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How Schools Can Accommodate Different Learning Styles

Authored By: 
George Higgins, Headmaster

Any seasoned educator will tell you that teachers face many different learning styles in the classroom.  Students vary widely, even when the classrooms are small.  Accommodating different learning styles is a challenge all schools face, but there are adjustments that can be made to help.

The Impact of Small Class Sizes on Different Learning Styles

Class size is a major factor.  The more students a teacher has to work with, the more varied the types of learning styles are and the more that teacher is stretched trying to manage them all.  Our school caps its class size at 10 students and most classes average seven students.  This allows a teacher to get to know each student’s needs well and individualize as much as possible.  If the class sizes is 28 to 30 students, this is nearly impossible.

Classroom teachers know that they can vary the way in which they teach a lesson.  While some students learn better by hearing the information, others learn better by seeing it.  A combination of the two approaches is ideal.  Some lecturing (so students develop note-taking skills) is essential for the college-bound student, but the use of SMART Boards reinforces what is being covered.  Pausing for periods of questions and answers also helps the teacher know if the topics are being understood.

This is where the small classroom has a major advantage.  Students who are easily distracted or who can quickly tune out can be frequently brought back into the discussion if the teacher has the ability to call on students often.  With seven students in a class, this can happen continually; with 27 students in a class, this will rarely happen.

Different Learning Styles In and Out of the Classroom

If it is an option (and it’s rare at most schools), mastery-based, self-paced courses are ideal for certain students.  Staying with a syllabus that must be completed between September and June isn’t always the correct fit for some students.  There are a few schools that offer one-to-one teaching so students can move through the material in a manner that accommodates different learning styles.  Finding a school that offers both one-to-one teaching in addition to small-group classroom teaching allows students a personalized education that enables individual learning styles.  In this type of school, students can focus on subjects that are more difficult while having the classroom experience in the subjects that are more comfortable.

A reduced course-load and private tutoring support will allow students to absorb the material being taught without being overwhelmed by the demands of a course (or multiple courses).  Often, students feel inundated by the amount of work and are unable to maneuver or map out a plan to work through it.  Having less coursework and the aid of a person to guide you through the material will allow students to feel more confident about subject material.

Accommodating Different Learning Styles with a Learning Specialist's Help

Most schools offer study halls throughout the day.  This provides a quiet place where students who require additional time, or “extended time”, as it is often referred to in IEPs and neuropsychological evaluations, can finish a test after the class period has ended.  If a study hall isn’t available, perhaps the school’s learning specialist has a place where someone can be proctored while finishing an exam.

Speaking of a learning specialist, this position has become essential in many schools to help interpret neuropsychological evaluations or IEPs and support the efforts of the classroom teacher.  Be sure to ask if the school that you are considering has a learning specialist on staff.   This person will not only support the classroom teacher but provide strategies and support to the student struggling with individual learning styles.

Although few schools can offer all of these different learning styles, it is important to note which types of individual learning styles are most beneficial to your student’s needs and ask each school that you are considering how they are accommodating different learning styles.

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