Monday, January 19, 2009

Learning Styles and an Epiphany

Earlier this year, my students completed a portion of a learning profile to help me not only get to know them better, but also to guide my mode of instruction. As they completed an “All About Me” poster, a segment of the poster was set aside for them to record their learning styles. In a nutshell, they were to choose which analogy best described them as learners. Here were their choices with very simplified definition….

Paper clips are mastery learners, organized and attentive to detail.
Teddy bears are interpersonal learners and relationship driven.
Magnifying lens seek understanding through questioning.
Slinkys are self-expressive, creative and high-energy learners.

I shared these traits with my students; stressing that one was not BETTER than the other, only DIFFERENT. This may have been the most important lesson I taught all year. I then asked them to discern what type of learner they thought I was---99 percent said “SLINKY”. They were right. When analyzing other teachers in our building, the students were equally insightful and recognized where each teacher fell on the spectrum as a learner. We discussed what this meant for them as students (for example a Slinky in a Paper clip’s classroom) and especially what it meant about the way each of us learns. I had one student say, “Geez, this makes perfect sense. I sure could have used this information last year. It would have saved me a lot of time in detention.” Everyone giggled—even me.

What I didn’t tell them is how the “normal” (I know, that’s an oxymoron) classroom is made up ….
33-35% are paper clips
18% are magnifying lens
33-35% teddy bears
18% Slinkies
Interesting to say the least. These categories not only define the classroom, but also define the workplace, church, or social group.

Now, be this as it may, each learning-style brings certain challenges to the classroom. “Paper clips" learn step by step; "magnifying len"s learn doubt by doubt. "Teddy Bears "want everyone to feel comfortable and worry more about the emotional well being of others. "Slinkies" need movement and choice. Can you see the challenge?

Many dropouts are Slinkies, because school doesn’t tend to lend itself to their needs. With this in mind, I turn to my last hour class of seventh graders. After the first week of school, I was convinced that these students were going to be the end of me. Engaging them is exhausting and motivating them seems impossible. Now I know why---of the 15---12 are Slinkies. What’s worse—they have a Slinky teacher.

Now, several months later—we have grown to understand each other and I can’t wait for my seventh hour to arrive. Slinkies—unite!!!


Danene said...

I have a brilliant slinky who prefers basketball, football, baseball... to school; A paperclip who I have to really watch so she doesn't become too compulsive about perfect work; a teddy bear with learning/developmental disabilities. Thanks for the reminder of the beauty in the differences. :)) love, danene