Thomas sat patiently while I logged onto the school network. He must have been wondering why he had agreed to join our professional development day on the topic of learning styles. Thomas was a bright 10 year old who was secure enough to put his trust in someone who said, “Don’t worry, this won’t hurt”. I found the Centre for Creative Learning website and Thomas proceeded to complete the junior questionnaire while all the teachers focussed on the large screen image cast by the data projector. When all questions were answered Thomas rejoined his mum who was waiting in the staffroom.
As a school we had been working with the idea of learning styles for some time and were just moving into an on-line analysis for selected groups. One teacher had taken her class through all the questions in preparation by gathering the children together in the hall which was divided into sections by benches. A lot of learning had previously taken place to raise pupil awareness about the areas covered in the questionnaire because for some pupils it was a novel experience to think whether they preferred certain learning conditions to others.
The moment came to retrieve Thomas’ learning style analysis and what followed was one of those moments that happen only too rarely.
“That’s not Thomas”, remarked one teacher when the first part of the profile was framed on the screen.
“Yes it is, that’s just like him”, contradicted another.
I paused the day to reflect on and savour the moment that, as teachers, we might be innocently creating the profile of the young learners around us, and that we were all creating a different profile for the same learner. It had been beautifully illustrated.
The rest of the profile was debated along with the developing understanding of the enormous implications for what we were trying to achieve as a school.
- Clive Cooper, UK
Wayne Thomas - Professional Golf coach, Member for 30 years of Golfers Association of Australia
When I was studying Learning Styles at the Creative Learning Centre in New Zealand under Barbara Prashnig the first thing that occurred for me was a clear understanding why I had experienced so much difficulty at school. I knew I had a capacity to learn but found it very difficult to grasp concepts and was continually falling behind; it was the first time I had not felt inept and was surprised how easy learning could be. Despite the successes I have experienced I know I am a victim of education systems that couldn’t at the time cater for my learning styles: HOW PEOPLE LEARN is definitely more important than what people learn.
Understanding learning styles has unlocked one of the major keys to answering this question giving me new insights into how and why people operate the way they do. As a coach my levels of tolerance and patience has been expanded, combined with new tools and forms of communication I am far more adaptable and flexible to different situations that arise as a coach and my students now receive a far higher level of coaching than I could provide without this understanding.
Another school year has passed and on reflection I have to say that...the students have come a very long way in a short time. Ten months ago the group of 18 students had no concept of baking or even an idea what to expect in this course. Fourteen students made it to the final assessment and completed all successfully.
And what a result it was – fantastic artworks and baked goods of the highest standard – all done without further instructions from me
I guess that the use of learning style techniques played a large role in this amazing development of the students. They could learn and work on their own, in pairs or in a larger group. The learning was often self-guided, mostly student-centred and took place in their own time during the day; this was a chance for students who otherwise would have fallen through the cracks.
We utilized music for learning, koosh ball sessions, different light levels in classrooms, water and food when needed, visual stimulation and lots of hands-on practice. Throughout the school year I checked the recall of theoretical content every session to verify where the students were and nearly all of them were always on task. The students are all delighted about their exam success and it will be an amazing new start for many in an industry where quality standards and creative ability are vital...there are no boundaries to achieve excellence.
Another benefit of our LSA training has been its use to help individual students from outside the target group. When students are referred to me with particularly challenging behavior, or in need of a study programme, I always begin with their LSA. This then forms the basis of advice I provide the classroom teachers with, about how to better engage the student, or to the students to help them better understand their learning needs and thus develop more positive attitudes.
‘Like for the “global” people, he’ll say “This is what the finished thing looks like” and for the “analytical” people, he’ll go through the stages step by step.’
‘If we hadn’t done the LSA, the teacher probably would have done things the way he does it, but now that he knows how we are, he does it how we learn best.’
‘Like if it’s not fun for us, it’s probably fun for someone else in our class...one day we have fun another we don’t but somebody else has fun, so we keep quiet’
‘I could done just done a poster, but I like making things that are “different”. So I put it on a T-shirt.’
Students acted out their stresses by bullying each other physically and emotionally, were abusive to staff, destroyed each others’ work, and did not know how to accept or handle praise. They were angry about anything and everything, and their behaviours were a long and loud cry for help. It was not possible to implement a workable behaviour management programme as the children would not accept any consequences for their actions. I spent much of my days managing the fallout from the classrooms, and learning about the depth of poverty, helplessness, the lack of experiences, the anger, the low self-esteem and lack of confidence that existed in our students.
We could not display work anywhere in the school or in classes as it got torn from the walls, and eyes were scratched out of photographs.
All of the above is recognized at the end of year celebrations where our traditional school cups are presented and 22 miniatures are presented to worthy recipients.
The teacher found the noise level in her classroom often got too loud to teach small groups effectively. Frequent reminders to students about the volume of noise proved to only be a temporary measure for reducing the noise level. She decided to carry out research to gain an understanding of how and why sound affects learning.
As a result of completing the research, the teacher planned a unit of work for the class which focused on sound and learning.
The teacher also carried out an analysis to determine each student's preferred learning style. The Learning Style Analysis questionnaire was used for this.
The students used the knowledge they had gained from the unit to redesign the classroom. Quiet and noisy areas were set up.
The research carried out by the teacher provided her with a better understanding of how and why sound affects learning. It also enabled her to identify her own learning preferences in relation to sound. For example, she discovered that she required little or no noise when concentrating on new or different tasks.
The learning style analysis carried out on each student confirmed in most cases what the teacher had observed in the classroom. The fair test set up in the classroom proved to be an effective way of helping the students become aware of their noise/sound level preferences.
The students developed and shared some creative solutions for setting up a classroom in which everyone's sound/noise level preferences were catered for. Many of their ideas proved ineffective or unworkable for a variety of reasons. Evaluating each stage of the process proved important in addressing this issue. The teacher and students found it difficult to set the classroom up in a way that would cater effectively for all noise/sound preferences. This was limited by the small amount of classroom space, the resources available, and the multiple use of areas in the classroom.
A significant positive outcome of the experience was the understandings students gained of their own learning environment preferences (in relation to noise). They were able to articulate the type of environment they wanted to be in when they were working or something new or difficult. The experience provided them with a foundation for understanding what they needed to do to help themselves learn more effectively, and why it will help them.
Since the learning experience took place, the students were quick to remind the teacher and others if their noise/sound level preference was not being catered for. This led to interesting discussions about tolerance and flexibility.