How to support different learning styles?

Teachers Professional Skills Development in Special Education (30 cr) at JAMK University of Applied Sciences, Jyväskylä
Author: Susanna Malin

Introduction 

My development project aims to highlight problems with studying environments, which are not helping different learning styles. There are two different things I am concentrating on, different learning styles and studying environments. The idea in the background is Prashnig’s (2000, 137) statement that there is only bad teaching not learning difficulties. What can I or we do better to help students to learn?

What is learning style? 

Prashnig (2000, 29) quotes Rita and Ken Dunn to define learning style; it is the students’ way to concentrate on new and difficult information, the way to assimilate, handle and keep it in their memory. Every student has a different way to learn. Learning styles can be classified by nature of information, schools’ practice, personality theories, process of information, motivation theories, social theories and brain physics. The studying environment can increase learning or make it more difficult. Few students benefit from sitting in the same place for an hour and a half. Schools cannot change students’ physical needs and personal differences. (Ikonen 1993, 31.)

 Prashnig (2000, 113-114) uses Learning Style Analysis where there are six basic areas; left and right brain dominance, sensory modalities, physical needs, environment, social aspects and attitudes. These are the areas where schools can either help or hinder students’ learning. I believe that I can do my work better if I can use that information to support students’ personal studying style. As a background to my ideas I will explain about Learning Style Analysis in more detail. (Prashnig Style Solutions.)

Information processing

 Students whose brain dominance is left are said to display analytic style and right dominance holistic style. Analytic students are usually silent, calm and obedient. They sit straight and respect authority, study well by themselves, read a lot and take part in conversations. You could call them the dream students. Analytic students expect that teachers concentrate on exercises and details. They should show information systematically and give both overviews and details. Evaluation should be based on details and facts. Analytic students also expect that teachers will remove things that disturb their concentration, for example, holistic students out of classroom. (Prashnig 2000, 172, 179-180.)

 Holistic students are difficult, loud and absent-minded. They talk with each other and they cannot sit quietly in one place. They like to do things with their hands and they have practical sense. Holistic students expect that teachers should pay attention to students’ feelings and needs. They need overviews and general views of the topic. Teachers should give instructions and personal interaction. Evaluation should be based on general concepts and participation. Holistic students need permission for social intercourse during the lesson. (Prashnig 2000, 172, 181-182.)

 These two brain dominances are opposites of each other. Some students have more left dominance and some right. Students might have a mixture of these and there is quite a variation in using left and right sides of the brain. Teachers should find out students’ brain dominance. After that teachers can support learning and deal with each student as an individual. This requires the teacher to have enough time to get to known the students. Even without knowing the students’ learning style some ideas can be acted on. Teachers can make general views and details from the topic. Make exercises where holistic students can have social intercourse. There should also be an option to do some exercises alone. In our school group exercises are important because a practical nurse has to work with different kinds of people. We need to think where it is necessary to practise social skills and where we should pay attention to students’ unique ways of learning. I use a lot of group work because of the nature of the students’ future occupation. But now I think that by working through students learning style, even if some students are not involved in group work, I might teach them how to face people as individuals. Practical nursing work is work with individuals. Do I now teach how to put people into the same category? 

Sensory modalities

 Hearing, sight, touch and feeling are senses that can be used in learning. Prashnig calls learning style auditory, when a student prefers using hearing, talking and inner dialogue. In visual style, students benefit from reading, seeing and visualising. Tactile style prefers manipulating and touching. Kinesthetic students need doing and feeling. Tactile students often fiddle, play with their pens, tap their fingers and cannot keep their hands still. It helps them to concentrate or listen. To pay attention to these sensory modalities teacher need to know about them. Teacher should design teaching so that students can use different senses while studying. For example exercises can be done with different senses. Kinesthetic students benefit by using the whole body, learning by doing and by experiencing a learning situation physically. They remember best through their own experiences. Others have a strong intuition and need to feel good to understand and remember easily. Students who need mobility, will use body movements such as walking around, swaying, rocking of fidgeting to support learning. In our school we have smart boards in some classes and it can be useful for kinaesthetic learners. Kinesthetic students like to go on field trips. They need to do things in class and act out stories. (Prashnig 2006, 12, 39; Prashnig 2000, 113; Prashnig Style Solutions.)

 Auditory students learn easily by hearing things and can even remember complicated information they have heard. They are good listeners, like verbal instructions and prefer to discuss new information. Learning is mostly based on hearing and seeing, but for example hearing is the worst and most difficult way for most of the learners. Auditory students benefit from discussions or debates. These are easily arranged in normal classroom or studying environment. Visual students need to see how things are done. They like watching people and everything around them. Some students remember much of what they read and prefer instructions to be written. Others remember and understand best when shown pictures, while some use their imagination and many a combination of these modalities. (Prashnig 2006, 12; Prashnig 2000, 193; Prashnig Style Solutions.)

 Physical needs

 Physical needs include mobility, intake and time of day. Mobility is defined as students’ preference for moving or being stationary. Intake includes things like eating, nibbling, drinking and chewing. Snacks should not be for everyone; they should be allowed only for student who need intake. A combined need for intake and tactile stimulation is often an indicator that these students are in danger of becoming smokers because cigarettes satisfy the need for finger and mouth stimulation. (Prashnig 2000, 113; Prashnig 2006, 59; Prashnig Style Solutions.)

