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Learning Styles as a Strategy to Support Diverse Learners in Secondary One Normal Academic Stream

Background Individual students in any given classroom have his or her preference in their approach to learning. The Literature Review section of this paper will examine the different domains of learning styles preferences based on the Index of Learning Styles (ILS) inventory checklist developed by Felder and Solomon. The Application section of this paper will explore how these principles can be operationalised within a secondary school classroom setting to support diverse learners. Literature Review The ILS created by Felder and Solomon in 1991, is an instrument to gauge learning preferences, was a further development of an earlier version of a model which originally consisted of five principles proposed by Felder and Silverman in 1988. The updated version by Felder and Solomon comprises of four principles, which essentially outline the characteristics of the eight types of learners based on their preferences. The eight types of learners in the ILS scale are defined below: Active and Reflective Learners Active Learners Active learners are more likely to have a better understanding and retention of information presented to them by performing activities related to the information with other students during lessons. They are likely to have an outgoing personality and have a greater inclination to try out new things by experimentation and testing the information actively rather than spending too much time thinking, evaluating and analysing them. They do these by active interactions and collaborations with their peers through sharing their understanding or explaining the subject taught by their teachers. Reflective Learners Reflective learners tend to be more passive and prefer to spend more time in deep thought, evaluating and trying to make sense of the information during lessons. They are generally more comfortable working alone and are more likely to be reserved. Reflective learners find it easier to reinforce their comprehension and memory of the subjects when given sufficient time reviewing and replaying their thoughts and feelings on the information that they have acquired. Visual and Verbal Learners Visual Learners The old saying where a picture tells a thousand words apply to visual learners who are more at ease and prefer visual information such as images, diagrams, live demonstrations, video

demonstrations, charts, graphs, flow charts, mind maps and physical objects/replicas when learning about new concepts and assimilating information. Although written words have to be read and therefore seen visually, our brains function in such a way that when reading, written words are translated into its verbalised forms. Therefore, written words are not regarded in the real sense as visual information. Visual learners might experience difficulty in grasping entire chunks of information presented only verbally or in written words. Verbal Learners Lesson instruction by means of written words and verbal delivery are more preferred by verbal learners. They are able to internalise these types of information better than their visual learner counterparts. Akin to active learners, they learn better by sharing their understanding and listening to their fellow peers explainations of the subject. Sensing and Intuitive Learners Sensing Learners Sensing learners perceive the world through sounds, sight and touch via their sensory receptors. They are able to retain and make sense of the information and subjects better if they can directly associate them to the real world context. They are patient and pay attention to details. Sensing learners are practical, preferring a hands-on approach, a preference towards memorisation of facts rather than understanding theories. They have a dislike towards unexpected assessment areas not covered during lessons and are more inclined using learnt standard processes for problem solving. There is some convergence in attributes between sensing and active learners. Intuitive Learners Unlike sensing learners, assimilating concepts and complex mathematical formulae are the forte of intuitive learners. They are more likely to innovate and be more creative, and exploring new possibilities with the information. They are quicker in solving problems. However unlike sensing learners, they are less patient, having a tendency to make careless mistakes and miss out important details or calculations. Sequential and Global Learners Sequential Learners Most academic subjects are taught in linear and increasing in level of difficulty. New information is presented to the learners previously learnt information in a logical and coherent manner. Those learners who prefer learning through logical progression in incremental steps are termed as sequential learners. Similarly, they are likely to solve problems in a linear way using step-by-step method. Although they sometimes are able to solve problems with only partial understanding of the subject, they may find difficulty to see the big picture of the subject if it is not taught in incremental and logical steps.

