Monday, February 25, 2008

Learning styles

Classroom management and the four basic types of learners: Heart, head, hands, and the mind's eye.

In traditional teaching teachers presented their ideas to the whole class. Those who were aligned to the teacher's style managed to retain enough of whatever was presented to succeed . 'Successful' students, in such a academic environment, were those were those successful in the linguistic and logical- mathematical areas of learning.

Today, with an appreciation of the diversity of student learning styles, the idea of multiple intelligences, the modern emphasis on active learning, and the need for all students to gain success, such a simplistic pedagogy will no longer do.

Developing a 'personalised learning' approach, tailoring learning to the needs of each students ( as against the 'one size fits all'), is not as easy as it sounds. In the real world, outside of school, people make use of whatever ways of learning that do the job. For many such people school learning is of little use to them.

Developing a 'personalised approach' begs the question of, 'What do we do with the others?' Many teachers of junior classes have already solved this problem - group work - but all too often this resorts to ability grouping which goes against the premise of personalised learning. In secondary schools students are often 'streamed' to assist teachers cope with diversity but this is, all too often, at the expense of the so called 'slower' learners ( the less academic). 'Once a weka always a weka'!

By using a mixture of learning styles and group work all students can be assisted to achieve a high level of in-depth learning.

The four styles are :

1 The Interpersonal Style ( represented by a heart).This conversational style allows the teacher an opportunity to listen to the views of the students as in sharing a 'big book' with readers but it could equally be a science discussion to access 'prior idea' or learn from, and how to write up, an experiment.

2 The Thinking- Reasoning Style ( represented by the head). Students research ideas, using key question and appropriate resources, to extend their understanding -and possibly to develop further questions.

3 The Mastery Style ( represented by the hand). This group features making or doing. Practical 'hands on' tasks.

4 The Imaginative Style(represented by the minds eye).This group is involved in tasks extending the ideas imaginatively, making use of various forms of expression and media.

The above groups styles fits comfortably with the 'multiple intelligences' of Howard Gardener that many teacher make use of. Gardner believes that students need rich topics that utilize the appropriate intelligences. This idea also aligns well with an integrated approach making use of in depth knowledge from the various disciplines. The key is to do fewer things well - to study a topic in-depth.

When teachers plan their studies to cover all learning styles (and intelligences) it allows success to be a reality for all students. The four group styles are to be seen in any primary reading programme although, as mentioned, these are still ability groups.

In a class setting a topic could be introduced in week one. Students initial questions can be gained and their 'prior ideas', answering such questions, noted. Ideas for activities, and ways of communicating findings, could be discussed. Experiences could be introduced to provide background material for the students to think about.

Before the next week teachers could pull idea together and assign to the four group task for students to rotate around. This rotation might last up to two weeks making use of an hour a day; four sessions a week. Skills required in group work need to be taught prior to the tasks e.g. how to write up their research, or how to use the digital camera. Group work is not the time to teach new skills. Such skills could be taught in the language programme. Special attention needs to placed on assisting students develop design/presentation skills. Some schools develop design 'scaffolds' to assist students.

All the groups could contribute ideas to place on students completed booklet or web page etc; or they could be stand alone tasks.

By the end of the third or fourth week students would be expected to completed all tasks and then to evaluate and share negotiated tasks with others in the class, or their parents. By now the wall displays will feature the key questions and completed research tasks, art and creative language.

Such a group programme allows students a variety of opportunities to develop and share their talents. Not all students enjoy all styles but all need to experience the insight each offers.

It is best to keep group task specific and to encourage doing things well rather than rushing through task with an, 'I'm finished - first is best', attitude. Extra extension activities can be included for those 'fast finishers'.

When a group work pattern is established students will be able to apply themselves more positively and teachers will be able to find the time to interact with students to challenge, give encouragement and assess progress.

As time progress students will be able to see what their preferred styles are along with a growing awareness of the particular talents and strengths they have.

At this point 'personalisation' of learning is a real possibility.

For further ideas. Booklets 4 and 5


Anonymous said...

This seems a very sensible approach to learning styles - a lot of material on learning styles seems like 'mumbo jumbo'!

Bruce Hammonds said...

The main criteria of success for any learning strategy is that the students are able to demonstrate continual quality improvement in whatever learning area is involved. Strategies are a means to an end - powerful and productive learning.

Bruce Hammonds said...

You are entitled to your opinions but what have they to do with learning styles?

Anonymous said...

I think these styles also cater for boys and girls preferances as well - the practical hands on kids and intuitive. Good stuff!