New Beginnings: Enhanced Program and Goals

By Assistant Director Jacob Sabourin

Open Doors has made great progress over the past year and our outlook on the future is brighter than ever. I feel grateful for all the support The Geek Group and the Grand Rapids community at large has provided to our department, and I would like to thank everyone who has allowed me the opportunity to do this work full-time, and to attend the annual Liberated Learners conference in Massachusetts this summer, where I learned a truckload from professionals doing the same work as Open Doors in other parts of the country and the world. But this article is not about the past. This article is about the future.

This summer we’ve been holding Wednesday workshops in several different subjects: chemistry, computer autopsy, robotics, and digital storytelling, to name a few. They’ve gone great so far: we’ve brought many fresh new faces into The Geek Group National Science Center, and the reviews we’ve received from our guests have been outstanding (A’s and A+’s all around)! If you’re interested in more workshops this summer, please sign up at http://thegeekgroup.org/product/summer-workshops/.

These summer workshops are the beginning of a new stage in Open Doors’ existence. While much has changed over the past year in our transition to becoming a department of The Geek Group, it’s looking like change is remaining a constant here.

For the past several months, we have worked to establish five Pathways for our teen members to choose as they develop their educational plans. Each Pathway is supported by an Advisory Council of local experts who guide the vision and content of each program. Our four pathways are:

  • Pre-College

  • Technology

  • Art

  • Environmental Studies

Physical fitness and service learning will be components of all four pathways. As always, all education at Open Doors is self-directed by teens, both individually and collaboratively, which means that ultimately teens choose what they are learning on a day-to-day basis. We hope families will see these pathways as guidelines for structuring their educational plans, but we also see these pathways as a method of connecting teens to a network of professionals in their respective fields of interest. We plan to provide our teen members with a fully-developed professional network as they enter into adulthood.

Our full fall class schedule will be ready and available August 31. Until then, our tentative schedule can be found athttp://www.opendoorsforteens.org/classes/.

Open Doors will have a much more focused program this fall, but it will also be much more accessible for member families going forward. With the help of the Liberated Learners network, we will have a fully-functional E-Portfolio system through which we will offer several services to our member families:

  • Portfolio – a sleek, professional program with which members will document their daily work, post photos and videos, blog, and which they can submit to universities as part of a college application.

  • Support Reports – detailed monthly notes sent to families regarding the progress of each teen member’s educational progress.

  • Action Plans – a checklist system by which members can track and manage the progress of their projects and classwork.

  • Class Management – a tool for members to communicate with mentors and advisors regarding specific classes, featuring links and other materials.

Essentially, the E-Portfolio system will be a new method for maintaining the relationship between Open Doors staff, teen members, and their families.

I hope you can see at this point where Open Doors is headed. This year, we are offering more opportunities for teens to get into the community and make a difference. We are offering more opportunities to meet and learn from professionals. We are offering more opportunities to document and show all the incredible learning that happens at Open Doors. We expect our membership to double and even triple soon, so we are offering a greater and more diverse community. Open Doors is growing in a plethora of ways. As we continue to build this community, we will always need your help. If you would like to join us in developing this community of learning, please email me at jsabourin@thegeekgroup.org, and remember: it takes a village to raise a child.

An Amazing Partnership

By Rebecca Kirk

2015 – 2016.  What an incredible year of learning and growing.  By April of 2015 we had realized that our space at 1324 Lake Drive was not adequately serving our mission to provide support for self-directed, engaged learning to teens regardless of their ability to pay.  Though we were able to offer some tuition subsidies, a large part of our finances were required to pay rent. We looked high and low for a more affordable space in which the teens could feel free to express themselves creatively without always needing to be mindful of our professional office building neighbors’ desire for quiet, but to no avail.

By summer, some of the teens were meeting with us weekly in area parks to explore the outdoors together and to develop their leadership skills as a Teen Advisory Council for the development of Open Doors, allowing it to become even more youth-directed.

Meanwhile, Maddie, Jacob and I spent many hours exploring foundations for grant possibilities and also ways of collaborating with other teen-centered organizations.  Without having located space nor funding by September, this small, dedicated group of teens and families agreed to meet temporarily in the basement classroom of my home.

