The most obvious criticism of Accelerated Christian Education from an academic point of view is that it uses only one learning style: Reading comprehension. Professors Speck and Prideaux write that ACE “makes no attempt to cater properly for individual learning styles or needs.” This is no small failing.
There are lots of theories of learning styles, so we’ll start with the simplest: VARK, Visual, Auditory (speaking and listening), Reading, and Kinaesthetic (touching and doing). Learning takes place in all four ways, and everybody has preferences for which ones they find most helpful.
I was talking to a primary school teacher the other day who told me she repeats all of her numeracy and literacy lessons outside while the kids throw a ball, or some other physical activity. That’s because her kinaesthetic learners don’t learn the material any other way. There’s evidence these learners recall information by remembering what their body was doing while they learned it. Strongly kinaesthetic learners need to move and do things to learn. Putting these children through the ACE system, where children have to sit still, in isolated compartments, or face punishments, is an act of brutality. In light of this information, I think about the kids in my school who got paddled for moving without permission and shiver.
Of course kinaesthetic learning isn’t normally associated with innovative teaching methods like my friend’s. More normally, these students learn by doing. But there is hardly any doing in ACE; it’s all about reading and filling in the blanks.
Just like some people need to move to think, some people need to speak to think. So an ACE learning centre, with its enforced silence, is again crippling for someone who is a strong auditory learner.
Visual and Reading
There is some limited stimulus for visual learners within Accelerated Christian Education (the odd picture or diagram in the PACE), but the learning content itself is heavily text based. Some versions of VARK combine reading and visual learning, so it’s the VAK model. I think this is a mistake. I teach guitar, and the difference in each learning style is marked among these students. The visual learners want to watch my hands, or videos of other musicians, while readers want to, er, read. Those are obviously markedly different. So that’s three out of four learning styles PACEs barely touch.
Why This Matters
I learn best from reading, so the PACEs suited me well (until I got sick of them after a year and literally lost the will to live). I flew through them. But here’s the thing: it’s essential for students to develop all four learning styles, regardless of their preference. No matter how strongly kinaesthetic you are, you have to learn to read. And no matter how much you like reading, there are some things – cooking, driving, sports – which are inherently kinaesthetic. Left to their own devices, students will default to the modes of learning they prefer, but good teachers encourage them to use all four.
On their website, School of Tomorrow has a document about incorporating learning styles into ACE curriculum, and it is comically bad. For one thing, it uses the VAK model, and I’ve already explained why that’s a bad start. But, clearly, the curriculum has not been written with VAK in mind; A & K are entirely absent. So the document represents and attempt to shoehorn those two learning styles into a pre-existing curriculum.
Here’s what they say:
The A.C.E. program emphasizes visual learning by:
· Color-coded PACE procedures.
· Reading/writing daily PACE goals.
· Computer software and keyboarding.
· Colorful example activities.
· Puzzles, mazes, visual tracking activities.
· Brightly illustrated PACE curriculum.
Colour-coded PACEs? Are you kidding? Happy day, visual learners, your English books are red and your social studies are green! How can you fail to learn? Puzzles and mazes, meanwhile, are fine for six year olds, but limited in application for senior level chemistry.
The A.C.E. program emphasizes auditory learning by:
· Scripture memory recitation.
· Devotions, enrichment class discussion.
· Multimedia curriculum.
· Oral reports, recitations.
· Oral vocabulary reading.
· Oral social studies assignments.
· Supervisor-directed curriculum discussion.
None of this stuff is integral to the curriculum. It isn’t built into the PACEs, and it isn’t compulsory, so there’s no guarantee it’s even happening at every school. And anyway, it’s not enough.
The A.C.E. program emphasizes kinesthetic learning by:
· Computer software and keyboard usage for tactile stimulation.
· Student convention participation.
· Active breaks and enrichment classes (P.E., Music, Art, etc.).
· Active social studies and science projects.
· Questions requiring written answers.
Tapping on a keyboard for “tactile stimulation”? Questions requiring written answers? Does this person even know what kinaesthetic learning is?
I’m sure there are ACE schools where, outside of PACE time, the learning activities are well designed and different learning styles are employed. The problem is that this isn’t part of the students’ assessment. Now, I won’t fall into the trap of saying that only learning which is assessed is important, because that leads to a horribly narrow education. But it is unfair to assess students on material that has been taught using only one learning style.
The ACE graduation certificate is made up entirely (or, in the case of ICCE, over 80%) of the results of PACE tests. Kinaesthetic learners will have worse grades, because the method of instruction has not suited them. They might have done well in all the extracurricular stuff, but their certificate won’t show it, because none of it’s assessed.
Ideally, the method of assessment should vary too, but even if the exams are solely written, kinaesthetic learners will perform better when tested on material they learned kinaesthetically. Traditionally, the British exam system has been biased against these learners, because everything is written. We are starting to see improvement on this, with a range of practical coursework and oral exams alongside written ones. But, while this is still not ideal, at least students taking GCSEs and A levels will have been taught using a range of learning styles, whereas the ACE student has just been crammed in her office, with badly-designed written worksheets as preparation for badly-designed written tests.
And this is one of the reasons why I would still be begging parents not to use Accelerated Christian Education, even if they removed all of the objectionable content from the PACEs.