The title of this book combines two of the biggest ‘buzz terms’ emerging in the field of mainstream education during the last decade. Each resonates with a distinctive snap, crackle and pop when referred to by academics, school practitioners and parent groups.
Learning Styles and Inclusion Reid, G (2005), price £17.99 Paul Chapman Publishing. 180pp.
The title of this book combines two of the biggest ‘buzz terms’ emerging in the field of mainstream education during the last decade. Each resonates with a distinctive snap, crackle and pop when referred to by academics, school practitioners and parent groups. Both generally reflect a desire to put the person back into education, arguably a core aim for the SENCO working remit. It is perhaps not surprising that these terms are touched by controversy and a vigorous debate that often seems to shed more heat than light on educational development.
Reid argues that in spite of the recent critical reaction to the growth of interest in learning styles and the contested imperative for educational inclusion, the validity and relevance of the style construct for learning and teaching is overwhelming. Indeed, he argues that one of the main themes of this book is ‘that learning styles can act as a catalyst and can promote more enlightened approaches to teaching and learning’ (p138). He is also, in my opinion, correct when arguing that a consideration of learning styles can facilitate an enriching and empowering attitude to learning, teaching and the notion of personalised education. What he does not offer is a ‘cook book’ full of recipes and tips of the trade and, as Bob Burden of the University of Exeter has rightly commented, he also avoids jumping on any bandwagon, but rather ‘draws judiciously from a wide range of approaches to assessing learning styles and links what can be learned about groups and individuals from such techniques to helpful classroom practice’.
The book is organised into four parts. The first securely locates learning styles and inclusive education in the context of education. A brief but useful consideration of several major theories of learning is combined with the author’s perspective on the validity and relevance of the learning styles construct for education.
The second part is devoted to an explanation and application of learning styles to the world of learning and teaching. The central role played by assessment, and the need to personalise learning differences in the design and delivery of the curriculum are soundly presented. A surprising omission, however, is the work of researchers developing approaches to study such as the very well established work of Entwistle et al and, more recently, that of Vermunt (see references).
He is also, in my opinion, correct when arguing that a consideration of learning styles can facilitate an enriching and empowering attitude to learning, teaching and the notion of personalised education.
A second concern is the distinction drawn between performance and learning which, while I think I know what is intended in terms of the current obsessions with managerialism and performativity in the school curriculum, does not entirely work. Performance, as it is used in relation to style and learning, is very much a psychological term describing that which a person does to complete any given task. It seems clear to me, therefore, that learning performance is not necessarily the same thing as attainment or achievement, but is often part of one and sometimes both.
The third part of the book switches to the topic of educational inclusion. Again, Reid makes a good job of summarising key issues and identifying some fundamental principles linked to building effective practice. What is particularly useful, too, is that learning styles as a theme is taken forward and the question asked, how is it an idea that matters when making education inclusive? The answer is presented in the form of demonstrating how we can see that good teaching and inclusive classrooms incorporate much of the thinking associated with a style-led pedagogy. The latter is also closely associated with features in the school context emphasising educational inclusion, access, participation and equity.
The final part of the book sees the reader turn full circle to consider again the question of effective learning and putting theory into practice. Here the author may have better entitled the section ‘learning and teaching strategies’ as this is the main content, weaving useful references with summaries of approaches and materials through the applications of psychological theory associated with learning differences.
Here, as well as in earlier chapters, Reid succeeds in giving the reader a grounded introduction to the field of learning styles. It is, nevertheless, a smorgasbord of material. There are criticisms of this material, including its conflicting diversity with which Reid does not really fully engage, and this is reinforced by recurring references to the recent work of Coffield et al (the latter perhaps merited a more focused treatment). I think the teacher and certainly the SENCO need to know a little more of this debate.
It is perhaps my only real concern for this book that it is clearly aimed at the working practitioner, and as such brevity and the repeated use of bullet lists does from time to time raise more questions than are answered. I do think, however, that we need one or two more books of this kind opening up in a more sustained way the development associated with learning differences and style. Learning Styles and Inclusion is good value for money. It is a significant contribution to the literature on learning styles and inclusion. It is well presented, written in a readable style, and links reflective discussion to suggested good practice. For the professional who is interested in learning styles, it is required reading.
Steve Rayner, University of Birmingham