Learning Style Model Based on the Questions Your Students Want Answered

There are many interesting models for analyzing students’ different learning styles. Here is a practical model which may change the way you teach writing… today. You will have a checklist of the four learning styles, as well as the four questions which these four different types of learners will be asking.

A teacher simply needs to address each style in their instruction, and then listen for the magic words in their students’ questions. (Often these magic words are only implied; however, they are quite easy to spot.)

This learning style model will surprise you in its simplicity. In fact, it may appear to be that “elusive obvious” which you are shocked you had not discovered before. The next time you teach writing, you will be looking at each and every student and analyzing each and every yawn, comment, question, and challenge. “Ohh… I get you! I can help you! I understand you. Let me talk to YOU.”

David Kolb’s Learning Style Inventory Based on Experiential Learning Theory: The Four Different Learning Modes and How they Create Four Types of Learners

Experiential Learning – The Four Learning Modes (How Students Learn)

These learning modes can be seen as a cycle of learning. Even though it is a cycle, individual students will learn differently at each stage of the cycle. Some students are more effective learners in one stage, while others will learn better in a different stage.

• Learning Mode 1: Concrete Experience – There is an old proverb, “Experience is the best teacher.” In other words, students learn by experiencing things.  (Note: There is also an extension to this proverb which says, “Experience is the best teacher… but the tuition is high.”)

• Learning Mode 2: Reflective Observation – One reviews the experience and reflects on it.

• Learning Mode 3: Abstract Conceptualization – One draws conclusions. Students create and format their personal understanding of what they have learned. They make their new knowledge fit in with their current model of the world.

• Learning Mode 4: Active Experimentation – Test time. Let’s try out the new knowledge in the real world and see if it works. In writing this would mean, “Let’s see how our readers like the new techniques we are applying. Do I like my new writing? Do these strategies and techniques get me a better grade?”

Through various combinations of these four learning modes, four learning styles emerge.

Four Types of Learners

Each of these four learning styles is a combination of TWO of the LEARNING MODES discussed above. This does not mean that students don’t learn through the other modes; it just means that they have strengths in, and/or prefer two of the modes over the other two modes. (I think you will find that all four modes have an important place in effective instruction.)

• Learning Style 1: The Diverger – Asks “why?” Learns through Concrete Experience and Reflective Observation.

• Learning Style 2: The Accommadator – Asks “how?” Learns through Concrete Experience and Active Experimentation.

• Learning Style 3: The Assimilator – Asks “what?” Learns through Abstract Conceptualization and Reflective Observation.

• Learning Style 4: The Converger – Asks “what about…?” Learns through Abstract Conceptualization and Active Experimentation.

The Questions Your Students Want Answered

Here is a simplified and useful version of Kolb’s model based on a few of the “Five W’s and One H.” (Who, what, where, why, when, how?) Basically, when students don’t understand something, they have a question. When it comes to teaching writing, it can be hard to figure out what the question is behind the problem. “What don’t they understand? I have done a great job of teaching this.”

Here is a cheat-sheet that narrows down what your students want to know… and how they learn. It addresses the four learning styles and the main question each style wants answered. These questions are: 1) Why? 2) How? 3) What? 4) What about?

Four Questions for the Four Learning Styles

Why? (Divergers) – These students are not asking, “Why does it work?” They are asking, “Why do I have to do it? What will happen if I don’t do it?” The answer to these questions usually go something like this: “If you apply this strategy, your readers will easily understand what you are saying. If you don’t, your readers will be lost and confused. Having your readers understand what you are saying will get you better grades and people will enjoy reading what you have written. They will think you are a gifted and talented writer. If you don’t apply the strategies and your readers are lost, your grades will suffer and people will wonder what is wrong with you.”

How? (Accommodators) – These students are saying, “Just tell me how to do it. Show me each step and I will follow your directions. I learn by doing. I don’t need any reasons or explanations. Please don’t be vague and talk about the flowery artistic nature of writing. I’m not interested in that. I see the example; what are the steps I need to do in order to achieve that? Once I experience it I will understand it and I will be able to explain it to you based on my experience.”

What? (Assimilators) – These students need to understand “the information.” We can’t just demonstrate (or model) how to write persuasively because these students need to understand it in context. These students may not even attempt to follow the strategy until they understand exactly what they will be attempting to do. Example of what would work with these students: “Okay students, we are not going to be working on narrative writing. In other words, we are not going to be telling a story. Also, we are not going to be working on descriptive writing or informative writing. Our goal is going to be to persuade someone. A synonym for persuade is “to convince.” There are many times when we need to convince another person. Here are just a few…”  Example of what would not work with these students: “We are going to work on persuasive writing using facts, statistics, and reasons to prove our case. Here is a set of evidence for you to use. Now, prove your position. You have been provided a model to follow; study it and follow it.”

