Antoinette Ellis | January 2022
Rather than Teaching
When in class, do your students often ask if the subject they are learning has anything to do with real life? Or have you noticed that they couldn’t grasp or understand why they were learning certain subjects? For example, “Will I ever need algebra when I get older?”
Have you also noticed your students staring off to space and barely paying attention and when called upon, they can’t answer what the lesson is about? At times you will notice only a few students are paying attention but rarely the entire class is participating. If these instances are happening in your class, then it’s time to find a different approach.
In order to engage students, we need to meet them where they are. Students have many different ways of learning and being able to teach only one way just doesn’t work in today’s society anymore. It’s time to look at a more exciting way to engage your students. It’s time to facilitate learning rather than teaching.
Teaching vs Facilitating
First, let’s define what the difference between teaching and learning is. In the words of Public Health, teaching is one directional dissemination of knowledge through a teacher while learning is a group of students gaining knowledge by studying, being taught, and experiencing. But how? Through facilitation. Facilitation is where the teacher is accompanying and shaping a learning process together.
As we know, students have multiple ways of learning. Facilitating learning can provide an opportunity for a student to learn in a way with which they feel comfortable. It is also a way to ensure that the class is engaged while learning together. Let’s explore the 4 ways students can learn and how they can benefit from an educator that facilitates learning.
4 Styles of Learning
It is said that students have a better understanding of what is being taught when it is presented in a way that they are comfortable learning. In 1992 Flemings and Mills suggested a new model of learning called the VARK model. The VARK model is composed of four learning styles and it is a frequently used method used to understand those different learning styles. They are as follows:
Visual learners learn by looking or seeing and are more engaged when presented with diagrams, charts and graphs.
Aural learners learn by listening to the information that is shared with them verbally or by using self-talk. They prefer to listen to lectures or to participate in group discussions.
Read/Write learners prefer to learn by written information. They prefer worksheets, textbook references, essays, reports and presentations.
Kinesthetic learners are hands-on and learn best by doing or touching and actual experiences within the classroom.
VARK Learning Assessment
Now that we have an understanding of the four styles of learning, let’s explore how educators can use these to foster understanding through learning. It is important for the educator to understand how to engage their students and this can be done by learning how to identify who in your class prefers what style of learning. A VARK learning assessment is a great way to achieve this goal. You can implement an assessment with your class at any time but a great way to get started would be as an ice breaker or as a beginning of the year activity. The learning assessment can be achieved by asking the students certain questions about what they prefer.
Here are a few examples of questions that you can ask your students to figure out their style of learning. If they answer yes to most of these questions, then you will have a better understanding on how they learn.
For Visual learners, ask if they:
- memorize things by seeing them on paper?
- prefer to watch rather than talk or do a learning activity?
- notice details?
- remember faces better than names?
- have trouble following verbal directions?
For Aural learners, ask if they:
- like explaining things to others?
- understand concepts better by talking about them?
- have difficulty following written instructions?
- like being read to or like reading aloud?
- memorize things by reading them aloud?
For Read/Write learners, ask if they:
- learn best by writing and rewriting information?
- learn best by reading and rereading textbooks or your notes?
- take notes in class often?
- prefer to use list, dictionaries and glossaries?
- work well with textbooks, handouts, and manuals?
- prefer multiple choice and essay tests?
For Kinesthetic learners, ask if they:
- like to touch, feel, and handle things?
- prefer to try things for yourself first? Would you want to see a demonstration?
- move your body in order to learn something new? For example, this type of learner may read a book with his left hand while bouncing a basketball with his right.
- would rather show than tell?
Universal Design for Learning
Once you review the results of your VARK assessment you will notice that some of your students may have multiple learning styles. This is a perfect opportunity to introduce Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in your classroom. Universal Design for Learning is a framework on how to engage all students by giving them an equal opportunity to succeed in the way that they are comfortable learning. It’s a great way to keep your students motivated and assess if your students are understanding the subject matter that has been presented to them.
When implementing a UDL framework there are three principles to consider:
- Engagement – Look for ways to engage your students, consider providing them opportunities to make their own choices
- Representation – Offer information in multiple formats, consider how you deliver your lesson to your students. Perhaps it’s reading the directions out loud, showing a video or providing hands on learning opportunities
- Action and Expression – Provide your students with different opportunities to demonstrate what they learned. i.e., write a test, give an oral report or participate in a group project
Once you have the UDL principles in place, you can then start having fun with redesigning your classroom. Create different areas in your classroom for your VARK learners. For visual learners, create a digital media center where your students can watch videos on different subjects. For your aural learners, create a space for group learning. Create a quiet space with a mini-library where your read-write learners can choose to read or spend time writing. And for kinesthetic learners, create a space for hands-on learning.
These are just a few ideas on how to engage your class and keep them motivated to learn. When working on your lesson plans keep the VARK model and the UDL framework in mind. Try incorporating the different learning styles in your lessons and provide different opportunities for your students to demonstrate what they learned. You will notice that your students are more engaged and you will all be experiencing learning together.