Active or passive, behaviour is the winner

17th October 2003 at 01:00
So, Ofsted inspectors have found that children often behave better in arts classes than in other lessons ("Simple steps to creativity," TES, August 29). But are these arts lessons ones in which children are engaged in active rather than passive learning tasks? Many factors influence a child's behaviour in school, but Ofsted's findings highlight the challenge faced by children who have a preference to learn kinaesthetically (through a sense of movement). School-based learning so often favours children who are auditory and visual learners. Those who are not, face daily challenges that do not match their style. The sense of relief must be enormous when they're engaged on tasks designed for active learners - hence the improved behaviour.

The Ofsted report did not discuss whether or not children who behave well in other subjects misbehave in arts lessons. If the curriculum balance were significantly altered to one in which learning was predominantly active, some would. The children who currently misbehave would not, only to be replaced by a different group, probably strongly visual or auditory in their preferred learning style.

The solution is unlikely to be a curriculum overhaul that creates a blend conducive to visual, kinaesthetic and auditory learners (although many colleagues, particularly in the primary and nursery sector, have tried to create such a balance for some time). It is time, instead, to consider equipping children with the skills to learn through doing, listening and looking so they can access learning effectively from a range of sources.

Children who have their preferred style recognised from the outset - a prerequisite to broadening their learning styles - are likely to be taught by an adult who caters for their needs. Everyone gains if children learn effectively through a range of styles: we have increasingly effective learners, and teachers and teaching assistants who find their time is used more efficiently and effectively.

The only obstacle is establishing the preferred style from an early age.

Many sophisticated systems match individuals to learning styles and there does seem to be international agreement on the criteria that can be used to identify each. However, they are time-consuming and are not easy to use in school.

What's needed is a method that allows teachers and assistants to identify each child's learning style. Such a system would place teachers and assistants in a better position to understand each child's needs, reduce tensions that lead to poor behaviour noted by Ofsted and, importantly, use their time and that of children even more effectively.

Nick Briscoe Nick Briscoe is an educational researcher. Email:

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