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In what ways do students learn best and how have you incorporated this into your lesson plans?

Diary submitted by Aoife B., Valencia, 2020

Section 6: What is the best way for your students to learn new information?

In what ways do students learn best and how have you incorporated this into your lesson plans? 

At the start of my internship, I had heard a lot about the theory that there are four main ‘learning styles’: visual, auditory, verbal and kinaesthetic. This theory has been around for many years and it suggests that individuals have a preference for one of these learning styles, favouring a certain way to learn new information. 

For this reason, when doing my lesson plans, I tried to make sure that I incorporated aspects of all four learning styles into my lessons so that all learning preferences would be covered in my classroom. I found that the easiest to include was verbal, also referred to as read/write or linguistic. This is where students learn best through words, usually written but also spoken, and is therefore obviously very easy to include. Often in class, we work through a text and then do comprehension or true/false activities based on it. I ask the students to read out a section each and I correct their pronunciation, and at the end of each section I go through any new vocabulary and ask them to summarise to check they have understood. I also make sure I write down any new vocabulary so they can copy down the spelling. 

Some examples of materials aimed towards visual learners are pictures and patterns. When I taught irregular past participles, I found a helpful worksheet that separated the verbs into those that followed the same pattern, even though they are all irregular, for example spoken/broken/stolen. I also use pictures and images a lot so my students can associate new words with a particular image. 

Catering for auditory learners is also fairly easy, especially with the benefit of technology in the classroom. As I mentioned I often ask students to read out a text, as well as incorporating videos into my lessons which allows students to hear different accents. With younger learners especially, I find songs helpful when learning new words, usually because the videos incorporate images with colours, music and sometimes rhymes. In addition, repetition of what students hear is very important. I frequently ask students to repeat a word or phrase I have said or they have heard from a video to give them an opportunity to produce the sounds. 

Teaching exclusively online has meant that it has been harder to incorporate physical activities and games into my lessons. One way I have tried to keep my students active during the lesson is by using miming games to learn new vocabulary – usually verbs. After seeing the verbs written down, usually with pictures, and reading them out, I ask students to pick one of the words and act it out for the other students to guess. The other students then have to use the present continuous to say what their classmate is doing, for example “he/she is brushing his/her hair”. 

However, as I have done more research, I have discovered that many people are starting to reject the learning styles theory. Researchers are now starting to suggest our brains do not work in this way and that there is little evidence that learning in a way we believe to be consistent with our learning style preferences actually improves performance (see British Council website and GlowScotland blog below). Nevertheless, the way in which I planned my lessons with the theory in mind has meant that the materials I use are varied, which helps keep learners engaged by mixing up the types of activities. I have also found that repetition is key, no matter what type of material is used. It is important to reinforce and repeat vocabulary, usually presenting it in various ways to drill it into students. 

References: 

1/ https://www.fluentu.com/blog/educator-english/esl-teaching-strategies-styles/

2/ https://www.worldclassteachers.co.uk/blog/your-guide-to-understanding-and-adapting-to-different-learning-styles/

3/ https://www.britishcouncil.org/voices-magazine/four-reasons-avoid-learning-styles-one-alternative

4/ https://blogs.glowscotland.org.uk/glowblogs/uodeportfoliommackie/2016/02/25/to-vark-or-not-to-vark-that-is-the-question/

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