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How Teachers Teach to Students with Different LearningStylesJean Haar , Gretchen Hall , Paul Schoepp & David H. SmithPublished online: 02 Apr 2010.
To cite this article: Jean Haar , Gretchen Hall , Paul Schoepp & David H. Smith (2002) How Teachers Teach to Students with DifferentLearning Styles, The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, 75:3, 142-145
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How Teachers Teach to Students with Different Learning Styles
JEAN HAAR, GRETCHEN HALL, PAUL SCHOEPP, and DAVID H. SMITH
s student populations have become more diverse, A the ability to teach to the needs of different learn- ers has become increasingly important. What began as a research project for a qualitative methods class result- ed in a new appreciation for the level of knowledge and skill needed to teach students well. The four of us- Jean Haar, former high school principal; Gretchen Hall, high school English instructor; Paul Schoepp, college professor; and Dave Smith, instructor of the deaf- chose to work together to complete a case study on the topic of learning styles.
The project consisted of interviewing and observing eight teachers employed in K-12 public school systems. We selected the teachers based on their reputation as excellent teachers. After the interviews and observations were completed, we analyzed the collected data, looking for common themes. What follows are the research ques- tions we created, the themes that emerged from the inter- views, and the recommendations based on our findings.
As educators, we are interested in what teachers know about learning styles, how that knowledge is reflected in their classroom practice, and how teachers think and speak about learning. Overall, we believe that teachers are doing a decent job of teaching to a diverse range of learners. However, if asked about the theoretical back- ground behind what they are doing, their answers would range from a detailed explanation based on the theory of Multiple Intelligences to a simple reference to what their experiences and instincts have taught them.
Because of the possible range of exposure to research among the teachers, we agreed, for the purposes of our
study, to use the term learning styles to help us explore the topic of how teachers teach to students with different learning styles. We defined learning styles as individual differences in the way information is per- ceived, processed, and communicated (Campbell, Campbell, and Dickinson 1999). Several subquestions were developed to assist in answering the main ques- tion, How do teachers instruct students with different learning styles? Subquestions included:
What kind of training or exposure have teachers had
Why do teachers utilize learning styles in their teach-
How do teachers describe the framework they use to
How do teachers own learning styles influence their
How do teachers identify learning styles? How do teachers adjust their teaching to account for different learning styles? How do teachers know that they have achieved their desired outcome-student learning?
We hoped these questions would lead us to common threads or themes about how teachers think and prac- tice based on the way their students learn.
Findings After visiting with teachers, observing their class-
rooms, and analyzing what they shared with us, we determined three main themes about how they teach to
to learning styles?
talk about learning styles?
teaching students with different learning styles?
~ ~~ ~ ~
lean Haar is a doctoral student in educational leadership at the University of Nebraska, in Lincoln. Gretchen Hall is a high school English teacher and a doctoral
student in educational law at the University of Nebraska, in Lincoln. Paul Schoepp is an assistant professor of education and assistant director of the Directors of Christian
Education program at Concordia University Nebraska, in Seward. David H. Smith is a doctoral student in special education at the University of Nebraska, in Lincoln.
Vol. 75, No. 3 Learning Styles 1 43
students with different learning styles. We categorized our findings as follows: ( 1 ) how teachers talk about their students different learning styles, ( 2 ) how teach- ers respond to their students different learning styles, and (3) why teachers respond to their students differ- ent learning styles. Subthemes under the first theme were based on terminology. For the second theme, sub- themes addressed assessment and teaching approach- es. The final theme involved subthemes of teacher responsibility, commitment, and confidence.
Having identified three main themes, we contem- plated the meaning of our data. What had we captured in our interviews and observations? In early conversa- tions, we made predictions such as, excellent teachers seem to sense what and how to teach, they know, care, and can reach their students, they are adamant that all students can learn, they are committed to their profession and are willing to do what it takes to ensure a student learns, and, they know what to do. From our analysis of the data, these assumptions appear to be correct.
Theme One Our first theme addressed how teachers talk about
their students learning styles. Several teachers identi- fied specific terminology while some drew from real- life examples when describing how some students sim- ply learn better in different contexts. By allowing teachers the time to talk through how they categorize students as learners, we were able to expand our dis- cussion into how and why they use these categoriza- tions to change or improve their teaching.
In some cases, teachers described students in terms of what learning styles their students did not possess. For instance, it seemed easy for them to say that one particular student was not a visual leamer but was def- initely a kinesthetic learner. The teachers stood firm in their beliefs that students fall into these categories and really do not learn as well when being taught with another style. It was important for them to consider whether a student was doing well in relation to how he or she learned best. By creating these categories of dif- ferent learning styles, teachers were better able to direct their instruction toward particular students and change instruction when they noticed that a student was not catching on to a concept taught in class.