One morning in late September, on a whim, I drove to The Geek Group to explore the possibility of affordable meeting space in their large building on west Leonard.  With no appointment, I was miraculously able to immediately obtain an audience with Chris Boden, founding member and President of the organization.  After listening to my story of Open Doors’ mission and principles, along with our current situation, Chris instantly recognized Open doors as the educational arm that had been an unfulfilled piece of The Geek Group’s mission since their beginning, 20+ years ago.  On the spot, he offered Open Doors the option of becoming The Geek Group’s education department and me, this education department’s director.  I must say I was rather bowled over.

We began transitioning into the space at The Geek Group almost immediately and officially became a part of the organization on January 1, 2016.  The longer we are here the more I realize how right Chris was regarding the alignment of our missions.  The Geek Group was established to support and encourage people to learn and express what they are passionate about, regardless of their financial situation.  They do that primarily for adults.  Now we are here to offer that to teens.  Open Doors is indeed extremely fortunate to be an integral part of this unique organization. Please explore The Geek Group’s website and like them on Facebook. And then stop by on a Saturday at noon for a free tour of the building and see what mad science you yourself can be up to!

I’m also very grateful that our teens were willing to make this huge transition with us. It was a valuable, real-life learning experience for all, requiring adaptability, creativity, and the development of social/emotional skills as we interfaced with this new culture.

Beginning in January, the stability of our new location allowed superb opportunities for learning.  Within this stable environment, with the input of the Teen Advisory Council, new learning adventures began to emerge.  These included Cooking Club, Big History, Kinder Being, Career Exploration, and Art Studio.  Independent projects developed, such as Animation Exploration, Giant Skateboard Creation, and Dirt Bike Maintenance, while tutoring was employed in learning Algebra and Biology.  The teen-directed year-end trip to Chicago was a crowning jewel to our year of learning and exploring new horizons.

Our adoption into The Geek Group has provided accommodations, overhead, incredible physical and human resources, and tremendous encouragement to pursue our mission.  This has freed us to more fully develop our program offerings, structure, and advisory role. As a result we have seen remarkable learning happening with our teens including:

  • Teens learning and fully engaged together in what they wanted to learn
  • A visible increase in social/emotional intelligence, and
  • Critical thinking skills
  • A huge increase in self-confidence and ability to openly express their thoughts and ideas.

In addition, instead of paying rent, we were able to use Open Doors funds to hire Jacob Sabourin full time as assistant director and to send him to Massachusetts for the annual Liberated Learners Conference resulting in empowering professional development.

Thank you so much to Chris Boden and The Geek Group for providing all your support which made this possible.

Open Doors Introduces The Geek Group

By Jacob Sabourin

Things are changing fast at Open Doors. It’s a good thing.

 

In our last blog post this summer, “The Future of Open Doors,” Maddie and I detailed our two-year progression from an upstart homeschool resource center to a Youth-Driven Space. We are now proud to announce the next phase of Open Doors’ existence: our absorption into The Geek Group.

 

The Geek Group is a non-profit educational organization based in Grand Rapids with more than 26,000 members worldwide. It is the largest non-profit makerspace in the world. Moving forward, we will function as a department of The Geek Group out of their makerspace located at 902 Leonard St. NW. For more information about The Geek Group, visit their website at thegeekgroup.org.

 

So what’s great about this move?

  • Open Doors will function exactly as it always has. We will continue to provide teens the opportunity to self-direct their own learning, work on their own projects, build a community amongst themselves, and make impactful decisions within that community.

 

  • Teens at Open Doors have a new space to make their home-away-from-home. And it is cool. Instead of an office building, teens will now have room to make messes, explore a labyrinth of rooms teeming with robots, 3-D printers, pool and air hockey tables, art and music studios, and Tesla coils. Open Doors itself will be based out of an old chemistry lab in the building.

 

  • Our teens will have access to a whole slew of human resources at The Geek Group. This includes the entire 26,000-plus member base, of all ages and demographics, who are all working on their own projects and have their own areas of expertise. Some Geek Group staff members have already begun classes with our teens in animation and creative writing. The possibilities for further connections within The Geek Group community have only just peeked over the horizon.

 

  • Open Doors teens are currently working on a project called Kinder Being, an effort to bring diversity and anti-bullying education to elementary and middle schoolers in Grand Rapids. The Geek Group is already providing an outlet for their ideas.

