Every student has a different way of learning and expressing the information that has been taught to them. This introduction to learning styles and differentiation kicks off Dialogue magazine's Diversity Series, exploring how to understand and approach these differences in the classroom and what types of methods and activities will suit individual students.
Howard Gardner coined the term Multiple Intelligences first in 1983 to describe the evident fact that there are many different ways that people learn. Some people learn from listening, some from watching and others from doing. People also have different ways to express what they have learned: verbally, kinaesthetically, artistically, etc. As educators, it is imperative that we recognize these unique learning styles in our students and allow them opportunities to engage in their learning through equally unique modes. We also need to frequently review the definitions of Multiple Intelligences and how our current students could benefit from changes in our programmes.
Differentiation is a popular term frequently used in educational circles to mean several different things. For some it can mean that lessons need to be different for each student, for others it just means to acknowledge students' differences. As an educational community, it is vitally important for us to come to a common understanding of the term differentiation so that we can apply the philosophy to the utmost benefit of our students.
If we begin with the premise that all students are inherently unique and have different interests, learning styles, strengths and experiences, then it follows that they will require different instructional strategies to help them reach their potential as learners and beyond. Differentiation suggests that teachers acknowledge the individuality of each student and provide a variety of instructional strategies tailored to the unique needs of the individual. It doesn't always mean a different lesson, only the possibility of different materials, or different modes of delivery and/or assessment to ensure that each student is learning and communicating their learning effectively.
Special needs questions (read our in-depth answers)
The most common strategies of differentiating are:
While it is important to allow students choices over how they learn and present their learning, it is equally important that they are exposed to all modes of learning to balance out their skills. It is impractical to present new material to students in only one way, and it is just as impractical to allow them to always choose an "easy" way of presenting their learning. The most important role of an educator is to develop all types of intelligences in their students. Use a chart or graphic organizer, like the examples below, for each unit to ensure you are incorporating as many learning styles as possible.
Below are some ideas to get you started thinking about how to incorporate different learning modes in your classroom. Remember to change things up frequently to keep all learners engaged!
|Learner Type||Teaching and Learning Ideas|
|Verbal / Linguistic||
|Mathematical / Logical||
|Visual / Spatial||
|Bodily / Kinesthetic||