Thursday, July 29, 2010

VARK me!

I've just completed the VARK test, which analyses your learning preferences. (The name stands for Visual, Aural, Reading, Kinesthetic.) My results show that I have a preference for Reading/Writing to understand new things. So, I guess anyone who's ever met me will agree that this test not completely baseless... (My lowest score was for visual, which is probably about right.)

While I found it interesting, several of the questions frustrated me by having the answers all be things I would do. Example:

You are going to choose food at a restaurant or cafe. You would:

I would - and do! - do all of those things. (And then I usually change my mind at the last minute anyway.)

On the other hand, some questions I struggled with in the other direction. Example:

You have to make an important speech at a conference or special occasion. You would:

None of those are really how I prepare for making a conference presentation. (For the record: obsessively edit my paper until every phrase is burned into my skull, then wait for the day before my presentation to write a one-page summary and/or powerpoint slideshow of what I want to talk about.)

Those quibles aside, questionnaires like VARK are actually quite useful. As we all know, everyone learns in different ways. But all too often we forget that - whether we're teachers or students - and expect everyone to learn the same things from the same experiences.

This semester I tried something new with my first-year Australian politics students, asking them to fill out a brief survey at the start of the first lecture. The idea was to get a quick snapshot of what they already knew, how interested they were (I told them it was okay to say that they were only there because they had to be), and what their biggest concerns about the course were. I got some quite interesting responses, but now I wonder... should I just have asked them all to do the VARK questionnaire?

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