 

In short, the move to the Geek Group will provide teens a heretofore unseen opportunity to get messy, make mistakes, use their imaginations, and grow as learners and people. We are excited to begin this new chapter in our quest to provide a new kind of space for teen learning and community in Grand Rapids.

 

If you have any questions regarding The Geek Group or any other changes happening at Open Doors, feel free to email Jacob at Jacob@opendoorsforteens.org or Rebecca at Rebecca@opendoorsforteens.org.

The Future of Open Doors

Written by Jacob Sabourin & Madison Werley

Open Doors is facing some changes in the near future. Big, exciting, and perhaps overwhelming changes.

At the end of Spring Session this year, our lease at the Carlton Building was up, and it was time to make a decision whether or not to renew it. After much discussion we decided to start the search for a fresh space for Open Doors to call home. In the midst of our search, we received disappointing news: a grant we had been hoping to receive had been declined. Our financial situation was looking bleak.

The same day, Rebecca received an email from the Neutral Zone, a teen center in Ann Arbor. Their video below left us with goosebumps, and we realized Open Doors had the opportunity to serve teens in ways we had yet to fully realize.

So we visited the Neutral Zone, and witnessed their Youth-Driven Spaces model in action. We saw the incredible and impressive things the teens there are up to, and their pre-established model inspired us to develop a similar culture that would work for our own teen members. We spent the next few weeks working alongside our current teens to devise a plan for the future of Open Doors. Our conditions?

  • Be inclusive of teens of all backgrounds, whether they attend school or not.
  • Keep our mission of improving the lives of self-directed teens in Grand Rapids.
  • Give our members the power to create innovative programs of their own choosing.
  • Allow teens and adult staff to work together to make decisions on behalf of Open Doors.

We believe these changes will benefit the Grand Rapids community in ways heretofore unimaginable. By extending our services into after-school hours and flinging wide the doors to teens of all backgrounds, we will give them a safe, empowering place to call their own. We will be providing a youth community center, created and led by teens, for all teens.

This summer, Open Doors staff will attend a training session at the Neutral Zone on how to effectively create a Teen Advisory Council. We hope to establish our own Council to meet weekly throughout the summer to develop Open Doors into the kind of space teens in our area both want and need. Our current members decided they would like to spend these casual meetings around campfires, trekking through the forest, and otherwise adventurously traipsing.

Are you or a teen you know interested in joining us on our adventures to create an awesome space for Grand Rapids teens? We could use your input! Contact our Program Director, Jacob Sabourin, for more information or to get involved.

If you’re passionate about our mission and what we’re doing, you can also assist Open Doors through monetary donations, volunteering your time, or offering in-kind gifts for our space. Every bit helps!

Thank you for your continued support, and make sure to check back often to stay up-to-date on our progress.

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When Things Don’t Go as Planned

by Madison Werley

The foundation on which Open Doors was founded is that learning is enjoyable when done by choice, and that teens should have the option to pursue whichever passions they desire.

Our staff believes that those who take control of their education will get much more out of it, which is the guiding principle behind everything we do. We are here simply to assist the teens in their pursuit of education. Sometimes this means through teaching, yes, but more so our staff serves to guide, ignite, support, motivate, and inspire our members. We like to challenge the teens, to push them to be their best and help them make important connections as they explore their desires.

In theory, this all sounds great, right? I wholeheartedly support these ideas, and get inspired myself just thinking about them. But sometimes, it’s a real challenge to put this theory into practice.

Dr. Seuss had it right! At Open Doors, we believe teens should have the power to decide which way to go.
Dr. Seuss had it right! At Open Doors, we believe teens should have the power to decide which way to go.

As someone with an educational background unlike the kind that happens here, I often need a reminder that our members are, ultimately, self-directed. This means I must accept that some of the things exciting and inspiring to me can have the opposite effect on our teens. This means I must accept that sometimes the members will want my help, and sometimes they will simply want nothing to do with me. This means I must accept that the control is not mine, and that the teens have to power to say yes, or to say no. And all of that is not only okay, but encouraged here at Open Doors.

