Someone once said, “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
This quotation refers to an allegory by Amos E. Tolbear of Tufts University, in which all sorts of animals were required to attend school, and each was required to conform to a set of standards set forth to make each student proficient in all skill areas: running, climbing, swimming, and flying. The moral of the story was that as the students were forced to compete with their classmates and focus on their supposed “deficiencies”- like the duck assigned extra running practice- they began to falter in their strengths, resulting in a graduating class of individuals who were mediocre across the board.
Just as animals have a variety of strengths, so too do students. The past few decades have seen a greater awareness of the concept of different learning styles in education, and it is clear that a student’s preferred learning style is indeed a strength that can be harnessed and used to benefit them in the classroom. The more educators observe and embrace students’ learning styles and create customized instruction plans based on students’ strengths, the more likely it is that the student will achieve success.
But what does this kind of education look like in practice? Here are a few examples of how a teacher can capitalize on a student’s specific learning style to maximize his or her learning capacity.
A logical thinker is naturally inclined toward the field of mathematics; they see patterns and make connections, and love to work out the logic in any situation. But while they may breeze through complicated math problems, they can get tripped up on rote memorization of historical facts or subjective literary analysis.
A teacher who recognizes this learning style in a student can encourage them to see the logic behind historical events and their consequences and assist them in creating organized timelines to help them see patterns in history. They can also teach them to identify patterns in literature, like similes and metaphors, and show them a formula for incorporating their findings into a well-organized essay.
Every teacher has that those few fidgety kids who just can’t seem to sit still, and chances are good that they might be kinesthetic learners. Lectures are torture for these kids, so providing hands-on activities is key to engaging a kinesthetic learner.
Rather than giving a reading assignment, a teacher might allow students to act out scenes in literature; instead of talking about math and science, a teacher can assign students real-world problems and experiments to try out for themselves. When it’s time to memorize important historical facts, a teacher can ask questions and toss a ball to students to give the answer. When sitting still is unavoidable, teachers can provide frequent breaks and encourage students to dance or stretch to relieve pent-up physical energy.
Visual learners do well with images, graphs, and spatial representations of information. They may have a difficult time listening to a lecture, but do much better when they have something to look at while they listen, like a PowerPoint presentation.
Visual learners can excel when teachers allow them to get creative with their note-taking, using color coding, sketches, and flashcards. Teachers can help them understand historical events using geographical maps, and help them with more abstract literary ideas by creating mind maps. The visual stimulation from these techniques will keep visual learners engaged and interested.
Auditory learners are frequently seen tapping out a beat with a pencil or humming a tune. They may notice sounds that others don’t, and they can often remember and repeat things they’ve heard verbatim. Unfortunately, they may struggle with retaining information they’ve read.
A teacher can play to an auditory learner’s strengths by encouraging them to put important facts to music, or having them create rhymes to remember mathematical rules. Auditory learners can also use “anchoring” to associate certain information with certain music, allowing them to better recall the information when the music is played. Teachers may want to provide music for students to listen to as they read or work to help them better retain the information.
Every student has their own specific strengths, and when those strengths are harnessed for their educational power, students and teachers can achieve greater success together. Contact us at The Tenney School to find out more about how our teachers use these and many other strategies to ensure consistent growth and progress in each of our students.