The common vocabulary used by the teachers ranged in origin. Teachers were not prompted to remember the technical names for certain types of learners, and yet identification labels came relatively easy when asked to describe the types of learners they face in their classrooms. Several recalled labels from their college coursework, in-service instruction, or other professional development activities. None of the teachers believed that they used these words in dialogue with their students. Rather, the identifi-
cation of students as certain types of learners was an internal, personal process that the teachers considered in their minds and sometimes discussed with col- leagues.
The vocabulary exhibited itself through the type of instruction teachers described and what we observed in their classrooms. Teachers who described visual learn- ers were accustomed to writing directions on the board and relying on the written word to guide student learn- ing. Teachers who described auditory learners could recall specific students who do best when listening and who make frequent eye contact. The identification of types of learners was definitely connected to specific faces and names in the minds of the teachers. This sug- gested that learning styles are much more than labels. It took a personal connection for these teachers to relate with their students, and it was a sensitive process to determine how a student performs in a classroom.
Theme Two The second theme that surfaced in our study
involved how teachers respond to students different learning styles. We not only looked at how the teachers responded to what they perceived to be their students learning styles but also how they assessed what the stu- dents were or were not learning.
The teachers used quizzes and examinations as a part of their assessment, but they also relied on informal types of evaluation. We noticed that the teachers were interested in seeing how well their students were mas- tering a presented goal or objective. To do this, they were continually watching, asking, and getting to know their students on a personal level as well as on a learn- ing level. Teachers were also assessing their own peda- gogy, making adjustments by trying various approach- es until they knew that students understood the concept being presented. The teachers did not get caught up in covering a certain amount of material. Instead, they sought to teach in a manner that assisted students in gaining a deeper understanding of the con- tent presented.
It was difficult at times to separate assessment from approaches. The teachers approaches and methods often changed when informal assessments showed some students were having difficulty grasping concepts. The changes and adjustments made are typical with learn- ing-style teachers. Leaming-style teachers teach different children differently, unlike traditional teachers who teach an entire class in the same way with the same methods (Shaughnessy 1998). Several teachers also emphasized that even though some of the students may have understood the concept originally, there was often a need for repetition or reteaching either immediately after the presentation or weeks and months later. This reteaching was an integral part of what many of the teachers did to reinforce student learning.
144 The Clearing House January/February 2002
Theme Three The third theme that emerged had to do with why
teachers respond to their students different learning styles. The teachers recognized their responsibility for both student learning and their own learning; they demonstrated a commitment to both student learning and their own learning; and they displayed confidence in meeting the needs of their students as well as their own needs.
The teachers took responsibility for the learning of their students in their classrooms and purposefully sought out the best ways to reach them. They did not necessarily teach using their own dominant learning style. Rather, they identified individual styles and worked with students, actively seeking out the best ways to connect with them. These teachers also sought out ways to continue professional growth-sometimes in their content area but also in the area of pedagogy.
The teachers displayed an innate desire to understand and provide for their students the best possible learning atmosphere. They worked hard at using their own knowledge to develop and analyze content to teach stu- dents. They realized that there was more to teaching then just presenting content. The teachers knew their content well and felt comfortable presenting and explaining concepts in various ways. Haycock and Robinson (2001) noted that teachers who consistently get results from all groups of students clearly know their subjects and how to teach them. The teachers also
know that all students come to school with some prior knowledge on which they can build; avoid misusing and misinterpreting research and learning theories to support low-level instruction; use artifacts and literature as a platform to validate what students already know and to help them con- struct new meaning; see the range of student abilities, cultures, and races in their classrooms as challenges, not impediments; and constantly examine their own attitudes about race, class, and culture and actively work to keep from applying stereotypic ideas that limit their expecta- tions for student achievement.
By getting into the habit of reflecting on their teaching and on their students learning, the teachers had de- veloped a means of almost automatically doing what is considered good teaching. They utilized whatever strat- egy, technique, or method was needed to ensure that their students were learning. This approach, coupled with the fact that they truly cared about their students and whether or not they were learning, provided them with the comfort and confidence needed for making the types of decisions and judgment calls required on a daily basis in the teaching profession.
As noted earlier, for the purposes of this study, leam- ing styles was defined as individual differences in the ways information is perceived, processed, and commu- nicated (Campbell, Campbell, and Dickinson 1999). The teachers responses validated this as their working definition of learning styles. Their approaches to teach- ing and their concerns about students answered our main question of how teachers teach to students with different learning styles: th...