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A matter of style. To the young ESL teacher,
To the young ESL teacher, seven-year-old Bobby seems inattentive and unmotivated. He cannot sit at his desk for five seconds and absolutely refuses to follow the logical, sequential steps she lays out for each assignment. She has tried lots of ideas to make her lessons more interesting, however, what she does not realize is that Bobby is an abstract random learner in a concrete sequential classroom. In other words, the teacher does not understand the way that Bobby takes in and processes information. There are at least four major learning styles and a number of other components that influence human learning ability. It follows then, that if teachers can understand and accommodate for a variety of learning styles, they can increase productivity of learning time.
Although a number of researchers have made useful proposals concerning the components of learning styles, two key factors for understanding the learning process include methods of perceiving information and methods of processing information. One learning styles model proposed by Dr. Anthony F Gregore and further extrapolated by the founder of Learning Styles Unlimited, Cynthia Ulrich Tobias, claims that people perceive new information either concretely or abstractly and process it either sequentially or randomly. Concrete perception concerns itself with literal understanding of tactile evidence, while abstract perception involves understanding based on internal intuitive and imaginative reasoning (Tobias 14-15). However people receive the information, some people will process it step by step in a logical, or sequential manner until they reach the goal, while others collect information in random clumps until they gather the big picture (Tobias 16). These methods of receiving and processing information lend to four combinations of learning styles. Concrete sequential learners tend to work systematically through 'literal interpretations,' while abstract sequential learners tend to 'work through issues thoroughly' using 'well-researched information' (Tobias 2). Abstract random learners like 'broad principles' and 'personalized learning', and concrete random learners prefer 'using insight and instinct to solve problems' (Tobias 23). A mismatch between teacher and student learning styles often leads to unproductive learning time.
Certainly, though, teachers cannot develop a separate lesson plan tailored to each student. Well-respected educational psychologists Linda Silverman and Richard M. Felder observe in their dimensions of learning proposal that they know of 32 (25) combinations of learning styles, and it would be daunting to accommodate them all (675). However, by balancing teaching strategies to match the four general learning styles outlined above as well as all of the audio, visual, and kinesthetic modalities, a teacher can help the majority of students understand the lesson, commit it to memory, and be able to use it. Additionally, as Student Affairs Chancellor Charles C. Schroeder observed in the new students flooding to the University of Missouri-Columbia, the demographics of certain courses of study tend toward certain learning styles as researched using the Myers-Brings Type Indicator (6-10). For example, engineering students tend to be more concrete (Felder and Silverman 676), while language students tend to be more abstract (Felder and Henrinques 22). In required courses, however, student learning-styles tend to run 60 percent concrete to 40 percent abstract thinkers (Schroeder 7). By offering activities that appeal to each of the four general learning styles and observing what percent of the class succeed in each activity, a teacher can ascertain the classroom learning style demographics and balance lesson plans accordingly to maximize learning effectiveness.
Some additional suggestions for balancing learning styles in the classroom as provided by Felder in his paper 'Learning and Teaching Styles in Foreign and Second Language Education include the following: 'Motivate leaning . . . in situations to which the students can relate in terms of their personal and career experiences . . .' or ' Balance structured teaching approaches that emphasize formal training with more open-ended unstructured activities that emphasis conversation and cultural contexts of the target language' (28). Another suggestion to better understand learning styles would be to study additional material such as Dr. Gardner's multiple intelligence theory or Herman Witkin's analytic or global theory. In the long run, whatever information on learning styles a teacher utilizes enhances the students' ability to learn, which is, after all, the point of teaching.
Felder, Richard M. and Eunice R. Henriques. 'Learning and Teaching Styles in Foreign and Second Language Education.' Foreign Language Annals. Spring 1995. 21-31. 26 Oct. 2006.
Felder, Richard M. and Linda Silverman. 'Learning and Teaching Styles in Engineering Education.' Engineering Education. 1988. 674- 681. 26 Oct. 2006. .
Schroeder, Charles C. New Students'New Learning Styles. (2004): 30 pars. U of Missouri-Columbia. 26 Oct. 2006. .
Tobias, Cynthia Ulrich. The Way They Learn: How to Discover and Teach to Your Child's Strengths. Colorado Springs: Focus on the Family, 1994