As a finalist for Target® 2012 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ I believe that lessons created must be of the highest quality and standards-based. Lessons must also be research based for validity. I find that assessing my students for their preferred learning style is important to their success. It helps me select the right trail for the lesson. I am a mild interventions teacher. This article focuses on students with disabilities but it also pertains to the general population. Characteristics of the disabilities will be addressed as well as the best general approach to meeting the student’s individual needs.
The theory of learning styles is the way of instruction that best supports the individual student. Multiple intelligences is a theory that states each person has many separate talents and the ability to problem solve. Different means are used to most effectively approach a new learning task. “An alternative approach to meeting individual needs is to plan instruction in accordance with the principles of Universal Design for Learning, which provides multiple ways for learners to access the educational environment (Raymond 342).
Learning styles should be considered in programming to students who are underachieving as well as to students with mild disabilities. “Learning style theory is concerned with how students learn, with the personal abilities they apply to learning tasks, and with the means by which they accommodate and assimilate new information” (Raymond 335).
Most educators are familiar with the three major identified learning styles: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Visual learners rely on reading, watching and drawing. Auditory learners depend upon listening and discussing what they have heard. Kinesthetic learners use hands-on with manipulatives and other media.
As every student has a different learning style, multi-sensory instruction should be used. Students with mild cognitive disabilities do better academically when allowed to work in groups. They also do better when they are in an area free from distractions. Modeling and guided practice should be demonstrated. The teacher should base the expectations of each student on the student’s individual abilities.
Students with emotional and behavioral disorders tend to have limited problem solving skills and short attention spans. Some students will be depressed and withdrawn, while others are anxious, attention getters, or oppositional defiant. These students can be aggressive, both physically and verbally. Their behavior adversely affects their learning.
There are several methods in teaching students with emotional or behavioral disorders. Materials should be presented at the appropriate level for each student. Tasks should be short and manageable. There can be short breaks given between lessons. Instruction should include a variety of learning styles. There should be verbal instructions given that clearly state the directions and expectations. Distractions should be eliminated.
Students with learning disabilities may have auditory-visual problems that can include difficulty in decoding words or trouble with blending letter sounds. Many students have problems with reading comprehension. Poor spelling is also a characteristic of learning difficulties. Handwriting is often hard to decipher. These students, as a whole, lack organizational skills.
Basic math skills are often not developed. These students often use a calculator for the simplest calculations. Students with learning disabilities have issues with focusing and maintaining their attention spans. Each student needs to be addressed individually as his/her disability will be different.
Researchers have determined that teachers should consider the characteristics and most effective means for the students to learn. Factors to be considered include the physical environment, method of instruction, modality preferences, motivation, feedback and whether the instruction is individual, small groups or large groups. “While there may be some value in the notion that learners approach learning uniquely, it is not necessarily possible or desirable to individually tailor a child’s instructional environment to any specific style” (Raymond 335).
Time constraints are going to prohibit a teacher from individually planning each student’s program based upon his/her unique learning style. Therefore, the teacher should use a variety of styles in instruction to reach all students. Multiple intelligence theory can be practiced in eight ways of thinking, learning, problem solving, and creating valued products. These ways include:
Linguistic intelligence- use of words
Logical-mathematical intelligence- recognizing patterns and order
Musical intelligence- music appreciation
Spatial intelligence- ability to work effectively in a 3D world
Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence- movement for learning and expression
Intrapersonal intelligence- use of feelings and emotions for self-development and growth
Interpersonal intelligence- application of social understandings to interactions with other people
Naturalist intelligence- sensitivity to and ability to differentiate among living things
Every student has the potential to develop these skills. The Iditarod theme is great to use for the versatility that it provides. This increases student engagement. For example, math concepts can be taught by determining the number of pounds of dog food required for the year and the estimated cost. Reading can be enhanced by sequencing what to do at the checkpoints, reading biographies about the mushers, or learning about dog care on the trail. Facts about Alaska, the geography, and the culture are covered by social studies standards. Science and writing can be incorporated by researching marathon dogs for their specific traits that make them successful. These are just a few ideas of how to enhance student learning across all grade levels from pre-K to college by utilizing the theme of the Iditarod.
Joy Davis, Target® Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ Finalist
Raymond, E. (2004). Learners with Mild Disabilities: A Characteristic Approach.
Boston: Pearson A & B.