All students acquire information in different ways and successful teachers accommodate different learning styles.
Does that sound easier said than done? The first step is to develop a plan that includes a variety of approaches and techniques.
Wait – we don’t all learn the same way?
Howard Gardner, an educational theorist, developed a theory of “multiple intelligences,” suggesting that students have their own ways of processing information, as well as more than one style of learning. He suggests that some students need to be physical, or move when learning, and respond well to hands-on activities. Others adapt better to classroom discussions, lectures, or independent study because they like sitting at a desk. Those same students may also differ in their approach to learning. He describes “active” learners as those who like group discussions, as opposed to “reflective” students who are more comfortable working alone.
Presenting different learning styles to students will help them recognize what style they respond to and the ways in which they should study to retain the most information. Encouraging students to be aware of their preferred learning styles will also allow teachers to guide them in finding and using what works best for them throughout their educational career.
What are the different learning styles?
Motivating students to become aware of their learning styles can begin with the most common-known styles of learning — auditory, visual, and tactile. The different ways we intake and process what we read, see, or hear, sometimes referred to as recognition tasks, each appeal to a different type of student.
Auditory learners do best by listening and lectures can be a good learning style for them. Class discussion – even if they don’t participate – is also an effective tool. It’s also important to remember that they may be distracted by noise outside the classroom, so plan your space accordingly.
A variety of images, especially colorful ones, as well as written information benefits visual learners. They understand material they can read on their own, and it may be helpful to them to suggest they use colored highlighters to outline text or colored pens to take notes. They concentrate on what they can see, and are distracted by other things going on around them.
Tactile learners learn by doing. In this learning style, students do best doing something, either alone or in groups. Introduction of alternative teaching methods, such as field trips or construction projects, helps the tactile learner process information.
What are the other learning components to consider?
Students may have more than one style of learning, and other factors come into play as well. Environmental factors are sometimes hard to control, but thinking about things like the room temperature, the lighting level, and background noise can make students more comfortable and allow them to focus. Personal characteristics can make a student seem difficult, but letting someone who slouches in their chair sit more informally on a couch or pillow on the floor may increase their ability to learn. That kid always chewing gum or tapping their fingers may just be kinesthetic; move them to the side so they don’t distract others, but let them meet their need for movement. Most students actually benefit from some movement, and even a 30-second break to stand and stretch every 20 minutes or so is a great help to many learners.
Learning about your students and incorporating different teaching methods will allow you to reach the majority of your students and target their individual learning styles to allow them to succeed.