Student Learning Styles
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At the end of the article are guiding questions for the educator.
Student learning styles is a useful element in the educator’s arsenal, but it comes with a lot of controversy from researchers. There is ample evidence that learners differ; however, the controversy arises over the lack of scientific evidence from identifying a student’s learning style increases the end result. Whether or not the outcome of learning can be scientifically measured, learning styles can still be an effective strategy while lesson planning.
Over the years there have been multitude of learning styles with distinct names based on various models, but this article will focus on VAK- Visual, Audio, Kinesthetic. These are the most common discussed by educators, but in the future we will explore other student learning models.
VAK Student Learning Styles
Visual: As the term suggests, visual students like to use their sight, but not in a ubiquitous manner of soaking in everything in that they see. Actually, some visual learners are linguistic, while others are spatial.
The linguistic learner comprehends better by reading and writing. Allowing these students to read passages and write allows for better understanding. In addition, note taking during class greatly assists these students in grasping concepts and information.
Farther down the spectrum are the spatial visual learners. These learners don’t do as well with writing, but they are greatly assisted by demonstrations, charts, videos, PowerPoint, menus, or anything visually appealing.
Audio: Audio learners love sound. While they may struggle with reading, writing, and other visual forms, they clearly make up in “hearing” the voice and rhythms of the language. They are normally self talkers and excel at listening and speaking exercises, listening to lectures, music, or anything utilizing sound. Audio learners tend to do a lot of self talking to work through problems or talk while reading to hear the content.
Kinesthetic: Kinesthetic learners are the movers and shakers of learning theory. They benefit from movement and touching items as opposed to sitting still to read, write or listen. Total Physical Response (TPR) is a great teaching method for students of this learning style. Ultimately, these students learn by doing.
How Not To Use
Don’t Break Out The Microscope: Don’t try to determine each individual student’s learning personality. Pedagogically, it is impossible to assess every student and carry that information over into a lesson plan. In other words, do not try to analyze all the learning styles of the students to build lesson plans.
Not One And Done: Students cannot be seen as possessing only one style. It is almost certain they possess the ability to learn in all three styles, but certain styles allow for easier acquisition. One way to think of this is everyone has a dominate hand for writing; this does not mean we are unable to write with the non-dominant hand, but the production of the non-dominant hand will be of lower quality. The same applies to learning styles, an audio learner can still learn in a visually dominate classroom, but the student’s learning ability is not being maximized.
How To Use
Incorporate All: It is best not to think in terms of individual students and learning style, but consider it as an opportunity to address every learning style in the lesson plan. Make sure to incorporate reading, writing, charts, videos, demonstrations, lecturing, music, movement, objects or any other aspects related to the styles. Try to make sure every style benefits from the lesson.
Visual Learners Strategies
- Provide information handouts for them to reread during or after class.
- Allow for opportunities to take notes.
- Allow time for reading and writing.
- Use graphs or charts to present information
- Use different colored markers to highlight certain areas. For example, write nouns in red and verbs in blue.
- Do demonstrations such as acting out information or science experiments.
- Have students mind map information.
Audio Learners Strategies:
- Explain the key points of lesson at the beginning of class and emphasize these points orally during the lessons
- Encourage questions from the students so the hear feedback.
- Group talk activities where they can hear themselves and others
- Use music and lyrics where they can hear rhythm
- Use videos where they can hear the language.
- Some audio learners talk about the ability to hear and connect with the rhythm of the language. Provide a lot of opportunity students to hear the language.
Kinesthetic Learn Strategies:
- Allow the students to get out of their desks.
- Try to bring in items for them to use. For instance, if the lesson is about the beach, bring in sunglasses, towels, sunscreen, etc…
- Have the students perform skits with the target information.
- Utilize TPR when possible.
- Have the students participate in gallery walks. This is where information is posted on the walls and the students walk around to view the information and talk about it.
- Any activities where the students can physically interact with the language.
Other Factors To Consider
Age: How old are the students? Young learners, 4-8 years old, will probably require more kinesthetic activities as their attention spans wane quickly. Requiring young learners to sit still and learn like a 15 year old is not really an option. The younger the student the more acquisition can occur through natural interaction. The older the student becomes, the more they rely on cognitive abilities to comprehend.
Student Level: What level are the students may have a huge bearing on what the educator can do. For example, young learners wouldn’t be expected to listen to CNN News because they don’t have the ability to make sense of the information. On the other hand, a 21-year-old just beginning to learn a foreign language may be overwhelmed by the same information. It is important to balance student level with material and learner strategies.
Context: What does the educator have in the classroom and what kind of area can the lesson utilize. An educator with technology readily available such as a computer, projector, smart board, tape player, etc… can really work with various activities to reach the students. An educator without some of these can be quite limited in what he is able to do.
Another element is classroom size and set up. If the class is small/large and packed with desks, it may be difficult to do certain kinesthetic activities. Maybe there are no desks but large tables and chairs that need to be moved around, so this could require a massive amount of work to perform certain activities.
To Sum Up
Learner strategies are probably not best served to analyze individual students and try to build lesson plans, but to understand that there are different types of learners and lesson plans need to reach all of them. Try to reach all learner types and not just a specific type. The easiest way is to plan a lesson, review the lesson plan according to learning styles, and think of what type of learner benefits. If one learner is given preference or left out, then substitute some activities to balance things out.
Everyone should be given an equal opportunity to learn the best way they know how.
Questions to Think About to Help Teaching
- Do you think of the various student learning styles when lesson planning? Why?
- Is it possible to accommodate every student learning style?
- Should you classify all your students into a certain learning style? Why?
- What is the best way to incorporate learning styles into your lessons?