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Jul 2003 Vol. 7   No. 2  

........   LEARNING ISSUES   ........
To Each His Own
Ms Chew Moh Leen
Lecturer, Centre for English Language Communication

To each his own, people always say; one student would gleefully jump into any group activity while another would drag his feet to join one. As an English language teacher in the Science Faculty, I constantly witness that not every student is enthusiastic about the same classroom tasks. For me to design activities that cater to my students’ classroom needs effectively, I must know their learning style preferences (Kinsella, 1995; Reid, 1995). Additionally, when students understand their personal learning style preferences, they can exploit their strengths and compensate for their weaknesses in any learning situation (Gardner & Jewler, 2000).

In my search for a tool to assess students’ learning style preferences, Joy Reid’s (1995, p. 202) Perceptual Learning Style Preference Questionnaire stood out as the perfect device for my purpose because it discusses four sensory learning styles, visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic, and two social learning styles, individual and group, in relation to learning English. These learning styles are defined as follows:

  • Visual Learners like to see words/pictures and often work alone before discussion with others.

  • Auditory Learners like to hear the spoken word through debates, individual conferences and small group discussions.

  • Tactile Learners like to touch and prefer hands-on activities (e.g. building models, doing laboratory experiments).

  • Kinesthetic Learners like experiential learning, and prefer physical activities (e.g. field trips, role-play, drama).

  • Individual Learners like to work alone and prefer self-directed study, independent reading and computer work.

  • Group Learners like group interaction, and prefer social activities (e.g. games, role-play).

The Assessment of Learning Styles

384 Joy Reid’s Perceptual Learning Style Preference Questionnaire forms, collected from 1996 to 2001, were used for this assessment. The questionnaire categorises Science students as having major, minor and negligible learning styles in their study of English. Curious to know whether students perceive themselves as using the same learning styles to study their content subjects, I posed this question to them: “Do you use different styles/strategies when studying subjects other than English?”

The Results and Interpretations

  • Preference Mean: The chart shows that NUS Science students are major kinesthetic learners, and are close to being major visual, auditory, tactile, group and individual learners. Perhaps Science students favour such learning modes because they have to sit in lectures and tutorials to view (visual) what is on the screen/white-board, listen (auditory) to lecturers/tutors expound subject matters, move about/be involved (kinesthetic) in group work, and use their hands (tactile) to do projects and laboratory experiments. All this could predispose them to adopting the same learning styles when learning English.

    If such reasoning holds, then what students indicated as their learning styles in studying English should correspond to those they use in studying other subjects. Therefore, I expected most students to say “No” to the use of different styles/strategies to studying subjects other than English. However, this is not so according to the following data.

  • Do Students Change Their Preferred Styles/Strategies?: The table below shows that more students (43%) claimed they change their learning styles when they study different subjects, compared to 25% who do not and to 32% who could not decide. So does the first percentage mean that students actually change their learning styles? Or are they just extending their minor learning styles to exploit their learning experience?

    To resolve these questions, let us consider the learning experience of one of my students. He explained that whenever he had to engage in group work during class, he would get nervous and stutter. I noticed the stuttering; however, I assured him that it did not hamper his communication. He asserted that he did not enjoy group activities because they intensified his fear of making mistakes in public; thus he would stutter even more. Finally, he concluded that it was his fault and he did not expect me to change my teaching style.

Evidently, this student was put in situations where he had to adapt his learning styles to accommodate my teaching style. If I subscribe to what Kinsella (1995) and Oxford (1995) reported that learning styles are people’s natural and preferred way of absorbing and retaining new information which persist across teaching methods and content area, then this student was just tolerating the situations he was in without intending to use group style/strategy again.

I reckon that those students who stated that they change their learning style/strategies when studying different subjects share the same learning experience as this student—their change of learning styles was merely perceived rather than real because they must fit into the flow of each class (each is different arising from the different nature of each subject) to learn even though their learning styles do not match their teachers’ teaching styles. Those who were uncertain about whether they change their learning style/strategies when studying different subjects also concurred that they conform to their teachers’ teaching styles in class, and that was why they could not decide whether they really change their learning styles/strategies in studying different subjects.

