Student Learning: What You Need to Know Before Creating Your Lesson Plan

Knowing how your students learn best can improve the overall quality of your classroom and their success. In this article the three main types of learning styles will be covered and suggestions for using differentiated instruction.

Before you choose your instructional method, it’s important that you become familiar with your students’ learning styles. Each student is different and ideally should be taught in the way that he or she learns best. Each student should be treated with equality, no student should be pigeonholed or prejudiced, and each student should be encouraged to develop his or her own strengths, interests, and passions. Educators and researchers have recognized different patterns of learning, and students can be placed into different groups based on the way that they learn. These types of learning are referred to as learning styles.

The three main ones are:

1. Visual learners: These are learners who absorb information best through visual stimuli, or by reading.
2. Auditory learners: These are learners who incorporate information best through listening to it.
3. Kinesthetic learners: These are learners who learn through the manipulation of concrete or physical materials.

These are broad groups, including a range of varying factors. Within each group, some students will always learn more quickly than others. Some will require substantial teacher assistance; others will be able to learn more independently. Some learners may belong to two or more learning groups or may perform better by learning through different methods, depending on their stage of development or level of concentration at any particular time.

Students should no longer be viewed along a single linear scale of intelligence, where those succeeding in traditional tests of academic intelligence are the most capable, and those who don’t are considered “slower” or not as bright. Instead, educators should visualize a web of intelligences, where intelligence does not merely represent an IQ level. Teachers must work to incorporate and develop every student’s needs and strengths, with an approach designed to help them achieve their fullest potential. It’s unlikely that any single teaching approach will reach all of a teacher’s students on this web of intelligences. So teachers should incorporate a variety of instructional approaches for any one piece of content.

According to Tomlinson and McTighe, differentiated instruction is based on the following set of beliefs:

• Students of the same age differ in their readiness to learn new topics, their styles of learning, their experiences, and life circumstances.
• Students are more effective learners when classrooms and schools create a sense of community in which students feel significant and respected.
• The differences among students are significant enough to make an impact on what students need to learn, the pace at which they need to learn it, and the support they need from teachers and others to learn it well.
• Students learn best when supportive adults push them slightly beyond their natural limit.
• Students learn best when they can make a connection between the lesson and their own interests, life experiences, and individuality.
• Students learn best when learning opportunities are “natural.”
• Teachers and schools have a responsibility to maximize the capacity of each student.

To put these beliefs into practice, teachers should adjust their approach, presentation, and curriculum where possible to meet their learners’ needs. Teachers should vary instructional methods within any one lesson and adapt them in relation to the diverse range of learners in the classroom.

There are four main areas within teaching that these beliefs will affect. The first is the learning content that the teacher wants to communicate to the students—the explanation or instruction of learning material required by the curriculum. The second is the teaching practice—the types of practice activities that the teacher gives to students after giving them instruction, explanation, and examples. Practice helps students incorporate information. The third teaching area is the product— the work that the students produce, which demonstrates, experiments with, and uses the information that has been effectively taught and practiced. The last teaching area is known as the learning environment—the way the classroom works and feels. The learning environment could also incorporate technology, which may have the added benefit of allowing teachers to monitor all of these aspects.

Two other factors heavily influence the different ways students learn. One is emotional and refers to the responsibility and persistence that the student naturally puts into learning. Emotional factors also include how much supervision, encouragement, and support a teacher will need to provide.

No student, person, or individual will fall perfectly into any one learning style. For students identified as visual learners, for example, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will learn effectively if taught purely through visual techniques. Knowing your students is the best way to determine which styles work best for them.

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