Diversity is the one true thing we all have in common.?
Diversity plays an important role in the classroom just as it does in an ecosystem. A healthy ecosystem is made up of many parts with subtle or obvious differences, whose interactions strengthen the whole. The classroom is also a diverse environment, where students differ in many aspects but can work together towards a common goal: learning. Students may vary in the manner in which they learn, but a good teacher integrates a variety of appropriate activities to accommodate these differences in learning so that the class as a whole is strengthened.
Learning modalities can be categorized by the different ways an individual can intake and understand new material (Kang 2005) and should be taken into account when a teacher plans lessons. The three main types are visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Just as it sounds, visual learners understand information best when it is presented visually and spatially. They respond well to pictures, diagrams, mapping, graphics and props. Auditory learners absorb information through listening to speech and music. Sound effects and rhythmic patterns come easily to these people. Kinesthetic learners need to physically move around. Activities such as dancing, touching, gesturing and molding clay help them to learn. In the classroom, all three learning modalities should be addressed so that students have as many opportunities to take in information as possible.
With a little thought, a teacher can include activities so that all students have a chance to learn despite their differences. In a lesson on vocabulary, a teacher could incorporate all of the modalities by saying the word for the auditory learners, writing the word on the board for the visual learners, and having the students create the word in play dough for the kinesthetic learners. By using all three learning modalities, a teacher is able to engage all of the students and reinforce the information. When students learn through multiple sensory factors, they have greater retention due to increasing the connections made in the brain (Hirst and Slavik 1990). The more ways that a topic is presented, the more opportunities students have to understand and relate the information to what they already know.
Another difference in learning style pertains to left- versus right-hemisphere brain function. The left side of the brain controls logical, sequential, linear and analytical thought, while the right side controls the visual, emotional, spatial and initiative thought (Zhenhui 2001). Lectures, discussion and worksheets appeal to the left hemisphere. Educators traditionally teach to left-brain thinking. However, the right hemisphere is more creative and better at imagery activities. Highlighting the creative and emotional side of information can benefit some students and make learning more meaningful. In addition to lectures and discussions, teachers could have students write poems or draw pictures about the material. Similarly to the three learning modalities, varying brain functions should be considered when a teacher plans lessons.
When presenting information, it is important to know the audience, and the same philosophy applies to teaching. The teacher needs to know the audience, the students, especially if social or cultural boundaries are present. Social and cultural differences could hinder learning in the classroom if not properly addressed. Certain activities or interactions may not be acceptable, and therefore, a teacher should know the tendencies of the students, which can vary tremendously by culture. The classroom will be a more successful environment if the learning style and teaching style match (Kang 2005). Learning styles of different cultures should be noted.
For an English language teacher in East Asia, it is imperative to understand the typical learning styles of the students so that cultural differences do not obstruct learning. East Asian classrooms tend to be centered around the teacher or books, with an emphasis on memorization and logically analyzing material. There is a prominence of left-brain thinking with stress on rules and sequential, linear thought. Students are generally very visually adapted, less verbal, and shy. It may be difficult for teachers to elicit information from students, as they are less willing to take risks and make guesses. In an East Asian classroom, it is important for teachers to frequently use visual aids, give explicit instructions, and give students time to analyze the material. All learning styles should be taught to students, but knowing which styles students are most receptive to can increase success in the classroom. Diversity in the classroom is extremely important. No two students are the same, and they should not be treated as if they are. By varying teaching styles, the teacher can create a more successful learning environment. Students will retain more information if information is presented in a number of different ways. A dynamic classroom engages students and is more effective.
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Hirst, Lois A. and Slavik, Christy. ?Cooperative Approaches to Language Learning.? Effective Language Education Practices and Native Language Survival. 1990. 30 Nov. 2006. <http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~jar/NALI10l>.
Kang, Shumin. ?Learning Styles: Implications for ESL/EFL Instruction.? 2005. 30 Nov. 2006. <http://exchanges.state.gov/forum/vols/vol37/no4/p6>.
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Author: Rachel Swenson
Date of post: 2007-01-08