The past few weeks, Rebecca, Jacob and I were planning a mid-winter change of events. We wanted to create a week to switch things up, have some fun, and spend quality time as a group. After a lot of brainstorming on Rebecca and Jacob’s part, we decided on the idea of “Masquerade Island Coup d’etat,” a playful way to remind the teens of the power they hold here, and to hopefully get them to work together to create the atmosphere they want for Open Doors.

After a lot of planning between the three of us, including creating a new game from scratch (not an easy thing to do!), I went into the week with some excited jitters. I was so hopeful that everything we worked on would go over well with the teens, and that they would have fun and bond together like we hoped.

In our created game, Jacob and Rebecca got to try on some good looks.
In our created game, Jacob and Rebecca got to try on some pretty good looks.

Well, to make a long story short, nothing went quite as we planned. Our game did not go over well, our plans for Wednesday fell through altogether, and the whole week looked different than we intended. And yet somehow, at the end of the day Thursday, Rebecca, Jacob and I looked at each other, exhausted but relieved, as we realized the teens may not have followed our plans, but instead they took their own path to team-building and working together.

See, the teens really know what they’re doing here. They’re a group of motivated and talented kids, and they know what they’re good at and what they enjoy. These are things that we, as a staff, know and accept, but sometimes we just seem to forget. While we had the best intentions with our plans for the week, we were leaving out an integral part–what the teens really wanted.

But it all worked out. Why? Not because we had it right, but because the teens had it right. Our teens understood the purpose of the week, and though they strayed from our original plans, they found their own way to that point with little need for our guidance, staying true to their self-directed nature.

“Masquerade Island Coup d’etat” was exactly the reminder I needed. There are always exciting and powerful things happening here at Open Doors, even though they often look different than what I am used to or what I expect. And that’s exactly the way it should be.

This post is part of our “Our Stories” series, which aims to explore the personal experiences and journeys of Open Doors’ members and staff, and brought to you with support from the Wege Foundation.

Setting the Feet on the Pathway

Amy Carpenter Leugs is a former teacher and a children’s book author who serves on the Board of Directors at Open Doors.  She and her husband have three sons who live and learn at home, not at school.  The family started their self-directed learning journey in 2003.  The post below is re-written from a 2004 essay by the same name, which can be read in its original form here:  https://www.catapultmagazine.com/pass-fail/article/setting-the-feet-on

by Amy Carpenter Leugs

The Winnebago, one of the Algonquian tribes of the Great Lakes, tell a certain set of stories to their children, often in a specific order, at certain times of the year. Each story serves to build a sense of self in the child, as well as providing him or her a solid grounding in tradition. The Winnebago call this “setting the feet on the pathway.”

These stories are considered their childhood teachings, but they are not taught by experts in a classroom, separate from the rest of life. Instead, these stories are woven in and around the interactions of daily lives, the work of survival, and the rituals that bind the tribe together.

On the other hand, Aleut boys would play with small dolls in kayaks, while the girls learned many tasks of everyday life by playing with their dolls, clothed in squirrel furs that the girls had trapped themselves.

And in still a different example, Inupiat fathers created story knives for their little girls, usually carved out of bone or ivory. The girl would learn to tell stories from the women of her family, and she would use her knife to illustrate the tales, drawing symbols and pictures in the snow or sand or mud. One text compares the story knife to art therapy, a valuable tool for processing troubling fears and for exploring curious dreams, all while playing.

I share these different perspectives to make a point:  there is no one right way to raise a child, no one right way to grow up.   Over millennia, hundreds of cultures have found many right ways to interact with children and teens.  But our culture has often behaved as though there were only one right way, as though we needed to control all aspects of our children’s behavior, so they, in turn, will follow the one right way.

Amy and her three sons have chosen self-directed learning.
Amy and her three sons chose the path of self-directed learning.

If we accept that there isn’t one right way to educate a child – if we accept that a classroom and textbooks and a teacher up front isn’t the only way to learn – how do we know what to do?

This is where self-directed learning comes in.  In a safe environment, with time, the child herself will know what to do – organically and naturally, by following what she loves, by pursuing her interests, by doing the things that make her shine.  She may, like all children, feel bored or unsure at times, but she will find it empowering to find her own way through, with support from adults and other teens.

This is the decision my family made eleven years ago, and we have never looked back.