What about…? (Convergers) – We think of these students as the mismatchers and contradictors in our classrooms. For every example we show to prove it, they will quickly find a counterexample to disprove it. We think they are just being difficult, but often at the heart of their troublesomeness is a learning style that simply has them wanting to know when it works and when it doesn’t work. Example: You have taught a writing strategy and now students have opened up a book and are reading. If these students don’t see what has been presented, they want to know why not. Showing these students textbook examples of when it works is not enough. In fact, showing them real-world examples of it when it works is not enough. These students need to understand a variety of situations when it does not work. In writing there are many exceptions, and every exception these students see leads them to dismiss what has been taught. The solution in teaching these students writing is to show them how what is being taught is a tool which can be used sometimes, but not at other times. It is their job as the author and artist to be the master of the tool.

Learning Style Scenarios

Let’s explore some scenarios so you will more easily see behind the curtain of your students’ struggles. What is going on in your students’ minds?

It’s not that students just come out and ask “Why? How? What? What about?” It’s more that these are the questions behind their questions (and their struggles). When a student is struggling, a teacher will be able to more easily remediate and strategize, “Let’s see… I can’t re-teach the entire lesson. So… which question is behind their problem?” When you figure it out you will be able to solve the problem on your first try.

Remember: We want to address all these types of learners and address all of these questions when we teach our lesson the first time around. Try and make sure that you include at least a sentence or two that will speak to each learning style. (i.e. Giving more examples is not the only way to better teach a concept. Instead, try addressing one of these other learning modes.)

Scenario 1 – How? (Accommodators): A student acts bored and asks if she can get started on the work. Remember: This is a special kind of learner with a special kind of question. This question represents a “how” question. This student learns by experiencing and experimenting. It seems the teacher has given enough instruction so that the student feels comfortable getting started on the work. The fact is, these students can’t be sure of what they understand until they get involved with the work. At the moment, they don’t need any more theory. (Note: We all know that students often want to get started, and then once they get started they discover that they don’t understand how to do the work. The point about this “how” type of learner is they can’t know that they don’t know until they give it a try. This means they won’t do their best job of extended listening until they have given it a try.)

Scenario 2 – What? (Assimilators): You have done a great job of teaching a personal narrative essay. You followed the textbook and added your own fantastic bits of insight. You have given clear instructions and there is an excellent example on the front board. A student says, “I don’t get it.” You ask what they don’t get. The student replies, “Are you saying that this is just a story about our life?” You reply, “Yes.” The students replies, “I don’t get it… so I can just write about something that happened to me and I have written a personal narrative essay?”

These questions are all “what” questions. These questions show a need to better understand the context of a personal narrative essay. The proper teaching extension would involve explaining a few different types of essays, as well as explaining how a personal narrative essay is different than a fiction story. This would help the student better understand the context of a personal narrative essay. In other words, this student does not need more examples on how to write a personal narrative essay; they need to understand the context of what a personal narrative essay is… and what it isn’t. They need the theory behind essays and stories so that they will understand where the personal narrative essay fits in.

Scenario 3 – Why? (Divergers): You are working on descriptive writing. A student says, “Why do we have to learn this? None of our school work ever involves describing how the spring sun makes us feel. Is there going to be a test on this?” This one is easy. It’s a “why” question… the little rascal. You explain to this student that the assignment will be extra homework if he doesn’t finish it. And yes, there will be a test on the different types of writing before he goes on vacation. Additionally, you tell him that you overheard him describing what happened in his baseball game the other day. You explain how learning how to describe things will make him a more entertaining storyteller and a better communicator. “After all, you won’t want to feel foolish in your interview when you explain how it felt winning the World Series!”

Scenario 4 – What about…? (Convergers): Your students are struggling with run-on sentences and sentence fragments. You instruct them not to start sentences with the words “and, but, because.” The next day a student arrives with numerous examples from newspapers and magazines showing how it is acceptable. You explain that the authors in question did it artistically, rarely, and correctly. You explain that the students in your class have been doing it incorrectly and that it is harming their writing.

This student is not convinced. He doesn’t know what to think. He starts to lose interest in writing because he thinks your rules are inconsistent. This is a “what about…” situation. The solution would be to teach formal writing vs. informal writing. Starting sentences with “and, but, because” is discouraged in formal writing. Additionally, this student needs to understand that language does change over time, and the rules of starting sentences with “and, but, because” have relaxed in recent years. Explain that you are still discouraging the practice and later in the year when they are advanced writers you will address it in depth. In the meantime, have this student continue to collect examples which you will share with the class at a later date.

Whether you teach elementary school or middle school, whether you teach remedial writers or gifted writers… reaching and teaching the four different types of learners will improve your writing instruction.

In Pattern Based Writing: Quick & Easy Essay, all four types of learners (and teachers) are spoken to directly. At every step of the way the program not only teaches what to do… but also addresses all those problem areas surrounding what students might do… or will want to do. All the gaps are closed for all the different learning styles.

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