For many years a great debate has existed in the field of education. Teachers and educators have attempted to uncover the best method for teaching students. The majority of evidence available suggests that multiple factors influence a student's ability to achieve in the classroom, none the least of which is learning styles and preferences. There is ample evidence supporting the notion that intelligence aside, most students have a learning preference related to their cognitive style of thinking that is ingrained or innate.
Because of this students will react to material presented to them in the classroom in different ways. It is vital that teachers begin recognizing the significance of these individual learning differences and uncover methods for coping with and addressing learning style differences and preferences within the classroom. Only then will all children be afforded the opportunity to learn equally and achieve to the best of their ability within the classroom.
Individual Learning Differences and Learning Needs
There are many different styles of learning individuals adapt, which can affect their aptitude for information, their willingness to participate in the classroom and even the preferences they express when learning (Grabowski & Jonassen, 1993). The ability of a student to construct meaning from information and apply it to settings and situations as well as a student's ability to perform varying tasks depends on their learning style. The academic environment that students reside in must among other things support learning in a "comprehensible and effective" manner for the learner (Grabowski & Jonassen, 1993). Teachers must understand the individual learners style to facilitate this process.
Learning styles may include differences in learner traits, which include " a broad range of differences spanning specific abilities and generally styles" (Grabowski & Jonassen, 4). Examples of learner traits include primary and general mental abilities, cognitive controls such as focal attention and focusing attention, cognitive styling or the way the learner gathers information, whether visual or verbal for example, and learning styles including cognitive style mapping, Kolb's learning styles, Dunn & Dunn learning styles or others (Grabowski & Johansen, 4).
There are many theories underlying learning and learning styles . Merrill for example proposes a component display theory suggesting that different learning outcomes necessitate varying instructional settings and conditions (Merrill, 1973; Grabowski & Jonassen, 1993). This theory suggested that all learning activities involve a series of concepts, facts and principles whereas taxonomies can be used to describe learning outcomes (Merril, 1973). Other researchers such as Fields (1985) suggest that cognitive learning style and ability directly correlate with student learning and achievement (Grabowski & Jonassen, 1993). This theory supports the idea that ones cognitive ability is more an indicator of whether an individual will achieve success than ones learning style. Cognitive theory suggests that students with lower cognitive ability will generally require more dependence and assistance and tend to master academic concepts less frequently (Grabowski & Jonassen, 1993).
Cognitive styles refer to individual differences in the way people organize and process information and experiences (Morgan, 1997). These styles are expressed through different methods of organizing and remembering information and represent "consistencies in the manner or form of cognition" subsequently displayed b cognitive performance (Messick, 4; Morgan, 3). There are varying cognitive styles psychologists have defined including field dependent and field independent (Morgan, 1997). Field independent persons can more easily select objects from surroundings that might hide them from view, enabling view of objects as though they are separate parts of a collective scene (Morgan, 1997). Field dependent persons have more difficulty viewing things separately from their overall environment thus prefer that things remain in full context in order to ascertain their meaning (Morgan, 1997). Dependent learners may prefer then group interaction while their field independent counterparts ma prefer individual interaction or to act alone (Morgan, 1997). These factors should be considered from an education perspective, contributing to educators understanding of learning and awareness as well as cognitive preferences within the classroom (Morgan, 997).
One important tenet of cognitive style theory suggests that individuals conceptualize and process their environments differently, thus it is important that one explore the methods through which individuals "interpret and experience" because this will influence how they interpret and evaluate future experiences (Morgan, 109). This theory also suggest that over time ones individual experiences may influence their life events and "serve as an index against which individuals make meaning of the world" (Morgan, 109). This idea suggests that individual experiences provide people the opportunity to process, understand and reflect on life. Linked to this idea are personality and self-concept, where an individual also determines their place in the world based on experiences that underpin their perceptual processes (Morgan, 109).
Learning Styles and Preferences
Based on this information one may assume that individual differences in cognitive style and strategic learning affect ones preferences and learning strategies in the classroom (Stojakovic, 1999). It is important then that teachers associate individual learning characteristics with ones cognitive ability and preferences as well as conceptualization.
Learning style may also affect personality and student achievement. Learning strategies are more learned was of adapting to situations where students are presented with a cognitive style not ideal or matched to their own (Stojakovic, 1999). This means that in certain learning situations students may adapt their cognitive style or can develop learning strategies to learn to deal with material "not initially compatible with their cognitive style" (Stojakovic, 1).
This is important because it suggests that educators can help student adapt strategies and modify them even if their cognitive learning style is fixed, which it generally is (Stojakovic, 1999). Learning strategies hence "may thus be seen as cognitive tools, particularly helpful for successfully completing a specific task" (Stojakovic, 1). This leads to the concept of strategic learning suggesting that teachers can work with students to adapt materials to suit their individual preferences and needs.
Differential psychology concerns itself with individual differences in cognitive functioning and styles, intelligence, human behavior and learning capability, assisting educators understand and describe the many ways individuals learn and the ways differences among individuals impact someone's ability to respond to instruction (Grabowski & Jonassen, 1993).
Multiple individual differences exist in learning, and these differences ultimately impact the way the learner responds both to instruction and the classroom environment. Grabowski & Jonassen (1993) assert that individual differences play a vital role in learning and instruction because learners filter instruction "through individual difference filters and lenses" (p. 25).
These differences may affect how a learner assimilates information or whether they assimilate information and affects the skills and content acquired by learners. It is vital that educators including teachers become sensitive to individual learning preferences so that learning can be more effective and applicable to the needs of different learners (Grabowski & Jonassen, 1993).
Intelligence Differences Learning Process
Intelligence is often linked with cognitive development within the mainstream classroom (Kincheloe & Steinberg, 1999). The very idea of learning suggests that intelligence is necessary for success in the classroom. It is important however to understand that individuals from varying cultural backgrounds and even socio economic classes may not ascribe the same importance to mental or cognitive functioning as described by intelligence or achievement tests like the IQ (Kincheloe & Steinberg, 1999). Rather for them intelligence is more measured by ones performance in the classroom.
Intelligence measures often provide the faulty assumption that some students are 'inferior' in the classroom, when realistically speaking educators would do far better to measure a student's cognitive preferences and learning style than they would to measure ones intelligence. An assessment of a students cognitive learning style is much more likely to reveal what factors are necessary for students to achieve success than a direct measure of intelligence, in part because the intelligence test may not reveal a student's actually mental or cognitive ability.
Again much of this is contingent on a student's learning styles and preferences. If students aren't provided the tools they need to adapt in a test taking environment or classroom setting than they are likely to fail regardless of the intelligence test administered to them.
Teaching Every Child in Today's Classroom
What one takes away from the research is the need for teachers and educators to work with children to accommodate various learning styles in the classroom. Perhaps the best approach is to provide students with a variety of instructional methods so that learners can engage multiple senses while learning (Messick, 1976). This will involve adapting teaching methods from a traditional 'lecture only' standpoint to enabling teachers to instruct students both verbally, orally, written and even kinesthetically in some cases (Grabowski & Jonassen, 1993).
Only by incorporation this vast array of choices will student have the chance to maximize their cognitive abilities regardless of their actual intelligence. Students who are engaged in such ways will respond better to instruction and naturally bond with the teaching method that works best for them. As pointed out in the literature fortunately most students have the ability to adapt their learning…