We talk a lot about testing in schools these days.  But it can be argued that fashioning a self is the most important test that any of us will ever endure. It is an on-going test, and the signs of negotiating it successfully are recognizable: being a whole man or woman means being capable, aware of one’s own gifts, and involved in a community, acting as both student and teacher, giver and receiver. Creating a whole self is not a matter of pouring rules and facts onto a person, like paint on a canvas. Self-discovery is more like sculpture, continually carving and defining the most compelling features, waiting for the shape to reveal itself. Discovering a self requires free time, privacy, and a lot of room to make one’s own mistakes.   It requires interactions with adults who are not trying to control, but who are willing to listen and share their own experiences.

Because Amy's sons learn at home, they have more time to pursue their passions.
Amy’s sons learn out of the classroom and in the real world while pursuing their passions.

Outside of sleep, school and extracurricular activities, the average schoolchild has only 9 hours a week left in which to fashion a self.   It’s not enough.  This is why self-directed learning is such a powerful option – an option that naturally allows for diversity, an option that encourages teens to grow into curious and whole adults with a true sense of themselves.  I see it in my three sons every day, and I see it in the teens at Open Doors.

As Helen Hegener writes, “For better or worse, we learn every day, wherever we are, whatever we’re doing, whoever we’re with. We learn good things, useful things, handy things — and we learn bad things, destructive things, things we might someday wish we hadn’t learned. Life’s like that. On the whole, though, learning serves us quite well, and we’re constantly arranging and rearranging our learning so it’s more useful to us.” 

And as Carl Rogers writes, “If we value independence, if we are disturbed by the growing conformity of knowledge, of values, of attitudes, which our present system induces, then we may wish to set up conditions of learning which make for uniqueness, for self-direction, and for self-initiated learning.”

Many parents and teens have no idea how to start on this journey themselves.  That’s where Open Doors can help, with mentoring, classes, and community for support.

This post is part of our “Our Stories” series, which aims to explore the personal experiences and journeys of Open Doors’ members and staff, and brought to you with support from the Wege Foundation.

Powerful Possibilities

Open Doors Intern Jacob Sabourin is a Political Science major at Aquinas College with a keen interest in the politics of power. At Open Doors he leads a class called “Powerful Possibilities,” which has quickly become popular among our teen members. In this post, Jacob explains his experiences leading this class.

by Jacob Sabourin

Only one girl showed up for the first Powerful Possibilities class. I told her we could explore anything related to power. I told her to ask me anything she wanted, question everything I said, assume I was always wrong, and then prove it.

But first I asked her a question. What is power to you?

She immediately thought of her two cats. One’s just a baby, but a “chunker,” she said. The other is old, wily, and good at hunting. The old one gathers food for the chunker, and the chunker lazes around the house.

But who has the power? I asked.

First, she thought the old one. She has the ability to hunt, after all. The chunker would never be so chunky if it weren’t for the old cat’s hunting prowess.

But then this young woman second-guessed herself. The chunker manipulates the old hunting cat, and ends up gorging herself into obesity.

So who has the power?

That day a student took her first step into understanding that relationships between all life forms are defined in terms of power. Our conversation that day extended the concept of power to family, the workplace, and ecosystems. That day, I got an idea of what she thought about poaching, minimum wage laws, and household rules. I told her over and over again how she was wrong, and forced her to prove herself right. At first she was frustrated with my questioning her logic. But she began to develop better arguments for her ideas.

Since then, most of the teenagers at Open Doors have attended Powerful Possibilities. About half now attend regularly.

So what have we covered since then?

Every day in class I walk in and ask these teenagers what’s on their minds. They’ve told me about terrorist attacks they heard about in the news, and we’ve talked about how Dr. Who demonstrates Western ideas about the foreignness of people from other countries. We talked about drone strikes, looked at a map of what countries the U.S. has used them on, and talked about philosophers like Jeremy Bentham and Michel Foucault, and their ideas on how to manage people best, especially when it comes to the criminally insane.

They’ve argued with each other about school uniforms, slut shaming, teachers who molested students, child marriage, and age-of-consent laws.

