Why Learning Styles Matter… And Labels Risk Holding Us Back

If there is one thing I really don’t agree with in the educational field, it’s the use of labels.

I think labels can be detrimental for growth, for learning and for being our very best.

Labels can hinder us from growing, improving, and even succeeding in life. And I’m not talking about how much money one makes when I think of success. I’m talking about personal growth, the strengthening of character and the removal of blaming others - or labels - as a way to get by.

Labels often allow us to not take responsibility. And that’s a shame. Plus, it’s simply sad.

Now you may argue with me but let me share a quickie from my own childhood and see if you still want to meet out by the bleachers on this topic...

…After you give it a read…

When I was in elementary school, I failed first grade and had to repeat it.

[gasp] Shocking I know. But...

...Half the class did. Fail.

The teacher was actually fired and most of us had to re-learn what we should have already learned during our 180 days together the year before.

Those of us who weren’t as developed, mature or knowledgeable due to eager parents placing an importance on learning from the start, well, we didn’t get to pass go.

In my second go-round of first grade, I was prescribed glasses because I couldn’t see the board.

I’d already been moved from the back to the very front row, so unless I wanted to press my nose against the dusty chalk wall to see, I had to wear glasses.

Well, they were big and thick and hurt my little nose, not to mention my ego, so I placed those glasses in my desk - you know, the kind that lifted up on hinges - and promptly [or conveniently] forgot about them.

Insert eyesight rapidly deteriorating along with my ability to see the visual instructions, let alone comprehend what I couldn’t make out.

Side note: I now know I am a very visual learner.

Move to second grade, glasses now must be worn, take up half my already round face and proceed to make my life miserable until the day I started wearing contacts just before 9th grade.

But that’s a vanity point and moot for this story.

Here’s the deal. By second grade, I still wasn’t getting it and reading just wasn’t happening, so long story short, I was put in Special Ed.

And at that time, there was nothing special about it.

This was where the “slow” kids went.

This was the label of the time.

Way before we had ADD, ADHD, ELPs and so many acronyms we need a manual just to keep up.

So, being in Special Ed gave me an excuse to be “special” and focus on anything other than my school work.

Instead, I helped other kids with their issues, kept classmates on track and always stood up for the underdog. I was the little drill-sergeant/cheerleader/angel overseer for my class and even grade.

And school work, well, as I was “special” I got to leave class, go to another room for work time with a special teacher and all the other special (or slow) kids. So, I discovered I didn’t need to bother with learning in the regular classroom, as I was all but excused from it, not expected to “get” it, and plus, there was so much else to do instead.

Like boss everyone else around so they did their work!

When I was 8, almost 9 years old, and about to enter into 4th grade, I up and moved across the country.

Not on my own, of course, but here’s the important thing to note - my Special Ed paperwork didn’t follow me and I was tossed into a regular classroom full time, with regular students, in a new town of a new state and I quickly had to figure it out.

Now, you could say, but yeah, obviously your learning issues weren’t that problematic and this is where I’d tell you I couldn’t read till I was 9...comprehension came in my early teen years via a semi-trashy novel I found, and words jumped off the page while numbers, forget-about-it. They all but ran away from my eyes whenever I tried to do math.

Yeah, I was dyslexic too but that wasn’t “labeled” until my freshman year of college.

And guess what?

I’m so glad.

Why? I was forced to figure it out.

I was forced to rely on my strengths, which was as a visual learner and do all that I could to learn visually.

From writing spelling words over and over, covering the last ones written with my hand and writing the word and definition again from memory… and again, and again...

Well, that’s just what I did as a teen and it worked.

I was resourceful.

Why?

Because I had to be.

It was painful. But I had no other path or way out. No excuse.

And now, as an adult with multiple businesses, I still fall back on my need to SEE things in order to GET them.

Sidebar: And that’s why I love Trello, an app that just gets me.

And I’ve shared it with some of my students who are also extremely visual in their learning, and it’s helped them, too.

And simply put Trello gets me.

You can read more about our love affair here and while doing so, think about labels.

And learning styles.

See, in being labeled, I discovered a way to make excuses. Yet, in discovering how to figure it out, I uncovered my learning style.

I am very visual.

So visual in fact that if you tell me something and I do not SEE it, chances are I will not compute it fully.

But I know this about myself. I have made this weakness one of my greatest strengths.

Because I didn’t listen to the labels.

Because I never focused on the labels.

Because I wasn’t put in a position to excuse myself, not take action and instead was forced to take responsibility…

And figure it out!

Do we still need to meet by the bleachers and “throw” down on this topic..?

[smiling] I hope not.

Each one of us has strengths and weaknesses. That’s simply part of life. But when we go through this one, precious life, making excuses about our weaknesses or blaming others, then how are we growing?

How are we improving?

What are we learning?

And how is blaming, lack of responsibility and stagnation helpful…?

Well, it’s not.

Now before you hit me up with comments about why labels are important, and I encourage you to share your opinion, please first note that I understand there are always exceptions.

There are times labels, in education and in life, may be beneficial. I am not arguing that point and readily admit it. However, have we gone too far?

Do we label too much in our society?

Are these labels hindering us or hurting us? Especially those labels given out in school?

Do they allow us to cast blame and not take responsibility…?

I want to know.

What if we started to see what society denotes as our disadvantages or weaknesses, as what makes us strong and unique and brilliant?

What if there was no mistake that I am dyslexic and that numbers were a literal jumble of twisted ink on any page?

Would I have become a tutor and been able to help so many students..?

…with reading, writing AND math!?!

If I hadn’t all but [gasp] failed math because of my learning issues or challenges, would I have been as good a teacher or tutor as I turned out to be?

Sidenote: My tutoring business was comprised of 75-85% math!

The answer is a resounding no in my mind, however, you decide for you.

And if you want to learn more about my math failure and how that became my tutoring/professional success, you can read about it here.

And let me leave you with one more example from my own life.

I went from not being able to read as a nine-year-old and not understanding what I read until probably 5th or even 6th grade, so ten or eleven years old, to writing my first 100-page story at the end of 6th grade.

Yep, 100 pages. That poor teacher and her wide eyes as I handed over that stack of pages she suddenly realized she’d have to read… priceless.

I published my first piece in a well-known magazine at 17 years of age.

What if there was a reason words jumped off the page?

What if that allowed me to focus deeply on that skillset? And become a writer?

A writer able to move people with my words, my stories, and possibly even this article.

Yet, if I’d kept making excuses about why I couldn’t read, would that have ever happened?

Short answer. No.

What do you think?

I’m writing an in-depth piece on this subject because, as you can see, it’s close to my heart.

So share. What do you think about labels? Are they a good thing or do they hinder our growth and stifle our very gifts?

Hit the comments below and let me know.

And remember, learn something today that you can share with someone tomorrow.

So share this article on social if you think it can help another and give us a heart now. See that heart… it’s right below my words! Simply click it and I’ll know.

Education Lady | Jill Stevens

Educator. Writer. Life Long Learner. Jill has a passion to help the next generation and improve learning across the board. She’s here to change the world, one mind at a time. Right now she does that through words with purpose and by training up remarkable, rockstar tutors.