Is it OK to emphasize learning styles?

17 01 2012

Focusing on learning styles has become controversial. Learning is much more complex than simply discovering the best method of teaching for a student.

Many factors impact academic performance. When a student is struggling to succeed, there are many things to consider. All of the following elements contribute to school success.

  • The teaching methods (There are countless categories of learning styles.)
  • The environment (physical factors and the atmosphere)
  • The student (gender, age, culture, health, development, self-awareness, motivation, pace, etc.)
  • The teacher (training, experience, etc.)
  • The process of learning (constructing knowledge based on the context, reflection and closure – fitting it into related information previously learned)
  • The system (support services, resources, etc.)
  • The parent (ability to support child, own past experiences, current life stressors)
  • The content (information to be learned) – Types of knowledge:
  1. Procedural (knowing how), declarative (knowing what), connective (knowing who – knowledge of and by the connections that exist in the world), experiential
  2. Separate (learned through explicit instruction) vs. connective (learned through empathy)

The secret to success in school can’t be as simple as a single learning style. It would be wrong to say that each person learns from one specific method of teaching. Learning is enhanced when information is presented in different ways.

Teaching methods, learning environment, the student, the teacher, the content, the system, and the parent all affect academic performance.

But…

We admit everyone has strengths and needs. Some things are easy to learn; some are harder.

Specific strategies can help tremendously.

Math comes easy for me. It’s harder for me to memorize important dates in history. I’ve found that if I draw a picture of an important event and include the date, I’m more likely to remember the date. This realization that I learn difficult things using illustrations has helped me throughout school.

I once taught a student who was legally blind and mildly mentally retarded. He was a gifted musician. Learning to spell correctly was hard for him. I challenged him to make a rap out of his weekly spelling words. His spelling tests were very entertaining. His performance soared!

So, should we abandon all emphasis on learning styles? Certainly not.

Helping a struggling learner is detective work. It’s a systematic search for what works.

It’s important to keep in mind all factors: teaching methods, learning environment, the student, the teacher, the content, the system, and the parent.

One component of optimal differentiated instruction for a particular student may be a teaching method which has promoted progress or success.

Students can develop strategies which are in accordance with their strengths and preferred learning styles. Those strategies become their tool box for learning. Educators can certainly identify accommodations which would yield improvements for a student.

Visit my ‘Equipping the Saints’ website to find a learning styles ppt. I developed.

Click on the Learning Styles ppt. for more information.

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20 responses

25 01 2012
Jenna Glenn

I feel using the strength of a student in the academic world can make all the difference in their education. I feel it is very important to try and find the way the student learns best and use that to help them better understand the subject. It is obviously hard to try and teach to all students in the class to all of their learning strengths, that could make one go crazy. I feel if the student needs help and is offering to come to the teacher then the teacher can have one on one time with that student and use activities that will best help the student learn.

25 01 2012
Vicki Chandler

Jenna,
Your comment reflects your compassion – driving you to do all you can for a student. Thanks for sharing!

25 01 2012
Katie Kurtas

I agree that catering to a wide range of learning styles would result in the most success in the classroom. It would be a large task to cater to each individual learning style by providing each student with their own mini-lesson in their learning style. Since each student is an individual and has their own learning environment, teacher, content, system, family etc. they should be treated as individuals. Not all students are auditory learners, lecture will not always be your best method, although sometimes it is necessary. I am all for different learning styles especially when it gives a chance for both the student and the teacher to be creative in their teaching/learning techniques.

25 01 2012
Vicki Chandler

Hi Katie,
Great point: teaching to a variety of learning styles would result in the most success. You acknowledged the challenge: to meet individual needs. Being creative is certainly involved in identifying teaching/learning techniques. Thanks for sharing your reactions.

25 01 2012
Dean Diernbach

I agree with this article. Every person has a different learning style and should, therefore, be taught information in a unique way that is appropriate to their learning. As a future teaching, I will certainly remember this piece of information as I teach my future students.

25 01 2012
Vicki Chandler

Hi Dean,
‘Glad to hear this article reinforced your plans to teach students in accordance with what would be appropriate to their learning. Thanks for adding your thoughts.

