As educators, substitute teachers, and at-home tutors, our immediate goal is often to empower K-12 students to achieve good grades. But long-term?
We hope to help students commit the knowledge to memory, so they can apply it later in life. Have you ever wondered how you can help it stick?
Learning styles are different methods of learning or understanding new information, and the theory goes that our learning styles influence the way we acquire, develop, and perceive that information.
At Teachers On Demand, we’re always trying to tailor our lessons for the benefit of our young students. Let’s consider the benefits, drawbacks, and best practices of incorporating different learning styles into your classroom.
The different learning styles
One of our staff members couldn’t tell you the formula to calculate the G-force. But they do remember their physics teacher’s graphic description, with chalkboard drawings, of what would happen to you if you got shot into outer space.
That person may well consider themselves a visual or auditory learner, or some combination of both.
Let’s discuss the four predominant learning styles: Visual, Auditory, Read/Write, and Kinaesthetic. Some research says there are more, perhaps eight total learning styles (with the addition of logical, social, solitary, and naturalist).
Visual learners benefit from the use of visual aids, including images, film clips, colors, and diagrams. Visual learners may also do well with information that is presented in maps, charts, and graphs, and are good at interpreting and describing this information.
Auditory or aural learners learn best through sound and music—this can include using rhyme and rhythm, listening to a lecture, receiving answers to in-depth questions about a particular topic, or expressing themselves through voice or music. They are good at auditory recall.
Read / Write
Sometimes called “verbal” learners, the read/write learning style loves language, word games, puns, and even presentations. These learners enjoy demonstrating their key K-12 skills in reading, writing, listening, and speaking.
Tactile / Kinesthetic
Tactile or kinesthetic learners learn best through touch. This learning type benefits from doing “hands-on” activities, so they can learn by doing. They may also benefit from having a tactile element to a lesson; for example, holding a particular object while doing the activity to help them remember the experience of doing that activity.
It’s possible a student may fall into more than one category, or more than one learning style may work with them. That’s great—the key here is variety.
How to get started
The best way to find out your students’ learning styles is to evaluate them.
You can choose an age-appropriate quiz, like the ones from How to Study, Education Planner, or VARK.
You can also evaluate them informally; for example, by creating an activity where you ask students to choose the mode of presentation that allows them to do their best work.
It’s important not to “pigeonhole” students into learning styles. You should always use a variety of different methods, as students will respond to different things depending on the day, lesson, or subject. The crucial thing is to help students relate to the information, as “students are best served when a variety of strategies are employed in a lesson” (source: University of Kansas).
This is especially important when we consider the growth of awareness and methodologies tailored to neurodivergent children, including those with learning disabilities, ADD/ADHD, and on the autism spectrum. No one thing will work for all of them.
So, when it comes to learning styles: There is no one size fits all! Some students may enjoy a mix of styles, or benefit from one style in one subject but not another.
Tailoring to different learning styles in your classroom
Here are some ways to consider learning styles in your K-12 classroom activities:
- Be descriptive in your lessons, whether you’re discussing a math problem, Shakespeare, or the digestive system.
- Write key points on the chalkboard or in your Powerpoint, but avoid large blocks of text as this can be distracting.
- “Color-code” your notes, characters, and elements.
- Incorporate mind maps and storytelling.
- Use games of description to test your students’ understanding; ask them to describe how they imagine a scene or what they’d do in a given situation.
- Encourage students to share their thoughts and thought processes.
- Allow students to ask questions during the lesson.
- Give audiobooks as a reading option.
- Create a class “playlist” ideal for studying, playing, or writing.
- Record parts of your lesson and make them available online.
- Ask students to explain concepts to each other.
- Use mnemonic devices, like “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nachos” for the planets.
Read / Write
- Make presentations fun, not dreadful. Ask students to present a city as a travel agent, or imagine what happens after the end of a story.
- Use acronyms or mnemonic devices, like “Cherry pies are delicious, apple pies are too” to describe the equations for calculating circumference and area.
- Have the class read aloud with sound effects and different voices for different characters.
- Nominate a student to be the teacher for 5 minutes.
- Have students rewrite their notes to remember them better.
- Create lists of keywords and encourage wordplay.
Tactile / Kinesthetic
- Start the day with an activity that gets students moving.
- Incorporate stretches and light movement in your lessons, potentially as part of self-care.
- Play games where students are standing or walking.
- Encourage reasonable use of physical objects like play-dough, fidget spinners, and stress balls.
- Use whiteboards or mind maps to help students write down their thoughts.
- Encourage drawing and creating diagrams, graphs and maps.
- Create puzzles for your students to solve.
- Incorporate role-playing into your lessons - this can work for many different subjects.
- Describe sensations.
“Provide an uncommon experience”
Finally, get some inspiration from fellow teachers!
Chad Boender, M.A.Ed. uses this approach to stay on the ball in his classroom.
Dave Burgess, the author of Teach Like a Pirate, writes, "Provide an uncommon experience for your students and they will reward you with an uncommon effort and attitude." As a kindergarten teacher, I follow this advice when it comes to meeting the various learning styles of my students. For example, I was able to cater to the different learning styles of my students by creating an uncommon experience and transforming my classroom into a spy headquarters. In this lesson, my students were actively engaged in reviewing skills that were previously taught at the beginning of the year. All the skills in this lesson were aligned with our reading and math curriculum. These concepts included: beginning sounds, uppercase to lowercase matching, and number identification using mathematical concepts like tally marks, base ten blocks, fingers, and ten frames.
How will you apply the different learning styles in your classroom?