There's more to learning than meets the eye

13th April 2001 at 01:00
I am increasingly alarmed at the incomplete educational psychology that is being passed off as the new panacea of pedagogy on teacher training courses - specifically Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences and the division of avenues of learning into audible, visual and kinaesthetic preferences ("Mr Motivator", Friday, March 23).

People absorb and retain information in direct relationship to its importance to them personally, and they most frequently do this via the appropriate sense. This means, first, that a piece of information has to have emotional content, often related to the pleasure principle, for it to be deemed "useful" by the mind. The nature of the information determines whether we "file" it as, primarily, an audible, visual or kinaesthetic memory.

Overall, children will learn in school through each or all of their senses, but only if the information they are given is more affective than other data that competes for their attention.

While specific physical or social factors may determine preferred ways of learning, no amount of directed stimulation will educate if the information given lacks emotional "relevance". (Friday's My Best Teacher columns most often refer to teachers whose affecting personalities overcame resistance to a subject. This is just one kind of emotional input.) Consequently, while children are predisposed to learn, as Alistair "Mr Motivtor" Smith says, they are not necessarily predisposed to learn in schools.

The acceptance of this principle of mainstream psychology is vital to the shaping of our future education system, and means that a stimulating curriculum must be devised before anyone decides on the most effective strategies for teaching it.

Rather inconveniently, children tend to learn most effectively in those environments which captivate them emotionally. Such places are as likely to be street corners in the company of peers as our classrooms. Schools, in hot competition with each other, are possibly negative places of learning.

Unfortunately, the educational psychology postulated by Alistair Smith and many other deals only, and inadequately, with the "how" of learning and not the all-important "why". Outside the educational establishment, most psychologists accept that learning is, in the main, an emotional activity; the nature of the emotion dictating the means of perception plus the degree of retention.

Barry Baker, Clifton, Bristol

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