 Environment

Environment relates to preferences for sound, light, temperature and work areas. Some students need voices around and some are pleased with silence. For some students working area should be formal and for some informal or comfortable. Students are individual in which temperature they work better, do they need cool or warm classroom. (Prashnig 2000, 115; Prashnig Style Solutions.)

Holistic dominant students need sound stimulation to learn better and enhance their concentration. Analytic students find noises and background music distracting and learn best when it is quiet. There are students who are flexible enough to study in quiet classroom. Those who have a strong preference for sound stimulation will not be able to suppress this need and adjust to a quiet classroom. They will make their own sounds and noises when forced to learn in silence and often disrupt quiet work periods. If a teacher uses background music it needs to be instrumental. Slower baroque music is good for storing information, test reading, reflecting and revision. More lively classical music in better for creative activities, essay writing, mind mapping and brain storming. (Prashnig 2006, 60-61.)

Classrooms are usually equipped with fluorescent lights that are switched on most of the time. Analytic students are stimulated by bright light and can concentrate best in artificial light. For holistic students these same rays of light cause hyperactivity, mental stress, restlessness and a general over-stimulation. In the classroom a teacher can arrange dim light areas. If you need more low light, you can cover large, bright white surfaces in the classroom when they are not in use. Subdued colours will calm down students who are restless or diagnosed with ADHD. What seem to be normal light levels for teachers or adults are often too bright for many students. (Prashnig 2006, 71, 73.)

Classroom temperature can affect students differently. Some students cannot focus on studying if the temperature is too cold for them. They need to feel comfortable and warm to learn. Some students cannot concentrate if it is too warm. With classrooms temperature it is easier to keep it cooler and allow students who need warmer temperature to wear extra clothing. The classroom should be a comfortable area for students who learn informally. They need soft furniture or a chance to study on the floor. On the other hand you should never remove all desks from a classroom. There are some students who need to sit upright at a desk. (Prashnig 2006, 82, 84.)

If it is not possible to arrange classroom to support different learning styles, it is possible to help students in traditional classrooms with multi sensory teaching methods. A teacher can for example use music in the background, allow some movement and social groupings according to personal learning needs. You can change light levels to have bright and dim light areas. Allow healthy nibbles and water bottles. Teachers can be interactive and involve students.  (Prashnig 2006, 78.)

Social aspect

It is possible to make teaching more individual. Mäkirinta and Ikonen (2002, 177) think that if you use the right methods for example cooperative learning, projects and imagination learning you can support students’ social integration. Prashnig calls social aspect in learning styles social grouping. It determines weather students prefer to work alone, in a pair, with peers, in a team or with authority. Some students like their teacher or parent observing them studying but not all. Some style combinations are very stable and remain like that for many years, particularly in authority, persistence and non-conformity, which can often lead to discipline problems. High-schools students with learning problems have those kinds of problems and they cannot be solved with training, conditioning or disciplining. (Prashnig 2006, 49; Prashnig 2000, 115, 133; Prashnig Style Solutions.)

Attitudes

Attitudes include students’ motivation, persistence, conformity, structure and variety of studying. Prashnig (2000, 131) says that these attitude variations in the classroom might frustrate or irritate teachers. When attitudes are not paid attention to it might lead to disturbing action. Students might have internal or external motivation. Persistence can be high, fluctuating or low. Students’ conformity varies from conforming to rebellious.  Some students need directions and some are self-directed or want guidance from others. Some students need routine and some variety to learn. (Prashnig 2000, 115; Prashnig Style Solutions.)

 

Conclusion

The first thing to do could be a systematic learning style analysis. Students take testes at the beginning of their studies, but they know the information and it is not systematically utilised by teachers. Students know how to use the information, but teachers do not necessary know how to support them.  We could also build a classroom with different working, furniture and lighting areas. It would be useful for the Support and Guidance of Growth subject area. If the lessons could be as much as possible in the same classroom, teacher could use the room more effectively. For example, posters on the wall from the subject for visual students. You could also gather other material about the subject. For tactile students we got stress-hearts to squeeze during the lesson from the Super-union. For some of my subjects, like social subjects, it would be great to have computer access to search for information from the Internet. Students learn where to find the information and are physically doing something at the same time. Next autumn new students will be given laptops. I can change my work even if nothing changes in our school. I will make my subject more multi sensory.

 References

Ikonen, Oiva 1993. Erilainen oppija 1. Erityisopetukseen kehitettyjä arviointi- ja opetusmenetelmiä. Juva: WSOY.

Ikonen, Oiva & Mäkirinta, Marja 2002. Miten selviydyn ryhmässä, jossa kaikki ovat erilaisia oppijoita? Teoksessa Oiva Ikonen & Johanna Juvonen & Terhi Ojala (toim.) Kohtaamisia koulupolulla. Kasvun ja oppimisen tukeminen. Jyväskylä: PS-kustannus.

P Prashnig, Barbara 2006. Learning Styles and Personalized Teaching. London: Network Continuum.

Prashnig, Barbara 2000. Erilaisuuden voima. Jyväskylä: PS-kustannus.

Internet  references:

Prashnig Style Solutions. Learning Styles. Available in www-form: >URL: http://www.creativelearningcentre.com/Products/Learning-Style-Analysis/ (10.1.2010).

2 kommenttia

  1. This is true for personal learning styles after school years are over as well. This is why we notice that some people like to read while others prefer to listen. These observations of course have helped develop the audio book category.

  2. Thank you for this note, we would need more audio books to our university, let’s hope we will get them soon.

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