Discuss the 3 learning styles with your students before they actually fill out the inventory. Make sure that the kids understand these points:
1. One out of every three people in any population is either visual, auditory or tactile.
2. Visual learners prefer to process information logically by reading and writing. They prefer visual tasks in school.
3. Auditory learners don’t often feel very comfortable in a school environment because they prefer to learn with their ears and, except for my class and maybe a music class, there aren’t too many auditory classes for them to take in most schools.
4. Tactile/kinesthetic learners prefer to work with their hands and do things that involve moving their bodies or manipulating things. They have a hard time with the visual learning that is going on all around them. I that tactile learners become surgeons and auto mechanics, people who build things, etc. but that while they are in school it is not always a good “fit” for them.
This discussion whets their appetite. They want to know what kind of learner they are. This is the time when you can explain the following points to them, so that they understand how they fit into your language classroom as beginning language students with different learning styles:
1. Students with high visual scores can understand why they may process your speech slower than others in class.
2. The faster (more auditory) processors in the classroom get to occupy a spotlight that in most of their other classes was denied to them by the visual learners. This is good for them.
3. The kids with high tactile scores are relieved to know that there is nothing wrong with them and that their squirminess can be explained by their natural learning style and not by the fact that something is wrong with them.
After your students take the inventory, the main point to stress with them is that even if their visual or tactile learning style conflicts with your auditory teaching style, they can adapt. Make it into a fun game and make them understand fully that you are going to do all you can to make yourself understood by them. Tell them that all they have to do is to try to understand your words and that if they just do that one thing you will make sure that they get either an A or a B in your class, because they are trying, but that you have to see via their observable non-verbal behaviors that they are in fact trying.
It is very important that each child who is not an auditory learner in a CI classroom know that the reason they may feel uncomfortable is NOT because they can’t learn as well as the auditory learners, but because they simply haven’t yet found the “right part of their brain”. Challenge them to do that. When they know what the challenge is, they respond.
Doing the Learning Style Inventories with the kids also serves as a community-building activity because that is exactly what the learning styles inventory does, and often in just a few days. You will see the difference when you do this activity properly.
First you need an inventory. You can find them online. I prefer the simplest ones. They get the job done. Here is an example:
Once the students have filled out the inventory – which only takes 20 minutes or so because you have chosen one that is simple – I then spend up to two class periods discussing the inventories in an open forum environment. Of course, shy kids are exempt from the discussion. As you well know, certain kids love to talk about themselves in class and others shy away from such discussions. But because of the often riveting nature of these discussions, even the shy kids eventually want your input on their scores.
Some inventories don’t just provide the students with their dominant learning style, but also give them a score. If you use an inventory that does that, the score may reveal that a certain student has, for example, a visual score of 28, an auditory score of 40 and a tactile/kinesthetic score of 36. Obviously, this is a kid who would not do well with worksheets.
Another student may have a visual score of 44, an auditory score of 20 and a tactile/kinesthetic score of 12. This kid could do worksheets all day and ask for some extra ones for something to do that evening.
Once the inventories have been completed, open up the floor for discussion. The more vocal kids are going to want to call out their numbers at this point, but don’t let them. Why?
It is best to try to guess their numbers yourself. Turn it into a guessing game. They love this. If you are wrong, they especially love it. But if you get lucky and are right, they tend to believe in the inventory more and take your message about learning styles more seriously.
Actually, if you wait long enough to give the inventory, at least until enough weeks have passed by for you to observe how each of them learns, you can guess their learning style with amazing accuracy. Given enough time teaching the kid, I have been able guess the right score of certain students with amazing accuracy, to the delight of all, but mainly my own.
How does this guessing game work? Look at the student whose score you are guessing, put your hand on your chin, look up at the ceiling and say, for example, “OK, Jonathan, you scored a 30 on visual, a 28 on auditory and a 40 on tactile”. This would obviously be a tactile learner from what you’ve observed so far in the class. How does this affect Jonathan?
For one thing, Jonathan and how he learns becomes the subject of class discussion – the message is that he is an important part of the classroom community. Secondly, other students start to see his fidgety behavior in class as just the way he learns and not as something “bad”.
Fellow students who may have been judging Jonathan might pause and reflect about that, maybe feeling some compassion and even developing some empathy. When they start to see that all people don’t learn in the same way, they may also begin to understand that not all of their school experiences should be about looking and memorizing, and that maybe that’s not the way life is outside of school. This gives some of them hope.
Your frank explanation of the Jonathan’s scores to him and the class might sound something like this:
“Jonathan, did you know that people who learn by touching things and working with their hands are very useful in society? Tactile learners become surgeons or mechanics or agricultural workers or servers or other things like that that play very important roles in our society.”
But then you add, after making the compliment: “Now in my class the way you succeed is by listening, as we’ve discussed before in class. So, your challenge in my class this year is to try to maybe shift your high tactile score of 40 with your auditory score of 28, just in my class.