They’ve told me how unfair it is that old people get to boss them around, and wonder who put their bosses and leaders in charge. I grabbed a cardboard scythe in the corner and told them I was the boss because I have the power to harm them. They started to draw cartoons lampooning me, including a depiction of me in a top hat and jock strap. We used this point to illustrate how important political satire is, and it led to a discussion of coup d’états, of which we’ve repeatedly discussed the history. The scythe has repeatedly been stolen. They’ve gotten the idea about coups. They now speak softly and carry big sticks, as they know Teddy Roosevelt once said was good foreign policy.

They’ve explained to each other why gun control laws are necessary, and also why they inhibit our freedoms.

They asked me why the countries of the world don’t get along, why war continues, and we discussed the advanced international relations theories of the End of History (i.e. liberal capitalist democracy is the final form of government we will ever have, and all countries are starting to come to this conclusion), and alternatively, the Clash of Civilizations (i.e. the world is divided by religion and culture, regionally, and eventually one culture must come to dominate the world).

They asked me why North Korea’s dictator was such a jerk, and we talked over the history of concentration camps around the world, in the U.S., in Germany, and we discussed the history of imperialism that led to North Korea’s Communist dictatorship.

They told me about how they felt about police and racism, and we talked about Eric Garner, the Ferguson protests, the history of riots, and police militarization.

One day they walked in and had nothing to say, so we talked about how the first step in the rise to power is to indicate your desires, because other people want to lead you to achieve them. So they told me they wanted to talk about job applications, and we talked about how we thought it was best to prepare for an interview.

We talked about how cortisol release is triggered when people are stressed, and people occupying the lower rungs of social hierarchies have cortisol release triggered more often, at levels our biological development never intended when we were hunter-gatherers on the savannah, picking berries and stabbing wildebeests with spears. We discussed meditation as a technique for controlling our own cortisol releases, so we can move up the social ladder to achieve our destinies.

Teenagers around the world are thinking about powerful, important topics. They have inklings of what is going on around them, but often don’t have the language to fully discuss them. I have seen a radical transformation in every teenager I’ve worked with over the course of my five-month tenure at Open Doors. They articulate themselves better every day. They know what is on their minds and are beginning to communicate it. They are becoming more powerful. A world of possibilities is opening to them.

This post is part of our “Our Stories” series, which aims to explore the personal experiences and journeys of Open Doors’ members and staff, and brought to you with support from the Wege Foundation.

‘Snow’vember Happenings

This month, we had a first for Open Doors–a snow day! And in November, no less! Amidst the unpredictable Michigan weather, however, our teens have still found time for some fun, hands on learning. Check it out below:

Our teen members enjoy the homey feel to our space.
Our teen members enjoying the homey feel to our space.
The duct tape class is creating a homemade hammock--made entirely out of duct tape!
The duct tape class is creating a homemade hammock–made entirely out of duct tape!
The artist and his work: a fun, one-of-a-kind centerpiece!
The artist and his work: a fun, one-of-a-kind centerpiece made by one of our members!
Another view of the centerpiece. Isn't it great?
Another view of the centerpiece. Isn’t it great?
One of the classes offered at Open Doors is Zentangle, a relaxing and meditative form of art.
One of the classes offered at Open Doors is Zentangle, a relaxing and meditative form of art.
Our members are the greatest!
Our members are the greatest!
The finishing touches on the duct tape hammock!
Time for the finishing touches on the duct tape hammock!
Madison and the interns hard at work! Who needs a desk, anyway?
Madison and the interns hard at work. Who needs a desk, anyway?
Fun with light and shadows.
Fun with light and shadows.

As always, if you would like to see more, please join us at one of our open houses, held the second Monday of every month. Or contact a staff member. Or simply stop by. We would love to share what we’re doing with you and your teen!

This post is part of our “Your Life – Your Learning!” series, designed to help the Grand Rapids community rethink teen learning, and brought to you with support from the Wege Foundation.

Which Learning Style Fits Your Teen? The Answer May Surprise You

Which learning style best fits your teen? Actually, Open Doors intern Kate Boelkins makes a strong case for going beyond learning styles. Kate is studying to be a secondary education teacher at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.  As part of her training, she has studied and critiqued the theory of learning styles. Read her insights below.

You know you’ve seen these kinds of quizzes before–maybe you’ve even taken one–but how accurate are they?

