VAK Silliness; or, Variety is the Spice of Life.

Earlier this week I had an excellent time being off-timetable and discussing teaching and learning with my department. The session was led by a very wise, knowledgeable and engaging advisor from the LA. The topic was “challenge”, as one thing that has been identified for improvement within the department is the level of challenge in lessons. We covered what challenge can mean and how we might provide differentiated challenge for individual needs, as well as the types of engagement activities that mean all students are challenged. This was all good stuff.

Until a colleague, for whom I have huge admiration and respect (and to whom I discussed this blog before posting) said to me that we should make sure that we are careful to cater for the “visual, auditory and kinaesthetic” learners. I nearly choked on my chocolate bun. Why, in 2014, would somebody who is an excellent teacher with brilliant ideas still be bandying about this charlatan nonsense? I shook my head in dismay and tried to smile. She asked me what the matter was. I responded that this was rubbish (I may have actually used an expletive here). She asked me why and I said there was no scientific evidence for it and that it had been exposed as rubbish years ago. My (highly respected) colleague then responded by saying “so if something isn’t real it doesn’t exist?” To which I exasperatedly replied “What? Of course it doesn’t!” We left it at that, although later that day I did send her an email with a link to an article reporting that scientists had exposed the idea of multiple intelligences (and particularly the VAK idea) as tosh.

So why do experienced, effective colleagues put faith in this rubbish? Is it because it just sounds “right” and fits in with our preconceptions of how we function as human beings? Or is it because it makes our lesson planning sound clever and differentiated in a way that we don’t really have to think about? I remember a few years ago having to do a “Learning Styles Audit” in the first week of term with my groups so that the students would know what type of learner they were. I cringe at this now. If my kids come home telling me that they’re a visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learner we’ll be having a long chat about why they’re none of the above. Because there’s no such thing. It’s a myth.

The reality, in my humble opinion, is that we all benefit from having all our senses stimulated to some degree because, let’s be honest, variety really is the spice of life. If I’m sat in a presentation/workshop as I was yesterday and have to sit still and listen for two and half hours to someone talking about T+L, regardless of how interesting they are, I will get bored and restless after a period of time (I think is probably why we try to chunk things into hour long blocks. Think university lectures etc.). Fortunately our presenter had the good sense to include some activities in which we got to use resources (card sorts and the like) and this made the workshop better because it simply introduced variety. He also used an AV clip, which again stimulated some different senses. At the start of the session I had a strong cup of coffee and during the break a lovely chocolate muffin cooked for the department by one of our team. I also had a wander to the loo when nature called. Do you see my point?

I enjoyed this session because I got to engage in a subject that fascinates me in a variety of ways that ensured a variety of senses were stimulated through what I saw, listened to, spoke about, physically arranged, ate and drank. If students have to listen to me espouse for an hour they will lose interest. If I show a documentary for an hour, they will lose interest. If I set them on with card sorting activities or freeze frame tasks for a full hour, they will lose interest. But if I provide a variety of these that allow them to focus on, engage with and think about the topic using a range of senses to deepen their understanding then they will enjoy the lesson and learn more, because they’re kids with relatively short attention spans that need to be stimulated through a variety of sensory experiences, not because they’re a particular type of learner. Again, variety is the spice of life. VAK – vicarious artificial krap.


About Andrew Warner

Mostly English teacher, AHT (T&L/literacy/CPD) & bibliophile. Irregular examiner, MTBer, armchair anthropologist & bassist. Fascinated by language & behaviour.

One response to “VAK Silliness; or, Variety is the Spice of Life.”

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