Jan 06

Engaging Students with Diverse Learning Needs

Whether you’re a first-year or seasoned veteran teacher, you know no two students are the same. Unique character traits and personal preferences influence how individuals absorb, process, and communicate new information. In response, an educator’s teaching style can impact how your students learn and comprehend in your classroom. This post provides teachers with techniques and strategies for engaging students with diverse learning needs and various learning styles.

Female High School Tutor At Whiteboard Teaching Maths Class

The VARK Guide to Diverse Learners

First developed by teacher, education researcher, and New Zealand public school inspector Neil Fleming in 1987, the VARK guide and its online questionnaire remain a popular tool for giving students and teachers a starting point for understanding how students learn. Taking an inventory encourages learners to think about how they learn and can be a good step toward better comprehending—and hence improving—the learning process.

Students’ diverse learning needs and preferences for processing information can be categorized and scored among the four VARK modalities and learning styles: Visual, Auditory, Reading/Writing, and Kinesthetic. By understanding the different learning styles, educators can deploy diverse teaching strategies to accommodate the needs of diverse learners.

V – Visual Learners

Visual learners prefer to take in information via maps, diagrams, flow charts, graphs, and other diagrams or written directions. Students who learn through sight understand information better when presented in visual formats, descriptions, or displays. They also frequently take detailed notes, make lists, or create mind maps using imagery and symbols to connect concepts or visualize relationships between ideas. You can identify the visual learners in your classroom as the ones who enjoy drawing or doodling.

Effective Teaching Strategies to Accommodate Visual Learners

  • The whiteboard, SMARTboard, or students’ personal devices are excellent tools for reaching visual learners. Use these to give students opportunities to make graphs, draw diagrams, or doodle quick examples based on the lesson’s topic. 
  • Regularly use handouts, presentations, and visual aids to convey information during instruction. Colors and symbols for emphasis, or other visual analogies and metaphors, can help visual learners retain and mentally organize new subjects.
  • Have students take notes and write down observations, explanations, questions, and hypotheses during presentations. This keeps them looking at and engaging with the material as you’re presenting. 
  • Include exercises in which students can create mind maps, or spider diagrams, for brainstorming and easily visualizing concepts and ideas.
  • Incorporate storytelling into lessons wherever you can. While it’s a verbal medium, teaching through telling stories helps students better visualize information in their minds.
  • Encourage students to think visually by using phrases such as, “Picture this …,” or “Let’s see ….” 

A – Auditory Learners

With a preference for information that’s heard or spoken, aural or auditory learners need subject matter reinforced by sound for the best learning results. They’d much rather learn by listening to a lecture or presentation than through written notes and usually aren’t afraid to speak up during class.

They may be slower at reading, but auditory learners often prefer reading out loud to themselves or will repeat things a teacher tells them to reinforce new concepts using their own voice. 

Effective Teaching Strategies to Accommodate Auditory Learners

  • Get aural learners involved in lectures and presentations by taking breaks after chunks of information to ask questions and have students repeat new concepts back to you.
  • Spark group discussions so auditory and verbal learners can effectively take in, process, and share information. Collaborative problem-solving lets students hear ideas from other perspectives, and aural learners can often recall info and remember conversations well.
  • Incorporate music, rhymes, and mnemonic devices into lessons to help aural learners retain and recall key concepts. 
  • When appropriate and accessible, suggest audiobook versions of required reading materials or read passages aloud as a group.
  • Recommend that students reread their notes back to themselves out loud while studying. Recordings of your lessons or lectures are also helpful tools for auditory learners.

R – Reading & Writing Learners

While there is some overlap with visual learning, and they share an appreciation of note-taking, reading/writing learners are drawn to expression through written words and text in all formats. They enjoy reading articles and books, journaling daily, and discovering new information through online research, PowerPoint presentations, and even dictionaries and encyclopedias.

Reading/writing learners are typically well-served by broad and traditional education trends involving reading, research, and writing assignments. Allow plenty of time for students to absorb information through written words while providing opportunities to express their ideas in writing. 

Effective Teaching Strategies to Accommodate Reading & Writing Learners

  • Whether beginning a new subject, assigning a group project, or helping establish good independent learning habits, include opportunities for students to conduct their own research and share findings with their peers.
  • Ahead of a lesson or presentation, provide students with a list of keywords or phrases to look out for, then have them write their own definitions or explanations based on the context and information presented.
  • Have students keep a diary or journal to reflect on subjects they’re learning about or answer daily writing prompts.
  • Encourage students to take diligent notes during lectures or reading assignments. Rereading and rewriting notes, including new summaries or overviews, is a smart study habit for reading/writing learners. 

K – Kinesthetic Learners

Kinesthetic or tactile learners need physical involvement or shared experiences actually doing something for the best learning results. You may notice them as learners who sometimes struggle to sit still or benefit from frequent stretch breaks when studying. They enjoy getting physically active, taking things apart and putting them back together, and getting hands-on with their learning to grasp and understand concepts.

When students can physically sense what they’re studying, abstract ideas or difficult concepts become much easier to understand. By drawing connections from their own first-hand experiences with the material, kinesthetic learners respond well to case studies, demonstrations, and any real-world applications of their learning. Because of their need for activity and exploration, it can be easy for kinesthetic learners to become distracted.

Effective Teaching Strategies to Accommodate Kinesthetic Learners

  • Teachers can best engage kinesthetic learners by getting them active and moving! Have them get involved by acting out historical events, building their own molecular models for use throughout science units, or playing learning games that make them move around the classroom.
  • Provide students with as many opportunities as possible to interact with physical objects, solve puzzles, or actively engage with lesson materials.
  • Rather than just having them watch a demonstration, involve your tactile learners in performing the lesson’s tasks or experiments through physical actions, hands-on testing, and trial and error.
  • Set up designated activity zones, stations, and different learning venues to visit throughout the classroom.
  • Get students involved as teachers, too, tasking them with the physical activities of giving brief presentations, taking notes, or drawing diagrams on the board.

Support Students’ Diverse Learning Needs with Avanti

By understanding and acknowledging students’ learning styles and the different ways students process information, teachers can better address the diverse needs of learners and ensure no one is behind in their progress. It’s important that teachers get to know students well enough to grasp their preferred learning styles and needs, then be prepared with strategies to address those needs and be more effective educators.

Avanti’s library of short videos contains proven strategies for engaging students of all learning styles. Sign up for a free one-week trial today and get full access to the entire video library, implementation guides, live streams, and more to help you make the most impact in the shortest amount of time.

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