A big part of my job when I worked in school psychology was diagnosing learning disabilities and prescribing solutions. Special education has always recognized that students learn in a variety of ways.
Regular education is also addressing that students learn in different ways—a movement referred to as Differentiated Instruction. This term is sometimes looked upon cynically because it suggests a variety of instructional methods that are much easier to acknowledge than actually implement. (In future discussions, let’s explore practical ways for teachers to achieve differentiated instruction in the classroom.)
Don’t all kids benefit from having the instruction presented in various ways? Yes, but that’s not the focus of differentiated instruction. It’s not about the teacher doing one thing on one day for the entire class, something else on the next, and so on. Instead, modern approaches to differentiated instruction (and there are many) recommend that educators find—either through evaluation or self-discovery—students’ preferred ways of learning. Teachers then make sure students have at least some opportunities to experience these. This usually leads to groups of kids doing different types of activities, based on how they learn best.
Though difficult to achieve, a lot of this makes sense. Some students prefer working with others; some like to work individually. Some like to read from a book; others prefer listening to a presentation or lecture. Some kids like building models or expressing what they’re learning through art; some don’t care for that much at all. Some kids like working on a computer, either by themselves or connected with other learners (lots of video games allow this).
Some kids benefit from peer tutors; other students like being peer tutors. Even those kids who are doing the tutoring are still learning. You always learn at a deeper level when you teach the material to someone else. I discovered this myself while teaching others to play guitar when I was starting to learn.
Speaking of music, some kids respond well to educational music. And, as we know at Rock ‘N Learn, many kids really enjoy educational videos that incorporate music, humor, and entertainment.
Educators also realize that students become ready for different levels of knowledge at different stages. Some students may be ready for only memorizing facts, while other students have progressed to applying facts. I don’t want to get too technical, but there are various stages where students advance towards more critical thinking, synthesis and application of knowledge—recognized in Bloom’s Taxonomy and more recently in Webbs’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK) model. Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences has helped us understand why an intelligence test fails to accurately measure the full range of human skills and abilities.
We used to hear a lot about whether a child was more of a visual learner, an auditory learner, or even a kinesthetic learner (touch and muscle/body movement.) This may surprise you, but I never found the visual vs. auditory model particularly useful for educational recommendations. Some kids are definitely more verbal while others are more spatial, but I don’t think it’s that simple to classify auditory versus visual learners and develop clear-cut methods for individualized instruction.
Let me explain. Lot’s of times I’ve heard well-intentioned people promoting Rock ‘N Learn products say that they first ask a parent whether his child is more of a visual learner or an auditory learner. “If they say auditory, I recommend your audio CDs; if they say visual, I recommend your DVDs.” The truth is that most students benefit from a multisensory approach. You can find plenty of research to support that. It’s why we’ve always included books with our audio CDs. And we know that a big component of why our videos work is because of their soundtracks. I like to point out that with our programs, we even hit on kinesthetic learning because kids move to the music.
What do you think about the different ways that children learn? Please post a comment.