Education Quandary

'I've been taught to cater for different kinds of learning in my lessons. Now I've read that this is nonsense'
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Hilary's advice

Yes, it's true that pretty much all teachers today are trained to address different types of learning, and to make sure they are catering for children who absorb knowledge mainly through either seeing things, hearing things, or feeling and doing things. Thus, under this view of classroom life, a good, all-round lesson might include the teacher talking, a video clip, and some sort of practical activity.

And yes, it's true that this VAK (visual, auditory, kinaesthetic) approach to teaching has recently been slated by some leading neuroscientists and educationalists as "nonsense" and "incoherent", with little evidence to back it up. It must feel deeply confusing.

But you say you've now had four years of teaching. So why not throw out the rule book, and start trusting in your own experience? Fads and fancies in teaching have always come and gone. The pendulum always swings this way and that. Liberate yourself to follow your own path.

The VAK approach to teaching might be simplistic, but you must have seen by now that not all children learn in the same way, or respond to the same kind of stimuli. So why not decide to start viewing the formula that you were taught when you trained as simply a back-of-an-envelope sketch, there to remind you to mix things up as best you can. Then, without being hampered by any constraining orthodoxy, you can make your lessons as imaginative and effective as you know how, adjusting their focus according to how you, the professional, see fit, bearing in mind the particular mix of children you have in your classroom at any one time.

Readers' advice

When my very bright six-year-old became withdrawn and unwilling in the classroom, I was forced to seek answers. I discovered that he is a visual and kinaesthetic learner with auditory processing and sensory problems. We are awaiting assessment for a possible Asperger diagnosis. His wish was that his teachers would teach him in a way he understood; this did not happen and his needs were not being met. The long-term implications were extremely worrying. He is now being home-educated. Children need forward-thinking teachers such as you. All my son wanted was someone that cared enough and understood him.

Marie-Louise Wilkins, Derby

To introduce different learning styles in the class is really important because different learners benefit differently from the same material: first, because some may already know more; second, because some want to learn more, and so try harder, than others; but third, and above all, because people vary considerably in their general ability and quickness at learning. IQ is one measure of this. Good learners will learn more than bad learners for almost all materials. I personally have experience of this. So it is not nonsense but sensible.

Aliya Siddique, Port Talbot

I started teaching at the same time as you and, like you, was trained in different teaching styles. As a reception class teacher, I can say without question that it works. Some children definitely "get" their letters quickly by sounding them out, others need to feel them as they write them. Maybe it is not right for all teachers, but it works in my class.

Hayley Burnett, Cambridgeshire

Next Week's Quandary

Dear Hilary,

Last year, the boys in my class did not do well and one of the targets I have set for myself for this year is to try to close the gender gap. I teach Year Five. But I know I find girls easier to reach, and this issue is not a school priority, so where can I turn for help?

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to arrive no later than Monday 3 September, to 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax: 020-7005 2143; or e-mail: Please include your postal address.