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Today we talked to Teacher Voices blogger Ruth Schackmann about understanding different student learning styles in her classroom.

Understanding Learning Styles as a Point of DataCan you define learning styles for us?
Learning styles, or how an individual student approaches a range of tasks, can be categorized in a variety of ways. Students can be categorized as Visual/Auditory/Kinesthetic or Right Brain/Left Brain, for instance. For teachers, a student’s learning style can be used to ensure that classroom instruction is personalized for different student needs. In addition, a learning style can serve as one data point – among many – in creating a holistic picture of student learning.

How do you determine a student’s learning style?
During the first few weeks of school, I observe students and watch them reveal their learning needs. But it takes a deliberate effort to understand their learning style and engage them in the process of determining the best way they learn, as well.

About the sixth week of school, I plan a talk about learning styles. I find that I need to get to know students a little bit first and establish some trust before engaging in these conversations.

They need to see me responding and reacting for some time before they trust me. They need to see me take responsibility for my actions and know that I expect the same of them.

I explain to students that progress monitoring, skill lists and state standards are good data points, but they will never help me to figure out HOW to deliver information. To engage them in the process, I hand out colored strips of paper, and they write down an ID number (for confidentiality), how they learn and what helps them learn best. They have to add a “because” statement in their response to ensure a fully developed idea. They are responsible for knowing and using their learning style going forward.

How else do you engage the students in this process?
The students are responsible for evaluating and sorting the strips of paper. They work together to group the strips and create categories for the “like” strips. For example, one year I would have called the learning styles Verbal, Visual and Kinesthetic. Instead, the students called them Individual vs. Community and Talking vs. Doing. In fact, all of their categories were different than mine.

Once they’ve created the categories, then I create a spreadsheet with their names, ID numbers, and learning styles. I not only use the spreadsheet in class, but also take it to grade-level meetings with the test scores, skills, and other data points added to it. I use the learning style categories while creating lessons, seating charts, and on a daily basis to explain why we do things the way we do.

How does this help you manage the classroom?
Learning styles help shape the culture of the classroom. When all class work is loud and community-focused, it doesn’t serve my students who work better individually. One year, the community-based learners enjoyed a class period to talk and read aloud. The individual-study students were miserable. The next day, I started class by referring to the fact that the work so far had been community focused and that today we were working in silence. This day, we were going to support the individual-study kids. The reference to learning styles helps all the students understand why you are managing class a certain way. That day, they worked in complete silence. There was no forced compliance; they understood why they were quiet.

For more about how teacher and blogger Ruth Schackmann uses data to help create classroom management strategies, check out her previous blogs in this series.

Ruth Schackmann is a regular Teacher Voices contributor to our blog and teaches middle school English/Language Arts in Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District in Texas. You can follow her on Twitter @Ruth_Schackmann. And don’t forget to share your classroom strategies based on data with us on Facebook or Twitter (@Assess2Learn).