When you tell a student, “Wow! you tested out as a highly visual learner, so obviously this class is going to be more of a challenge for you than a highly auditory learner like Mikey over there! I’m glad I know this now. Since you tested as high visual/ kinesthetic I am going to try to slow down and make myself as clear as I can in class so that I do a good job of helping you understand. Then we can work together to make sure that you do well in my class. That’s my promise.”
With one super auditory learner, I did this and looked right at her and said, “Your visual score is 16.” I was right and immediately everybody wanted me to guess their scores. The hardest one to guess is the visual score, because schools try to turn everybody into visual learners.
What is your message to your students here? It is that, although you respect how the child learns, that you also expect him to respect how you teach and so they are going to do what they can to adjust their learning style to your teaching style. It shows that you are the boss in the classroom, but that you respect your students as well.
It also teaches the visually dominant learners, some of whom have already complained to their parents about how you don’t use worksheets – which sometimes causes some of the uninformed helicopter parents to go ballistic – that your use of auditory methods is not negotiable in your classroom.
The message arrives within a context of what is best for the class and not what is best for any one student who happens to be good at doing worksheets and who thinks that – just because they dominate their other classes because they are good memorizers –they get to dominate your class as well.
That is a very poor message to send to students about life, that only certain kinds of people get to win. And yet it is a message that some teachers send out on a daily basis to our students, in subtle and less subtle ways. The diversity and inclusion and belonging piece is the subject of another book, however.
As the kids listen and start to make sense out of this activity, what happens? Your students get to know each other. Kids whose learning style conflicts with the auditory learning you do in your classroom start to understand things better.
They are learning that the class is about listening, and since in schools this knowledge is probably new to them – that people don’t all learn in the same visual way – they begin to see a valid need for adjusting how they learn to your teaching style of using CI.
The result is that you get to know your students better, and they get to know each other and themselves as students better. The entire process builds trust in the classroom and brings increased student engagement.
We can always get to know our kids better. They are so good at hiding behind their faces. But by devoting those few classes to the Learning Styles Inventory towards the beginning of the year, things change.
An interesting and unmistakable result of doing the inventories is that our instruction seems to bring more trust into our instruction. This seems to happen after we do the inventory. I think it’s a result of having just spoken , in a positive way so openly about how different students learn in different ways.
Some other points to reflect on about learning styles inventories are:
1. You can learn lots of valuable information about your class makeup. In one small class of about 15 students made up largely of boys, 70% of the class was tactile but only two of them presented that way – the others had learned to quell their need to fidget either through self-discipline or it was done for them pharmaceutically. So, when you at least acknowledge those things in class, it is huge for them. The students know that you know them and care about how they learn and that you care about their success in your class. They begin to see you as on their side.
2. Greater appreciation of students who are different in any way occurs. In one case, one of the best students in all of my classes was – at the time I discovered it – failing many of her other classes. She was just not a visual learner and had just given up. But when we bridged the topic of how great she was doing in my class, and how it was connected to her learning style, the look on her face and on the faces of the others in class was worth becoming a teacher for. The kids came to a greater appreciation of the fact that not all students – and their teachers – learn and teach in the same way. Her face shone with pride as she was finally recognized for something that she was good at. Because of the inventory, she understood that she was not stupid, countering a message that she had received for years from visual teachers who required large amounts of memorization in the visual learning environments that we call schools. The biggest outcome of this new knowledge for this girl, however, was when she became one of the most outstanding artists we had creating drawings all that year. We turned a negative into a positive. That’s what good teachers do.
3. When I see that a student doesn’t understand me in class, I can make eye contact with them and maybe whisper in English something reminding them that they are a visual learner stuck in my auditory environment, so they really have to try harder in my class. This helps them put things into perspective.
4. Doing the inventory takes away any personal resentment the visual learner might have towards me, as they come to understand that it isn’t me who is trying to hamper them, but the way they process information that is what needs to change.
5. It is a great thing to have these inventories next to my printed grades for parent conferences, because it immediately takes away any oppositional energy that the parent might have. In a parent meeting, as soon as I say, in a lighthearted way with a big smile on my face, something like, “So, your child is a visual learner trapped in an auditory environment!” It’s a good conversation starter for a parent conference.
6. If the parent is one of the types who seems to know more than you about teaching languages, at that point you can go right to your two big ACTFL guns – that the standard in WL education is Communication and that the research says that people acquire languages primarily via listening, and that:
– you as a teacher are now required by your national parent organization (ACTFL) to speak the language most of the time in the classroom.
– their child is probably very talented at learning via listening, but just needs some practice at it and an open mind to accept that this one class is going to require her to learn in a completely different way from the learning style that she uses in her other classes, except possibly in her music and, if she is lucky, her art classes.
– the Communication Standard is never going to revert to the old visual model that once propped up foreign language pedagogy in the United States.