26 01 2012
Jillian Weir

I think it’s good to emphasize learning styles in the classroom since all students are different and learn in different ways. By understanding the ways that students learn, teachers can reasonably adapt their lessons to help students learn best. It is also important to include a variety of methods in the classroom to help students with different abilities and to keep all students enagaged. Since all students are different, they will have different abilities and things they struggle with. By helping students achieve at the level they are at and further improve they can help each other and learn with their fellow classmates.

26 01 2012
Vicki Chandler

Great points, Jillian.
Adapting lessons to help struggling learners is key. Using a variety of methods will certainly help all students be engaged.

26 01 2012
Wayne Peiffer

” It would be wrong to say that each person learns from one specific method of teaching. Learning is enhanced when information is presented in different ways.” I could not agree more with these statements. It may seem easy at first to lump a group of students into one category and use only a handful of methods, however diversity of methods can help tremendously. In order to reach more of our students we must employ a variety of teaching methods. We must account for the fact that just as students differ in appearance or personal interests they also differ in how they receive and internalize information. Different people have different ways of cementing new material into their brains in a way which makes sense in their mind. Recognizing these differences and the challenge that we as teachers face is the first step in the right direction.

26 01 2012
Vicki Chandler

Wayne,
Well-articulated comments. Very thoughtful. So true.

26 01 2012
Noelle

I do not see the problem with emphasizing learning styles. Education is for the students correct? So we want them to learn. Why should we make them learn in ways that they dont learn well? It all doesnt make sense of why someone would disagree.

26 01 2012
Vicki Chandler

Noelle,
You’re right: education is most certainly for the students.

26 01 2012
Tim Worgess

I’ve always learned best by lectures. I like lots of facts thrown at me for a quiz that I can study for. I see it as a very tangible goal that I can reach and this encourages me. However, I realize that a good number of my students will probably not agree with me. Although I know I can’t drastically change the way I teach for a small number of people, I realize that I can help them outside the classroom. My calculus teacher in high school did exactly the same thing. Even though this was one of the most difficult classes for me, her extra work inspired me to work harder in that class. I feel almost as if inspiration and hard work can overcome learning styles and that is the mark of a good teacher and the kind that I want to be.

26 01 2012
Vicki Chandler

Tim,
Your comment lends credence to the fact that students do have particular styles of learning. You allude to the fact that repetition is equally as powerful as implementing a variety of teaching methods – perhaps even more helpful. Yes, many students thrive when given 1-1 help from a caring professional like your calculus teacher.
I love your comment: “I feel almost as if inspiration and hard work can overcome learning styles and that is the mark of a good teacher and the kind that I want to be.”

26 01 2012
Kelly

This reminds me of a question I remember being asked in a class: “Should students be separated into different classes by their learning styles?” Personally, I do not agree with this. Many students are not solely one learning type. And even if a student is not of a particular learning type, the student may learn to adapt or learn that learning type through a particular classroom environment.

26 01 2012
Vicki Chandler

Kelly,
I’m thrilled to read the words of one who is an independent thinker. Yes, student can learn that learn in particular classroom environment where instruction is presented in a style contrary to his/her preferred learning styles (plural).

26 01 2012
Joel Bird

The points in this article are always useful. Though, I did not read anything that I have not heard before, it is good to be reminded of these things so that I remember to use various methods when teaching. I wish that my high school math teachers had used a variety of methods so that I could have better understood the material. I remember many a time the students going up to the board and writing the answers to problems like they were easy and I had no idea how to begin to solve the problem. Being home schooled through video courses there was little to no teacher-student interaction with me but that does not make an excuse for the lack of creative means of explaining the material.

26 01 2012
Vicki Chandler

Joel,
Good comment: reminders are good…they reinforce important points (e. g., using various methods of teaching). Creative explanations also help some students understand new concepts.

26 01 2012
Brad Young

This “detective work” seems like a tough situation to get through, I’m sure that it can get very discouraging at times when time after time nothing seems to work out. But that was what stuck out to me, because in the end, when you figure out what works for that student, it’s a huge victory and relief. This requires A LOT of God given patience, love, and understanding.

26 01 2012
Vicki Chandler

Brad,
‘Love your honesty…Finding what works with a student can certainly be tough. But, yes, there are huge payoffs when a successful strategy is identified. I appreciate your reliance on God for patience, love, and understanding. Such a wise and powerful statement!

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