Diversity in Teaching and Learning Styles

Article Published in MiraCosta College Noncredit ESL Department Newsletter, Fall 2014

Include a variety of activities in our lesson plans to prepare students for the many different teaching styles they may experience in the United States:
  • Cooperative Learning is a natural fit with the communicative tasks we have students do and by assigning roles that suit students’ personalities, we can highlight students’ strengths. However, consider also assigning roles later in the term that put students a bit out of their comfort zones so that students can develop their weaker areas (for example, having a student who fears speaking in front of the class be the group reporter).
  • While in ESL, pair and small group communicative practice activities take up a large portion of class time, experience with traditional lecture will help students learn active listening and note-taking skills that they will need later in their educations and in the workplace. Prepare note-taking forms in which students fill in missing information from your presentation.
  • If particular students are reluctant to participate by volunteering answers to questions posed to the whole class, we can give students the opportunity to rehearse their answers in think-pair-share activities.
  • Have students use manipulatives (flashcards, for example) or get up and walk around to conduct surveys, questionnaires, etc., to engage kinesthetic learners.

Cooperative Learning
Five Elements of Cooperative Learning (original source http://edtech.kennesaw.edu/intech/cooperativelearning.htm)
"Reaching English Language Learners through Cooperative Learning" - Internet TESL Journal
Cooperative Learning Activities Wiki
Cooperative Learning Activities (DePaul Teaching Commons)

Educational Differences
Understanding your International Students: An Educational, Cultural, and Linguistic Guide, University of Michigan Press (ask me if you'd like to borrow it)

VARK Learning Styles Assignment for Intermediate/Advanced ESL students


Of the many online learning style inventories, one that I have used with students with success is the free VARK (Visual, Aural, Read/Write, Kinesthetic) questionnaire . I have found it to be written at a level that is easy enough for intermediate and above level ESL students to use, and through its 16 questions, it can be used quickly to measure learning style preferences in these areas: Visual (V), Aural/Auditory (A), Reading/Writing (R), and Kinesthetic (K) – see descriptions at VARK Modalities. There is also a version for younger students, which could be adapted and use with lower-level ESL students. Additionally, there are versions that are printable and translated into many languages on the Using VARK page .) Its focus is on study habits and skills more than personality traits, and what I like most about this inventory is that there are “Helpsheets” that explain to students how to develop their less-preferred learning modalities.

Learning Styles Project assignment -- can be downloaded for use in any course. Students summarize their preferred learning style(s) and make a learning goal for developing their less frequently used learning styles and studying habits.

There are several other online learning style inventories that students can be assigned to take, as well as various descriptions of learning styles. Don Clark's Learning Styles Web page provides an overview of some of the research regarding learning styles in general and has links to and descriptions of inventories that include VAK (Visual, Aural, Kinesthetic), Kolb, Myers-Briggs (MBTI), and Gardner's Multiple Intelligences.

Other free online learning style inventories students could be assigned to take include the following:
  • Free Learning Styles Inventoryfrom learning-styles-online.com with seven pages of ten questions per page in the dimensions of Visual (spatial), Aural (auditory-musical), Verbal (linguistic), Logical (mathematical), Physical (kinesthetic), Social (interpersonal), and Solitary (intrapersonal) (Note: You must supply a name and e-mail address to get your results.)
  • ILS- Index of Learning Styles Questionnaire - 44 questions scored online with results provided in the dimensions of active/reflective, sensing/intuitive, visual/verbal, sequential/global

For your own professional development and an opportunity to reflect on your teaching, try the following:
  1. Answer these questions: Have you ever taken a learning styles inventory before? What were the results? If you have never taken a learning styles inventory before, what do you predict to be your preferred learning modality?
  2. First, ask yourself how you would characterize your teaching style. Do your classroom actions, methods, and techniques fit with your description? There are some online assessments you can take to find out:
  • Quality Enhancement Project: SAILS Project Teaching Styles Assessmentfrom Roane State Community College
  • If you teach or plan to teach online, the teaching styles quiz at Teaching Stylescan help you determine your teaching type: formal authority, demonstrator or personal model, facilitator, or delegator. The Grasha-Riechmann Teaching Style Surveyprovides similar results
  • The free Teaching Perspectives Inventorytouts itself as a valuable tool for teachers to use in creating a teaching portfolio, to use for reflection, and to research and learn about different teaching perspectives and approaches. You do need to register to take the online assessment, the results of which will indicate your main perspective on what makes for effective teaching: transmission, apprenticeship, developmental, nurturing, or social reform
3. Complete the VARK Learning Styles Inventoryand/or take one of the other online learning style inventories listed.
4. After you view your results and the descriptions, how do you think your preferred learning style affects your instruction? How will your results inform your teaching? Plan at least one idea, activity, or technique to use in class that can meet a variety of preferred learning styles.

Active Listening / Note-taking (Materials)
American Education Lecture (PowerPoint)
Note-taking Guide
Comparison/Contrast Paragraph (Education Systems) Writing Prompt
(Note: The book Understanding your International Students: An Educational, Cultural, and Linguistic Guide information on educational policy, teaching style, learning style, instructional setting, discipline and class management, teacher-student relationship, student-student relationship, protocol/etiquette and culture for many countries.)

Parts of Speech - Adverbs - Lecture (PowerPoint) and Note-taking Guide

Verb Tenses - Past and Past Continuous - Interactive Lecture (PowerPoint) and Note-taking Guide



Other Resources:
  • “Teach to Students' Learning Styles” on Everything ESL.net- tips for teaching to preferred learning styles, particularly for ESL teachers
  • The University of Hawaii’s Faculty Development Teaching Tips Index- Links to many ESL and Basic Skills related topics (How People Learn – including another learning styles inventory; Adult Learning; Theories of Learning; Learning Domains; Active Learning; Teaching Millennial, Baby-Boomers, and Other Generations, and much more)