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We all learn differently. Okay, so you already knew that.
Some of us are visual learners. Others learn better by reading or listening.
Over the past several years, educators have sought to identify their students’ singular learning styles, and then train them how to use their specific styles to their advantage.
While this approach is well intentioned, it’s also a mistake, says education expert, speaker, and author Peter DeWitt.
In a recent post on his Education Week blog “Finding Common Ground,” DeWitt argues that labelling students with one particular learning style unnecessarily discourages them from pursuing others, which in turn boxes them into one particular way of learning.
Instead, DeWitt posits, educators should focus on teaching students different learning strategies to make them more adaptable, and encourage them to grow in how they learn.
That, of course, will require teachers who understand effective learning strategies and a support system that encourages students to take a chance on new approaches.
Style vs. strategy
Labelling a student based on a learning style automatically places them in a box, says DeWitt.
As he writes in his post:
It’s not that we don’t have preferred methods of learning, but too often our students are boxed in by their learning styles as if they didn’t have more than one. … It became a big issue because students, and their parents and teachers, began to believe that students only had one way of preferred learning which prevented them from strengthening other styles of learning.
Instead of focusing solely on how a student learns and working from there, DeWitt says we should provide students with tools that encourage them to learn in different ways.
He identifies four types of strategies, based on the work of education experts John Hattie and Gregory Donoghue:
- Cognitive: Strategies to deepen understanding of a subject. Think: Making students elaborate on what they’ve learned.
- Metacognitive: Strategies to help students understand how they learn and what they need to do to be effective. Think: Helping students plan ahead.
- Motivational: Strategies that motivate students to learn. Think: Instilling in students the confidence that they can accomplish a task.
- Management: Strategies to make sure students work efficiently. Think: Finding the right resources for learning.
Of course, within each category, there are hundreds of ways to help students learn — and, students will have varying success using each one.
At their core, learning strategies instill in students what Hattie and Donoghue label the “skill, will, and thrill” of learning. That means that, before a new lesson, students have the skills they need, the proper mindset to make sure learning happens, and the motivation to deepen their understanding.
A community effort
New learning strategies don’t get adopted overnight.
But, if you do want to make a meaningful change in your students’ learning, consider focusing on strategies rather than style.
What does that mean for your district?
First, it means making sure your teachers are well-versed in the learning strategies that will help their students succeed. Do you cover the newest learning strategies in your professional development sessions?
Next, it means equipping parents to support the learning strategies at home. That means you need to better engage with parents about your new approach.
Most importantly, students need to understand that implementing new strategies will take time, and they might get frustrated.
Before you introduce anything new, make sure parents and students know why the changes are being made—and that they see the potential benefits.
Have you recently implemented new learning strategies in your classroom? How’d it go? Tell us in the comments.
Looking to introduce new learning approaches in your school? Make sure your teachers have the support they need.