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