If we are serious about meeting the learning needs of all students, then don’t we have to know how our students learn best? This question is batted around in educational circles all the time. We discuss the need to know students’ learning styles, but how much effort and resources does a school or teacher put into learning how students learn? I don’t know the answer to this question, but I can say that observing many teachers’ classrooms and knowing something about the budgets of different schools, few resources are allocated to unraveling the learning profiles, learning interests, and learning readiness of each student. It isn’t sufficient to know just one area of a student’s learning preference, we have to know all three before we can expect to fully meet that child’s needs. So what can schools and teachers do?
Drs. Rita and Kenneth Dunn carried out extensive research in how students learn differently. They developed the Dunn and Dunn Model for understanding the different ways students learn that can inform a teacher’s design and implementation of a lesson. There are other models for understanding a student’s learning profile. Using one or a number of them to gain insight into how students learn best can enrich the classroom experience for students. Here are some links for other models to explore.
- Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences
- Sternberg’s Theory on Intelligences
- Kolb Learning Style Inventory
- Peak Performance Center (outlines a variety of models)
The above models look at different aspects of students’ learning preferences or profiles, intelligence frameworks, or ways they approach thinking and problem-solving. While no one model answers all the questions educators might have about their students, any one or combination of them can give us insight into our students’ learning profiles, helping us plan the classroom experience to best meet students’ needs.
Once we understand their learning profiles, we also should hold ourselves accountable for identifying our students’ interests. When learning is connected, meaningful, and relevant to a student, he or she is more likely to engage with the learning activities we design. Design the curriculum with the user, the student, in mind. Here are some resources for thinking about meaning and relevance when designing lessons:
- Edutopia article (click here)
- Educator chat in Education Week (click here)
- Article on the Responsive Classroom (click here)
- Buck Institute of Education post explaining why PBL works (click here)
Another simple way to learn about our students’ interests is to ask them to complete learning interest surveys. Check out this post on Edutopia’s website, Fire Up Your Class With Learning Interest Surveys.
The final aspect of knowing our students well is to understand the level of readiness they bring to the classroom. Once essential way in which teachers can construct knowledge about readiness is through the use of pre-assessments tied to lessons. On the Assessment Network, a website devoted to reporting on assessment practices and listing resources on research-based practices, they write the following in a post entitled, Pre-Assessment: Where Teaching and Learning Begins.
Much of the emerging research on effective teaching and assessing confirms the value of starting where the students are in their sequence and cycle of learning as this is most likely to increase their success. John Hattie, in his research on Visible Learning, found that formative assessment has an effect size of .9, nearly at the top of the list. http://visible-learning.org/hattie-ranking-influences-effect-sizes-learning-achievement/
Students develop knowledge, skills, attitudes and beliefs as they move through their schooling and lives. It is important for teachers to assess prior knowledge, skills, attitudes or beliefs because they can impact whether students are ready to learn the material in the lesson. In some cases, students may already have sufficient baseline knowledge or skills to go beyond where the teacher wants to begin the lesson.
With these three aspects of getting to know our students well in hand, all teachers can meet the needs of all their students, helping them reach their full potential.