Global Learners

Global learners unlike sequential learners tend to see the big picture of the subject, which is how those facts connect to each other. They may learn and absorb information in either huge leaps or non-linear way, sometimes understanding more complex information without actually knowing how they got it. With such attributes and as divergent thinkers, global learners tend to solve problems faster in a creative manner. Application Teaching of English Language in a hypothetical Secondary One Normal Academic Stream Classroom The English language curriculum for Secondary One Normal Academic students strongly focuses on learners grammar, vocabulary, writing creativity, oral communication and comprehension skills. It is observed that instructional design of English Language lessons are teacher-centric where teachers write on the whiteboard or use a PowerPoint presentation with mainly typewritten words and deliver their lesson content in mainly one way communication. Occasionally, the teachers actively engage the learners by selecting them randomly asking them questions or learners would seek clarifications from their teachers. English Language learners are mainly required to do individual written exercises in the classroom or submitted as homework on the mentioned subject areas. In the following imaginary scenario, three student types that are dominant in a classroom are identified. Student A, Student B and Student C types are discovered to be more inclined towards active-visual-sensing-global, reflective-verbal-intuitive-sequential and reflectiveverbal-sensing-sequential respectively. If teachers practice the same lesson delivery method everyday via lectures heavily leaning towards individual assignments without any group activities, would be difficult for Student A types to learn effectively but may benefit Student B and Student C types. Teachers should bear in mind that they need to cater to Student A types as well and at the same time inculcate and develop learning styles, which are disliked by Student B and Student C types. In learning Vocabulary, Grammar and Comprehension for example, the English Language teachers can design a lesson delivery in the following steps: 1) Discuss on the concepts on how to answer comprehension questions that require good vocabulary, grammar and understanding skills. Teachers can show a passage using PowerPoint for learners to read and show the comprehension and vocabulary questions and its corresponding model answers in a step-by-step manner. This will allow learners to get a rough idea on how to answer similar types of questions. This will probably benefit Student B and C types who possess dimensions of verbal, sensing and sequential learning styles and to a lesser extent Student A, who are of the predominantly of global/visual dimension and sensing style. 2) To illustrate the key points of the passage and procedures to answer different types of comprehension questions, the teachers can draw mind-maps and flow-charts

respectively. This will benefit learners Student A types who are both visual and global dimension and at the same time develop big picture understanding which are disliked by Student B and Student C types.

Source: http://www.gamequarium.com/Reading%20and%20Technology%20Presentation %20Resources/Sample%20Projects/VOCABULARY.jpg 3) Following above, allow learners sufficient time reading a new passage individually and to summarise the key points of the passage in short notes or bulleted points and select unfamiliar or difficult words for further discussion. This will benefit Student B and Student C type learners but will inculcate vital skills for Student A type learners to be able to analyse and evaluate information in a thorough manner. 4) Then, get the learners to work in groups of four persons to discuss and share their understanding of the passage and the meanings of selected unfamiliar words. This type of exercise will cater to all learner types in the scenario by reinforcing their understanding of the passage and further develop their communication and interaction skills. 5) To summarise the passage, get the learners to present their key points by way of mindmap on a flipchart paper. Student A types would be comfortable with such arrangement and concurrently develop big picture/visual skills of Student B and C types. 6) Lastly, provide the learners the actual comprehension and vocabulary questions to be completed as individual homework. Learners can be given the choice to work

individually or as a group with their peers thus catering to all student types. This will empower learners to be self-directed to achieve their learning needs. In implementing the above mentioned lesson delivery, it is not a pre-requisite for teachers to make use of the ILS inventory checklist to assess the learning preferences of each and every individual student in their classroom. In a typical Singapore classroom of forty students, there could already exist a wide range of learners with different permutations of learning styles preferences defined within the scope of ILS. Therefore to design many lesson styles to suit all types of learning style may not be practical. Teachers should have self-awareness that they too have their own personal preferences in the way they deliver their lessons to their students influenced by their own learning styles preferences as learners. Teachers ought to remind themselves that recognising learning styles preferences is not about labelling their students to fit their individual learning preferences, but the spirit is to achieve an optimal balance to meet the needs of all students in the classroom. It must be emphasised that not any one type of learning style preferences should be considered superior or inferior to another, each simply has its merits and weaknesses and each should be accorded equal status to another. Indeed, a particular learner can be both a visual and verbal learner or both an active and reflective learner at different occasions. It is a matter of how strong their liking for a particular learning style. Before teachers can teach more effectively and have a huge influence over their students motivation towards learning, they should first empathise with their learners interests, motivations and attitudes towards learning, their intrinsic qualities such as personality traits and cognitive abilities and background such as the cultural capital that their learners possess. Conclusion Adopting Learning Styles strategy appears attractive, but there are issues to consider. There are other factors for teachers to consider before using Learning Styles strategy; such as practical issues, where it would be near impossible to cater to the needs of each and every individual student in a classroom. Teachers need to have both flexibility and agility to strike the right balance in their lesson delivery methods to cater to the dynamic demands and needs of diverse range of learners and the constraints of finite school resources. Moreover, the concept of various models of Learning Styles has yet to gain complete acceptance by many education researchers, as the desired outcomes are not entirely conclusive and using the various types of checklists to gauge learners preferences are not entirely foolproof. In the same vein, adopting rigid one-size fits all learning strategy short-sighted. Teachers as change agents should consider the potential positive outcomes of incorporating Learning Styles strategy, which may add value and extra dimension to the learning process. Learning Styles strategy is worth serious consideration, but teachers should take into account the potential drawbacks and criticism against them.