The definition of a learning style is actually fairly loose. Some educators may subscribe to the idea that students in their class will fall under the umbrella of three main learning styles – visual, auditory, and tactile. Some use the VARK modalities, categorizing learners as Visual, Auditory, Read/Write, or Kinesthetic. Others utilize educational psychologist Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, a much more detailed breakdown of various types of thinking:

  • Visual-Spatial
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic
  • Musical
  • Interpersonal
  • Intrapersonal
  • Linguistic
  • Mathematical

Students in school are often tested for their learning style or preferred intelligence. This test or quiz is intended to make students more aware of their learning habits, as well as inform the teacher. This information is valuable, but there is a disconnect between this knowledge and how a teacher uses it to guide her instruction and assessment.

In order to appeal to “kinesthetic learners”, teachers have students get up and move around the room, or hop up and down while they read. “Musical learners” are told to compose songs or rhymes to aid them in remembering spelling words or mathematical equations. Diagrams on boards and sketches in notebooks are expected to be the means by which “visual-spatial learners” absorb information.

The learning style tests themselves do not prescribe one all-inclusive style to a student. For example, when I took a multiple intelligences quiz in my latest education class, I was an even mixture of intrapersonal, linguistic, bodily-kinesthetic. I laughed the results off as inaccurate – clapping or tossing a ball does nothing to enhance my learning, and I need a lot of visuals when it comes to math. Here lies the essential problem with relying on learning styles – they are ineffective because students are fluid and ever-changing.

In a letter to the Washington Post, Howard Gardner himself rejects the idea of learning styles. His theory of Multiple Intelligences “assumes that we have a number of relatively autonomous computers—one that computes linguistic information, another spatial information, another musical information, another information about other people, and so on” (Strauss).

His Multiple Intelligences are not to be funneled into specific learning styles, but instead are intended to determine the way our flexible minds process information. To label a student as a “linguistic learner” and therefore use specific learning strategies with her is to do that student a disservice. A student may have strong linguistic preferences while reading and studying a book, but this does not automatically transfer to a math class. In this case, handing the student a math textbook and instructing her to read a chapter does not necessarily mean that her reading will ensure her comprehension of equations and problems.

So clearly, the interchangeability of Multiple Intelligences and learning styles in the classroom is misleading and inaccurate, according to the creator of Multiple Intelligences himself. But what about other types of learning styles, such as the VARK? Although success of teaching to learning styles is perpetuated in mainstream education, a 2008 study seems to disagree. The Department of Psychology at the University of California asserted “that at present, there is no adequate evidence base to justify incorporating learning-styles assessments into general educational practice” due to the fact there is little correlation between specific learning style instruction and success or failure (Pashler).

Question to ponder: why do schools use methods that are not proven to be effective?

Open Doors focuses on the student as not only a learner, but a human being as well. After all, the two are inextricably connected. Mentorship is key in the relationships we build with teens. With this mentorship comes the fostering of self-direction. Students unearth through experience what they love to learn, and how they learn best – not through an internet quiz that defines them and puts them in a specific category.

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Open Doors member gets a hands-on learning experience in the Wild Edibles class

Resources:

Strauss, V., & Gardner, H. (2013, October 16). Howard Gardner: ‘Multiple intelligences’ are not ‘learning styles’. Retrieved October 10, 2014.

Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2008). Learning Styles Concepts and Evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9(3), 105-119.

Riener, C., & Willinghm, D. (2010, September 1). The Myth of Learning Styles. Retrieved October 10, 2014.

This post is part of our “Your Life – Your Learning!” series, designed to help the Grand Rapids community rethink teen learning, and brought to you with support from the Wege Foundation.

Early October at Open Doors

Have you ever wondered what goes on in some of the classes offered at Open Doors? Our teens are hard at work with some hands-on fun.

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The Mechanical Autopsy class practices picking locks on Open Doors’ front door.
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The Mechanical Autopsy class dissects a broken well pump.
A power drill is also autopsied.
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Teens take a break to enjoy the rain.
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The Wild Edibles class visits a sustainable farm and tiny house in Saranac, MI.
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Open Doors member proudly shows off her latest artwork.

Does this look unlike a classroom? Learning looks different here at Open Doors. We would love to show you more–come visit us at our monthly Open House.