Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Learning Styles: A Guide for Success

 

Tatia Sanchez failed the same math course seven times, believing that she was hopelessly dumb in that subject. Until a teacher taught math in her style of learning and it all clicked into place. Unfortunately, like Tatia’s experience, this is an all too-common occurrence in our classrooms.  Students believe that they are simply too stupid in certain areas and just can’t learn. This belief can be remedied. Imagine if students beginning at Kindergarten were grouped into break-out sessions and taught in their strongest preference of visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learning. Students achieve stronger academic success when they are taught in their preferred learning style because they are able to focus more on the subject, they gain adaptability skills that will last a lifetime, and their self-esteem is improved. 

A student who is taught in their preferred learning style is able to focus on the subject instead of trying to wade through the method of how a subject is being taught. It takes that one extra distraction out of the equation that gets between the student and the subject. Take for example trying to learn a subject in a foreign language. A student would first have to decipher the words being said and all the foreign nuances of language rather than the subject. It works the same way when a student is taught in their dominant learning style. The student no longer has to decipher the “how” of what is being taught and can focus on the “what” that is being taught.  Diane Lamarche-Bisson, an educator and author, has worked with special needs children where she successfully implemented learning preference tools in her classrooms. She explains that a learning style is the way in which people best process information presented to them. “A learning style affects how we learn, how we solve problems, how we work, how we participate in different activities, how we react in a group, and how we relate to others around us" (Lamarche-Bisson 268). There are three primary learning styles. There are visual learners, those who prefer print and pictures; auditory learners, those who like to listen to as well as talk a subject out; and kinesthetic learners, which incorporates getting the entire body involved (Lamarche-Bisson 268). The kinesthetic learner will be the child who is moving about the room, likes noise, and needs to touch and handle everything.  Even the way a classroom is arranged will complement each style for better student focus. Some students need a space with limited noise and lighting, a quiet corner, while others need the opportunity to move around to become fully engaged (Lamarche-Bisson 268). When students are given the freedom, atmosphere, and encouragement to study in the way that works best for them, they are able to focus on the subject being taught without the distraction of deciphering how it is taught getting in the way. 

Learning how to adapt to each style gives students tools to be successful in any subject, even subjects they believe are difficult. This adaptability will last throughout a lifetime. The majority of people have a stronger preference for one learning style over the others. However, this does not mean that they cannot utilize other styles of learning. Depending on the subject, a more appropriate style might be called for. "The student should from time to time be encouraged to attempt to channel his abilities and strengths to the two remaining styles." (Lamarche-Bisson 268). "There is a practical importance to developing confidence in learning styles other than the preferred," Psychologists Chalisa Gadt-Johnson and Gary E. Price assert. Strengthening weaker preferences of learning should be encouraged (Gadt-Johnson & Price 581). Allowing students to "try-out" other learning styles will give children the confidence and adaptability to experiment with styles for different subjects. It has been found that this goes beyond Kindergarten through grade 12. The key is in arranging classrooms to provide resources for all preferences of styles available to students for greater experimenting and adaptability.  

Self-esteem improves when students realize that they can understand a subject. Lamarche-Bisson attests "levels of self-esteem and confidence will be raised. As the child matures, he will discern how he learns best and will be equipped to build a solid foundation on his strengths and develop strategies to improve his weaker areas” (268). When subjects are taught in a different manner from a child's strongest learning style, the student may not understand, feel discouragement and decide to give up. Through a study in 1997, Chalisa Gadt-Johnson and Gary E. Price note that "the particular learning style preferences of students have been found to have a strong impact on achievement" which breeds greater self-confidence (581). A dramatic example of this took place at The Forbury School in Dunedin, New Zealand, contrasting lack of self-esteem and behavior issues with significant changes after incorporating learning preferences. The environment was stressful, the students acted out with bullying. One teacher reported that the majority of her time she handled disruptions caused by anger and low self- confidence of the students.  Any work displayed was torn off the walls, the children "did not know how to handle praise" (Prashnig 1). After the school implemented the use of learning preferences, playing soft music, dimming the lights in certain spaces, and having areas dedicated to tactile learning, self-confidence improved the classroom behavior. The children have "greater respect for the school property, and the property and work efforts of others" (Prashnig 1). With greater self-esteem in the subjects they are being taught, students will be engaged and take responsibility in their education. 

The main issue with incorporating learning styles in the classroom is that some educators believe that there is little evidence to support that learning preferences work. Teachers already put in extra hours to plan their curriculum and adding another level of incorporating different learning preferences is too much to ask anyone to do.  However, teachers are not average. They are extraordinary human beings who will go the extra mile when they find something that works for their students. "Today's teachers are overworked and bombarded with guidelines from department heads and principals, school boards, state education departments, and educational organizations and associations"(Lamarche-Bisson 268). Is it fair to ask teachers to make extra lesson plans to cover each of the learning styles especially when there aren't many studies that prove it really has any effect? "In 2008, professor Hal Pashler and his associates ... noted that many of the existing studies didn’t really test for evidence of learning styles in the ideal way" Cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham explains (28). “If you want to test the verbalizer/visualizer distinction, it’s not enough to show that visualizers remember pictures better than verbalizers do. Maybe those people you categorize as visual learners simply have better memories overall" (Willingham 28). Both the types of learners and content would have to be examined to try and come up with an accurate study (Willingham 28). Yet teachers like Lamarche-Bisson and many others from the Creative Learning Centre have found that teaching children in their preferred styles have made a huge impact. An MIT instructor reported to the Creative Learning Centre that students "could learn and work on their own, in pairs or in a larger group. The learning was often self-guided, mostly student-centred and took place in their own time during the day; this was a chance for students who otherwise would have fallen through the cracks" (Prashnig 1). The techniques implemented showed drastic changes in the development of their students throughout many years of putting learning styles into practice.  

 Creating an atmosphere where learning styles are taught give students a greater chance to sharpen their focus on the subject without the distractions of trying to understand methods that aren't working for them. The ability to adapt any subject to another learning style that might work better will enhance learning in any environment throughout a person's lifetime. As seen at the Forbury School when self-confidence improves so will classroom behavior, which in turn, will promote greater academic success.  Stronger academic success can be achieved when students are taught in their strongest learning styles because students are better equipped to focus on the subject, instead of working through a foreign way their mind works; students will gain skills they can adapt to any subject or circumstance throughout their lives, and their self-esteem will grow.  


 

Works Cited

Lamarche-Bisson, Diane. “Learning Styles - What Are They? How Can They Help?” World and I, Sept. 2002 p. 268.  www.link.galegroup.com/doc/A98736431/OVIC?u=nhc_ main&sid=OVIC&xid=459958d0.

Gadt-Johnson, Chalisa., and Gary E. Price. “Comparing Students with High and Low Preferences for Tactile Learning.” Education, vol. 120, no. 3, 2000, p. 581. www.link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A61691570/OVIC? u=nhc_main &sid =OVIC&xid=5c150547f.

Prashnig, Barbara. “Testimonials/Case Studies” Prashnig Style Solutions, 2018. www.creativelearningcentre.com/testimonials.html#quotes

Willingham, Daniel T. “Ask the Cognitive Scientist: Does Tailoring Instruction to ‘Learning Styles’ Help Students Learn?” American Educator, Summer 2018. p. 28. www.link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A543900498/OVIC? u=nhu_main&sid=) VIC&xid=fdf856e4.

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