Throughout my eleven years in the classroom, I have never encountered a class with just one learning style. In most classes I have found myself juggling a plethora of learner types and encountering at least one new type each year. This is the reality of the classroom and one of the more difficult aspects of a teacher’s job. We are constantly pursuing the perfect balance of differentiation where all learners reach their full potential. While such a utopia admittedly doesn’t exist, teachers can lay a foundation for student success by understanding the different types of learners.
Why it’s Important to Know Your Students’ Learning Styles
A proactive teacher will start each year armed with plans and strategies that have proven effectiveness. Having a bank of resources is crucial during the thick of the year when time (and indubitably patience) are running thin. This practice is built on the premise that you know what students need to learn in order to be successful, but what happens when you exhaust your bag of tricks and students still cannot write a well-structured essay or multiply 3-digit numbers? A year of blind trial and error is a year wasted, and therefore knowing your students’ learning styles is critical.
When you know how your students learn greatest, you can easily identify the root of the issue when they aren’t grasping a concept. You have clear direction when choosing strategies – for example: a rap about figurative language is fun but may not be helpful for your visual learners. When you don’t understand your students’ learning styles, planning will always be a shot in the dark.
When education is on the line, uninformed instruction is not a gamble that we should be willing to take. Teachers should gather data about student learning styles early and consistently. This can be done through learning profiles, observations, and more. Don’t wait until a roadblock manifests to gain understanding of the learners in your classroom. The timing will likely be too late.
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Types of Learners
Learners are typically pigeonholed into three categories: visual, auditory, and tactile. Furthermore, a true assessment of education as we know it will show that of the three, our visual and auditory learners receive the most instruction that is relevant to their style. There are, however, multiple learning styles that grace our classrooms. Here are some different types of learners along with information about how to accommodate them in the classroom.
Our classrooms are typically oversaturated with aids for the visual learners. As the name suggests, these learners retain information by seeing. Things like anchor charts, diagrams, number lines, and word walls are effective for visual learners. Visual learners also retain information that is modeled for them.
Auditory learners learn greatest through hearing. Although these students have an advantage in lectures, there are many, more inventive ways to engage auditory learners. Creating mnemonics, reading information aloud, peer teaching, and incorporating non-obtrusive music (i.e. classical) are ways to cater to auditory learners. Because auditory learners naturally gravitate to sound, they are also easily distracted by excess noise in the classroom.
These learners are often confused for auditory learners. While the auditory learner learns greatest by hearing, a linguistic learner learns by expression and articulation. These students are typically strong writers and orators. They need time and space to think out loud and on paper. One way to engage linguistic learners is to always have instructions written down. Picturesque charts are useful, but know that your linguistic learners are typically looking for words that tell your expectations. Word problems for mathematical operations, writing to explain scientific concepts, and cloze assignments are all effective for these learners.
Also known as tactile learners, kinesthetic learners retain information through action. These students need to learn by physically doing things. Movement and creating things manually are winners for our kinesthetic learners. Activities such as gallery walks that allow students to move about the classroom are helpful. Flexible seating options that allow students to work while standing, laying down, etc. are also helpful. Products like fidget cubes and Bouncy Bands are exceptional ways for kinesthetic learners to discreetly maintain movement while working.
These are our learners who excel in math but dislike the ambiguity of literary analysis. They learn through methodical logic and love the absolute quality of numbers. Logical learners thrive when structure is abundant and may struggle with creative projects. In order to accommodate these students, provide rubrics and/or checklists with clear expectations. Make goals measurable and provide them with the information and tools necessary to self-monitor progress. Sequencing activities, technology, and building projects are a exceptional fit for these students.
That student who consistently follows up your instructions with a timely request to work in groups is likely an interpersonal learner. These students thrive during collaborative work because communication is the key to their comprehension. Group work is obviously their strength, but we all know that some assignments must be completed individually. Allowing interpersonal learners to work with others during the planning stages of an individual assignment will go a long way. Activities like think-pair-share, literature circles, and team-building activities also work well with interpersonal learners.
The exact opposite of their interpersonal counterparts, intrapersonal learners thrive when working alone. These are the students who, when self-aware, will request to work alone on group projects. Allowing these students to have independent study time and a quiet, secluded workspace are extremely helpful. They do well with self-directed research, so providing resources for them to study independently will be beneficial. When intrapersonal learners must work collaboratively, providing defined roles will help them to identify their greatest-suited role and work accordingly.
Knowing your student’ learning styles is crucial to helping them reach their potential. This requires flexibility and engagement in a constant learning curve. The most effective classrooms are those tailored to the specific needs of the students they house.
Whitney is a Special Education and English teacher. She holds an Ed.S. in Teacher Leadership from Thomas University, GA.