Schools teach to a wide range of learning styles

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 Ohio.

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 plan.”

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 alive.”

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.

Part of Making the Grade, a special advertising education guide.

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