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Alternative Learning Styles

We all learn in different ways. Right? So why blog about different styles?

Because the mismatch between learning style, teaching style, the environment in which we learn, and the idiosyncrasies that result from this mismatch can be a cause of massive distress and, ultimately, exclusion.

Before I provide examples, once again, I need to be very clear. I am in no way belittling the work that our teachers do. They are given a curriculum, training, and have built up tremendous experience teaching classes full of children with different leaning styles. They do a great job.

Imagine an autistic child, Jane, arriving for a drama lesson. She has queued up outside the classroom for 3 minutes and received the usual teasing and jostling from the rest of the class. She cannot abide queues and finds the social conventions around queuing impossible to understand. Who decides who is first in the queue? How do the kids dovetail into a queue? Everyone is too close. There is jostling. There is a lot of random noise coming from all directions.

She enters the class in a state of stress.

She heads over to her usual seat and sees another girl sitting there grinning provocatively.

Stress levels rise.

But this blog isn't about stress, although it doesn't help.

Once the class is quiet, the teacher issues her instructions for the lesson.

"Today I want you to create an advertisement for our Winter Show, Carousel."

Jane starts to process this instruction. Her learning style requires 5 seconds to process an instruction.

"I would like you to form groups of 5 to discuss ideas and agree on the approach to the advertisement".

Jane hasn't processed the first instruction by now, but has to start processing the second.

"I will be round 10 minutes before the end of class so be ready to present your ideas"

Jane sits there thinking about the final instruction, not really knowing what the teacher is referring to.

"Jane, why haven't you joined a group yet?"

This is a learning style that becomes a difficulty. Any delay in processing an instruction can lead to tremendous difficulties in a class situation where others have started an activity before the instruction is really clearly understood. Jane appears to everyone to be slow, stupid, perhaps defiant and is singled out firstly by the teacher's comment and then by having to receive separate instruction. She cannot be fully included in a group that has already formed and started its work.

I don't suppose any teacher would consider asking the class to sit silently whilst she explains the task to Jane, and then to them. It would be bedlam. It also wouldn't be 'fair' to the other children to miss 5 minutes at the start of every lesson.

There are solutions to this problem. Ones that leave Jane feeling included in the lesson. They are initiated by teachers, but will require her peers' support to make them work. Something like ...

"Jane, please sit and work with Alicia and any group that she is in today." 5 second pause whilst she moves, feeling included. "Class, today I want you to ...."

Alicia takes charge of her forming group reiterating the task and providing a start for the group that allows Jane to participate. Something like: "Ok let's spend 2 minutes jotting down ideas for advertising our show and then we can share them." A single instruction, repeating the teacher's instruction, with plenty of time for all of the children in the group to process and act upon it.

Jane has another learning style idiosyncrasy. In order to concentrate she needs to chew something. Her ideal is a beanie toy, but this is the source of so much ridicule that often she keeps the toy in a pocket and chews pen tops. The pen top is good for concentration, but if she wants to be creative she needs something stretchy. She has a squidgy rubber toy for this.

There is nothing wrong with this, but it gets her into all sorts of trouble.

Kids take the toy and hide it.

They mock her

One Christmas the school held a Secret Santa for the class. The kids all wrote down stuff that they like and stuff that they weren't allowed (chocolate, dairy, nuts etc). Each child knew who they were giving a present to and their wishes, but didn't know who their present was from. Jane was very excited and her parents sent her in with the latest Diary of a Wimpy Kid book as her 'mystery' gift for the person that she had been allocated to.

Jane unwrapped her present. A chewy dog toy shaped as a bone.

January brought mock exams to the school. All the teachers were stressed and it flowed down to the children. They all went to the hall which was set out with closely spaced tables with nervous children sitting and chatting before the exams started.

Jane started chewing.

The kids around her started mocking.

The exam began and a horrified external invigilator raced over to Jane and confiscated her pen top thinking that she was going to choke. She failed that exam.

Her parents heard about this and complained to the school. Jane took in something larger to chew the next day and was told by a chastened invigilator that it was ok to chew her pen. She was confused, and failed that exam.

Next day. Pen top. New invigilator. Banned. Failed.

Learning Styles. The way that each of us learns best, and the things that impede our learning are important. Often learning only becomes a difficulty if the way we are taught, or the environment in which we are taught, make it a difficulty.

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