was my point here? Oh yes, brains. My surface is Right Brain - I'm more passionate about art than science, for example, or emotion than 'facts', but it can often be in a Left Brain, analytical sense. Make sense? I suppose Right is the first port of call for my understanding, but if that's not working I'll crank Left Brain into action. Obviously, I feel I best understand something when both are involved.

There's a Mary Midgley quote that puts it all much better:

"Human life [is] like an enormous, ill-lit aquarium which we never see fully from above, but only through various small windows unevenly distributed around it. Scientific windows - like historical ones - are just one important set among these. Fish and other strange creatures constantly swim away from particular windows... reappearing where different lighting can make them hard to recognise. Long experience, along with constant dashing around between windows, does give us a good deal of skill in tracking them. But if we refuse to put together the data from different widows, then we can be in real trouble."

How I would begin to understand this from either genetics or environment, I have no idea.

*On this matter, have you read Malcolm Gladwell's 'Blink'? I haven't. Well, I read half of it before it had to go back to the library, but that's the downside of getting too many books out at once. Anyhoo, it's an interesting look at intuition which, or so Gladwell seemed to be getting at, was the brain (and body [which are the same thing, but that's the dualist inheritence for you]) working very fast with information you haven't consciously noticed.

Rosie said...

I did this
not long ago- its a bit superficial and I knew what it would say- I was assessed at age 11 as being particularly right-brained. Not that I havent got a left-brain- you understand!- I'm quite good at maths and logic.
I think it is something you are born with, like being left- handed, but can be nurtured. I think the important thing is the connection between the left and right brain, which is worked on by people working with dyslexia, using physical movements of both sides of the body; and things like brain gym.
Yes I think that at different times the right or left brain can seem to dominate. Possibly different activities encourage this. I don't actually think my right brain is stronger or bigger in some way- I think there are other reasons why I allow this half to dominate, possibly emotional. I think early years experiences are very important in the development and awakening of the imagination and intuition. As with language, there seems to be a 'window' of opportunity for developing in this area. If people do not have this opportunity they may struggle with it later on.

Maybe different parts of the brain can develop at different rates (I'm sure this must be true) so a left-brained person would seem to turn into a right-brained person.

Even as I'm writing this it is all starting to sound a bit silly.

Have you ever tried (and failed) to dial a phone number from memory with your left hand? It's probably a good excersise in left-right brain integration!

Fiona M said...

Ha ha ha ha I haven't laughed so much in ages - it says I'm 50% right and 50% left brained .... I guess this is why I'm no good at ANYthing :-0

Anonymous said...

hi c,

i'm 70% left hemisphere i think. y'know men are from mars and women are from venus. well, i'm a martian...wrong planet syndrome etc. i identify with what you say about developing coping mechanisms to do with "reading" people.btw have you seen ainsworth's work on "strange situation" and disordered attachment? it's david, fellow commenter. blink is worth finishing, also gladwell's blog is interesting. love, fiona

Carlotta said...

Gladwell' "an interesting look at intuition which...was the brain (and body [which are the same thing, but that's the dualist inheritence for you]) working very fast with information you haven't consciously noticed."

You know, that makes a lot of sense. So whether the mind is artistic or mathematical, it is still basically about attempting to represent reality accurately.

The thing that seems to be different is that different parts of the brain are required to process different aspects of reality...or so neuroscience suggests, eg: recent New Scientist article about the very discrete areas of the brain that are involved in facial recognition. This right/left stuff seems to be a simplistic way of understanding which parts of the brain one is most used to using.

Carlotta said...

fiona n...Am a complete devotee of Bowlby and then Ainsworth...but have never googled them. Am off to now!

Anonymous said...

Umm. I was left brained in one test and right brained in the other. Although I have to say that I could have truthfully had different answers for most questions with equal sincerity.

Things just aren't so simple!

Anonymous said...

"1. To you, which of the following is most like: 4+6
Four plus six "

What the...? "To you"? Talk about bad maths. LOL!

Those left brain, right brain, male brain, female brain, etc, things, are rather silly.

There are ambidextrous people and even people who were left handed and became right handed and vice versa. A good example of this is the artist Didier Com├Ęs.

Transexuals change sex and then back, so it "brain sex" cannot be defined in the womb.

People like to make up loads of silly labels to restrict their own freedom. Oh test, tell me what I should do with my life.

There is also this story, it might be interesting.

Carlotta said...

Hi L,

I think you are my sister, previously very right- handed, learned to write very competently with her left hand when she broke her right wrist just before her A levels. We like to imagine ourselves much more constrained than we really are, I think.

But I am also interested in how intractable certain learning styles do seem to be. For example, I was convinced I couldn't do maths for most of my time at school, and though I have subsequently proved to myself that this untrue, you couldn't have told me this at the time.

What brings about this shift and causes these blocks to unblock? Whilst I accept that good argument can often shift entrenched memes, it sometimes doesn't seem to be Ds now convinced he has significant problems with handwriting, when his co-ordination in all other areas including all other fine motor skills, seems very good. He is convinced that it is a pretty insuperable problem and although I have used all the obvious arguments, it doesn't seem to help.

Of course he can type, but there are still times....

Anonymous said...

I think when we are hangup with something and we can't convince ourselves we are able, we should not think much about it. We should forget it.

Handwriting doesn't matter. Nobody writes by hand. Doctors have terrible handwriting. The only instances when you are required to write by hand is to fill forms and those say "block capitals only".

Hand writing is a mechanical process, it's like knowing your times tables. When you need to make a multiplication quickly, nothing beats a calculator.

Anyway, I have heard nib pens help one with hand writing, but I haven't tried it myself.

Anonymous said...

The Insuperable Problem!

From my own observations it seems to me that 'I can't do it' more often than not means 'I don't want to do it', or 'I don't want to do it in the way you want or when you want...'.

'I can't do it and can't ever do it' might mean that the need to say 'can't' instead of 'won't' (perhaps due to external coercion or stresses) has become internalised.

Well, my bit of pseudo-scientific psychology!


Anonymous said...

And, Carlotta, you comment:

"What brings about this shift and causes these blocks to unblock? Whilst I accept that good argument can often shift entrenched memes, it sometimes doesn't seem to be enough.."

Perhaps unblocking happens (other than to respond to rational argument) when the person is entirely free to come to the subject of their own accord and without any external pressure
if they are in a VERY tight corner and the only efficient way to get out of it is through their block.

Am probably stating the obvious though! A bit of a trend today accompanied by extraordinarily scatty driving...


Anonymous said...

While at a craft fair in the DC area I met a artist at a arts and crafts fair who was selling flash cards for right-brained learners who want to be able to remember the 50 United States and Capitals. I bought a deck and they are really fun. Check out: