The pupil becoming the teacher

One of my former eighth grade students is in her junior year and studying education . . . she contacted me via Facebook and asked for my responses to a series of questions in an area I have always had an interest in. I thought it would be something to share . . . so here it is:

Hi Lakeshia . . . I hope I am not too late with this . . . but here goes:

1. How do you figure out the various learning styles of the students?

A. There are a number of ways. The best way is to familiarize yourself with a number of the learning styles theories that exist. Some are stronger and more reliable than others, but understanding the underlying theories in them gives you a well rounded, broad perspective from which to either choose one, or develop your own approach to looking at your students. I would suggest exploring the following individuals ideas about learning styles:

Carl Gustav Jung, David Kolb, Bernice McCarthy, Howard Gardner, Anthony Gregorc, Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers among others . . . not all of these focus on “learning styles” but at a minimum they address issues surrounding the study of learning styles.

as well as reading, at the very least, Education on the Edge of Possibility by Renate Nummela Caine and Geoffrey Caine

2. What do you observe that helps you realize the proper method used to teach various classes?

A. When I was in the classroom I followed some very basic principles that I think are sorely missing in most teachers approach. With each new class I refused to read their cumulative folders at the beginning of the year. I only opened them at the half-way point, unless there was a serious concern. In other words I approached each group with no preconceived notions. I then designed tasks, assignments, and projects during the first two weeks that crossed a wide spectrum of learning styles. I kept track of how each student responded to and completed the activities. It is key to watch the response to the given assignment, this includes facial expression, body language, and enthusiasm – or the lack thereof. This is a key indicator of the type of learning that a given students is drawn to – a first indicator of their prefered learning styles.

A caveat: An educator should never, I mean NEVER, identify a students learning style and then teach to them only in that style – instead all students need to be put into a variety of learning situations so they grow and become well rounded learners . . . but a teacher should always, and I mean ALWAYS, provide within a unit of learning enough opportunities so that all potential learning syles have the chance to learn successfully.

3. How do you keep your students engaged?

A. The quintessential question in education. Here is what I think . . . 1.develop relationships with your students. You develop relationships with people you care about and kids, more than adults, know if you really care about them. 2. Create safe learning environments. A safe learning environment is one where students have the chance to really learn – in their own preferred ways and are challenged to learn in ways that don’t come naturally (and don’t let them off the hook). 3. Give them the safety to ask questions, to challenge you (as the teacher), to disagree with you and each other (respectfully of course), to explore even the most “ridiculous” notion (those are usually the ones that become amazing innovations).

4. Do you believe that students really understand the value in the recognition of their specific learning style(s)?

A. Yes and no. It depends on the student. What I do believe is important in responding to this question is this; Never tell a student what their learning style is! Never test your students for their learning style! As a teacher you can talk about learning and the different ways it happens as part of a beginning of the year presentation and allow them to explore further, to self identify, but never tag them . . . if they want to discover it for themselves you can point them in the direction of information and let them explore it.

5. If a student hasn’t really figured out their learning style, or the importance of it, how do you help them figure it out?

A. Point them in the direction of some good sources of information (Do you remember how I responded to the question, “Mr. T how do you spell . . .” My standard response was the first three letters followed by “Look it up”) Then make sure they know you are more than willing to talk to them about it and explore it – but that you won’t help them “pick” which style they are. Use the Socratic style – keep asking them questions that help them explore.

6. Other than verbal, auditory, and kinesthetic are there other learning styles that you have encountered that are not as typical?

A. I don’t think there is a typical learning style. I also think that rarely a student or teacher can single out one single style. Each student will have a preferred learning style, the place where they are most comfortable and learning seems to come naturally, however, they will be able to identify aspects of other styles that also apply. We are complex individuals and one can not pigeon hole some into one specific box (and this is where my distaste with traditional education comes in – this is my main soap box . . . you can not, EVER, design a learning approach that works for everyone – learning is not a “one size fits all” proposition). You mentioned a number of modalities in your question, this is only one aspect of learning . . . learning is the process of perception and process. We take the experience in and then we do something with it intellectually/mentally and the result of that process allows us then to act upon this new understanding/knowing. (Perception + Processing) x Understanding = innovation, creation, and expression.

Hope that helps a little . . . if it sparks any more questions please ask!

– mrt

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