What are the different learning needs of pupils in my class/classes?
Much is written about different learning styles and there are several models to consider. For example, the work of Kolb and colleagues produced the classification of learners into four groups: activists, reflectors, theorists and pragmatists. Activists like practical work and using visual source material for information. Reflectors like to learn by watching others, taking time to consider their observations. Theorists like listening to ‘experts', reading up on topics and considering analogies. Pragmatists like to learn from demonstrations and exemplar material.
Another model, perhaps the most popular and simple, is ‘VAK'. This identifies three learning styles: visual, auditory and kinaesthetic. Visual learners will be attracted to mind-maps, diagrams, descriptive language, flow charts, use of colour. Auditory learners are likely to prefer discussion, listening to verbal explanations using anecdotes and humour. Kinaesthetic learners will go for hands-on activities, often as part of a group, using models/objects and moving around during a lesson.
Any individual will operate across these categories of course, but we all have certain preferences. The skill of the teacher is in recognising different types of learners and knowing how to cater for them. You could consider using a questionnaire to survey students' preferences, asking them to indicate (by highlighting) for example, if they prefer to:
- work alone/in a pair/in a group
- work in a quiet, undisturbed environment
- be told exactly what to do
- be given choices about activities and outcomes
- listen to the teacher giving information
- use visual aids such as mind maps
- find out things for themselves (how?)
- solve problems
- stick to a routine/play safe
- try new ways of learning/take risks
- make decisions
- set their own targets
How do I model learning?
Help pupils to understand different ways of learning (metacognition). Talk about your own learning experiences; what sort of learner are you? What is helpful/unhelpful when you are trying to get to grips with something new? Demonstrate the importance of making mistakes and learning from them. G&T pupils can feel that because they are able learners, everything should come easily to them. Challenging activities can seem threatening - something to be avoided in case they fail. Describe occasions when you found something difficult - how you had to persevere, perhaps have several attempts before finally succeeding (or not!). Learning to admit to not knowing something, or being unable to do something, is an important part of developing self-confidence. Let them see and hear you ‘thinking aloud': ‘I'm going to try... no that didn't work, so...'
Asking pupils to explain their own thinking - how they got to a particular answer, solution or point of view - is also useful. There will usually be more than one route and this will demonstrate the value of flexibility and creativity in thinking. A word of warning here: not all able pupils can easily articulate their thought processes. Model how to do it, and give them time to rehearse their explanations, perhaps with a partner or TA, before leading a plenary or demonstration. This will result in a more satisfying experience for both the pupil and the ‘audience'.
How much flexibility can I offer?
There are always constraints: time, space, curriculum demands, parent expectations...
There is also the question of how much to accommodate pupils' preferences and how much to help them to develop other strategies. Many able children prefer to work alone, rather than in a pair or a group; they may be quicker-thinking than a partner and impatient with a slower pace, or become exasperated when other group members are less well motivated (the ‘free-riders' who let others do the work). But groupwork skills are valuable, so how can you teach pupils to develop the necessary social skills for cooperation? Involving them in drawing up groupwork rules can be a start; allocating specific roles, observing and giving feedback on each pupil's success as a team member can also be effective.
More details on models of learning styles
Starting points 1: How do I know what the G&T learners are?