How many times have you heard your students say: I don't get this; this is too hard; or this doesn't make any sense? How many times do you feel you've said the same thing over and over again, but your students just aren't getting it? Or the lesson that made sense to students last year, last quarter, last week, or last period inexplicably doesn't make sense to your present group of learners? The culprit in all of these frustrating scenarios could very well be the vast array of learning styles sitting before you. The blank stares may all look the same, but the thoughts churning behind them are happening in many different ways. Your frustration when students don't get it is matched by their frustration when a teacher doesn't give it in a way that they can understand.
One of the trickiest hurdles of teaching is being able to convey your curriculum in a variety of ways to insure that all students are able to grasp the concepts. While Eddie could get it all down by hearing about it, Shelby may need to map it out on a flow chart, and Carly will finally get it by building a model. When we're planning lessons and creating experiences for our students, it's important to keep learning styles in mind. Students may learn best through auditory, visual, or kinesthetic activities, but exposure to all three will make them more successful in the long run. A style that isn't their strong suit may present more of a challenge, but it will also give students an opportunity to tackle the material in an additional way to help solidify the concept. Adding variety to lessons challenges us as teachers to step out of our learning style comfort zone to create diverse experiences for our students.
A fantastic tool for reaching all types of learners is the graphic organizer. One student may fill the page with writing, another may just need to see a logical foundation for his/her ideas, and another may need to chop up the design and manipulate the pieces to have it all make sense. Regardless, taking the time to introduce students to multiple organizers is a beneficial cross-curricular tool. Sites like edHelper offer a multitude of free organizers1 to meet any curriculum's needs!
As students get older, they become more aware of their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to learning styles. There are certainly a bevy of surveys and quizzes that can offer them insight into what makes them tick. From Myers-Briggs2 to Edutopia's survey of multiple intelligences3, there are a multitude of resources for self-reflection at their disposal. Offering students the opportunity to explore new concepts in a variety of ways will significantly reduce any Blank Stare Syndrome that may be overtaking the classroom. I was beating my head against the wall one year trying to get across the difference between linking verbs and action verbs. A verbal grammar lesson worked for some, circling and arrows worked for others, but when I brought in "Linking Logs" and "Action Boy" as props, it finally hit home for most. Seeing a Lincoln Log connecting the subject to something that followed the verb or determining if Action Boy could perform the task turned on those last few bulbs. No matter what subject you teach, variety is key, and sometimes a grammar superhero can save the day!
Additional Resources & Works Cited
1. edHelper Graphic Organizers
2. Myers-Briggs Type Indicator on Wikipedia
3. Edutopia Learning Styles Survey
By Lani Aquino