Implications for the Teacher

The findings reveal that:

  • Science students are predominantly kinesthetic learners and are nearly major visual, auditory, tactile, group and individual learners;

  • Students’ preferred ways of learning do not change regardless of content and teaching methods; and

  • Students accommodate their teachers’ teaching style in order to learn.

The findings confirm that if I want to significantly enhance student achievements in class, I need to match my teaching style to my students’ learning styles (Felder & Henriques, 1995; Grasha, 1996). This implies that I have to embrace a multi-style teaching approach to connect to each student’s learning style by designing interactive activities to maximise kinesthetic students’ learning potential, and by planning auditory, tactile, visual, group and individual activities to reach other students. The results also tell me that I have to encourage students to expand their learning styles in their study of English and content subjects as each teacher has his/her teaching style which is difficult to change.

Strategies for the Teacher

Hence, my next concern was how to help students use their preferred learning styles to learn best.

  • Helping Students in Studying All Subjects: In studying all subjects, I suggested concrete strategies for students to use and urged them to practise and develop them in creative ways. Lecture/tutorial strategies include preparing tutorial answers with a partner/partners beforehand (group learners), visualising what they are listening to (visual learners) and recording lectures (auditory learners). Study time strategies include reciting information aloud (auditory learners) and getting together with others to discuss assignments (kinesthetic/ group learners). Each learner was encouraged to find that works best for him/her and to try out their less preferred strategies in all their learning circumstances.

  • Helping Students in Studying English in Class: In my classroom teaching, I try to organise tactics to reach each student’s learning needs. For example, in a lesson on idioms, I made each student draw a card that contained either a picture or an idiom; then the students had to look for their matching idiom/picture. When they found their correct match, they gathered in groups to role-play a story based on the idioms they had. This activity benefited the kinesthetic, tactile and group learners as they were required to move about, write, and discuss in groups. It also benefited the visual, auditory and individual learners as they had to listen and read text/see pictures.

    In another attempt to stimulate students to capitalise on their learning styles, I placed a toy dinosaur that could walk on my desk just before a listening and speaking lesson on why dinosaurs are extinct. This was to motivate the visual and individual learners to think prior to the lesson. Kinesthetic, tactile and group learners had to expand their learning styles by seeing and hearing the lesson.

A Final Note

Since knowing that students learn in various styles, I have begun to adopt a multi-style teaching approach in class to enhance students’ learning. I do not stick to my desired style of teaching anymore; I have to constantly adapt and develop classroom tasks so as to cater to each student’s different learning needs, eventually satisfying to each his own.

References

Felder, R.M. & Henriques, E.R. (1995). ‘Learning and Teaching Styles in Foreign and Second Language Education’. Foreign Language Annals, Vol. 28, No. 1, pp. 21–31.

Gardner, John N. & Jewler, A. Jerome. (2000). Your College Experience: Strategies for Success (4th ed.). Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing Company.

Grasha, A.F. (1996). Teaching with Style: A Practical Guide to Enhancing Learning by Understanding Teaching and Learning Styles. Alliance Publishers, International Alliance of Teacher Scholars, Inc.

Kinsella, K. (1995). ‘Understanding and Empowering Diverse Learners in ESL Classrooms’. In J.M.Reid (Ed.), Learning Styles in the ESL/EFL Classroom. Boston: Heinle & Heinle. pp. 170–195.

Oxford, R.L. (1995). ‘Gender Differences in Language Learning Styles: What Do They Mean?’ In J.M. Reid (Ed.), Learning styles in the ESL/EFL classroom, Boston: Heinle & Heinle. pp. 34–46.

Reid, J.M. (Ed.). (1995). Learning Styles in the ESL/EFL Classroom. Boston: Heinle & Heinle.

 

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