Learning with style
by BILL AMITAGE, Principal
Belmont Elementary School
Perhaps this has happened to you. You are sitting around the dinner table with your family. Or, if you’re like my children who are now grown and parents of children themselves, you are taking your children to an after school function. The conversation usually turns to their day. You ask the time honored question, “So, what did you learn in school today”? This is usually followed by the time honored response, “Nothing”. Aside from the dynamics of parent-child relationships, in order to get a response that is more than a single word phrase, perhaps the question needs to be modified. Instead of asking what they learned in school, ask them what they enjoyed the most about school, and why. This question encourages responses that may give you some insight about how they learn best.
There are three broad categories of learners that I see often in school. First, there are students who are auditory learners. They learn best by listening and responding during instruction. They have a great auditory memory, remembering what the teacher has said and the conversations in class. They have a good control of vocabulary and language. However, they can also be easily distracted by noise in the learning environment. Second, there are students who learn best through instruction that focuses on visual cues. They learn best by seeing what is being presented. Maps, graphs, movies and pictures help them retain the information presented in class. These students may struggle if they are in a class that relies heavily on lecture. Finally, there are the kinesthetic learners. They learn by doing. They are often good at athletics. They learn best through activities that allow them to get out of their seats, move about, and interact during their learning. t may be difficult for kinesthetic learners to sit still during lessons, and they may often appear fidgety or distracted.
All three of these learning styles are evident in the average classroom. Students are generally not exclusively one learning style over another. The task is to plan lessons that address all three of these styles. Teachers differentiate instruction so that a single concept will be presented in ways that connect with the audio, visual and kinesthetic learners. For example, if a teacher is presenting a writing lesson, (s)he may begin by reading a story (auditory learners). (S)he may also provide pictures or illustrations to enhance the meaning (visual learners). After (s)he has finished with the story, the students may be asked to think-pair-share. They may be asked to think about something from the story, pair up with another student, share viewpoints with each other and then with the entire class. The teacher is checking for their understanding through this guided practice. The teacher is now able to direct students to apply what they have learned through a written assignment. As students are writing, the teacher reminds them to reflect on what they learned and how they learned it. The teacher has presented content in a way that addresses a variety of learning styles, given the students a process for understanding it and has assessed their learning through products they have created. When instructional strategies address a variety of learning styles, students are better able to grasp concepts and apply them in their learning. It is evident in student behaviors and in assessments.
You are probably aware of how your children learn, but ask them how they think they learn best. Through questioning you can help them to state the necessary conditions for their success in school. When children demonstrate what they have learned and can articulate how they learned it, they are taking charge of their learning. Successful students are able to modify the learning environment because they know how they learn best. I find that I utilize all three learning styles to varying degrees, depending on the situation. When I need help with my computer, I can call my granddaughter and she will teach to my learning style(s). She can help me right over the telephone. I have the computer in front of me so I can see the screen and fix the problem . . . sometimes. Even with her excellent instruction, there are still some things that I just can’t master. Something about old dogs and new tricks.