Parents know that all children are unique, and more and more
research is being done into the unique ways each child learns and
processes information. Schools are responding to the challenge by
creating classrooms that appeal to a variety of learning styles so
that all students are engaged and learning.
That boys and girls have different learning styles is no
surprise. "Boys do learn differently than girls, and each student
has his own unique learning style. The 'cookie cutter' approach to
teaching and learning does not work. The 'one size fits all'
philosophy does not work either," explains Tim Viands, headmaster
at Grand River Academy, a boys' college prep boarding school in
The approach to the student as an individual is key to
accommodating various learning styles.
"We are not bound by preconceived notions as to how all children
will learn. We are able to reach each child in his own way because
we teach individuals, not whole groups," says Agnes Guerra, a
directress at Brickton Montessori School.
She works with kids 3 to 6 years olds who already display a wide
range of learning styles. While some of her students display a
clear preference for learning one specific way very early on,
others are more flexible.
As students age, their learning styles become more obvious. At
Grand River Academy, each student is assessed so that his learning
style can be identified.
"In any given class, students may be writing notes,
supplementing notes, teaching the class in order to show mastery of
the subject, doing homework on the board, and doing homework at the
desk … We also recognize that boys need to move around, as they
perform better on average when standing rather than sitting. They
like participating actively in projects and collaborative learning
rather than being lectured. We provide all of these options."
Parents are often familiar with the idea of people learning
visually, auditorily and kinesthetically.
Howard Gardner's research, however, led him to conclude that
there are nine different approaches to learning. Seventh- and
eighth-graders at Montessori Academy of Chicago learn about
Gardner's nine ways. They give six major presentations throughout
the year and must alternate styles, with each presentation done
using a different intelligence.
Fosca Shackleton White, head of school, explains that Maria
Montessori incorporated the different styles into her method of
education 100 years ago and that, as a result, "students today
experience the intelligences themselves."
She says the Montessori philosophy and approach "applies to so
many learning styles, some are low sensory, some are high sensory.
It applies to all different children because it is an inclusive
style of education. At the end of the day, you need someone who can
be independent and has the internal self-discipline to make a
The Montessori approach also gives students the opportunity to
take ownership of their work. "While a teacher is there to guide
them, students have open avenues to make their learning according
to their own pace and style," says Mehreen Alvi, academic
coordinator at the Intercultural Montessori Language School with
campuses in Chicago and Oak Park. Students at the school learn in
two languages - English and Spanish, Chinese or Japanese. Learning
a language appeals to both visual and auditory learners, but the
school also strives to appeal to other learning styles through
materials and through experiences outside of the classroom.
Teachers incorporated all of those when the students were learning
about zoology, including a trip to Brookfield Zoo where the class
learned about the six animals it had adopted to "bring zoology
Students sometimes need to be encouraged to move out of their
comfort zone and try new classes, which may help them discover ways
of learning. "By encouraging boys to sample a variety of different
electives, they may find a strength or passion that they never knew
they had," says Viands.
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