By Janet L. Royal, NJEA Staff

In the past, students have often had no choice but to conform to the learning environment in a classroom that was teacher directed and learn as best they could in whichever way they were being taught, no matter what strategies were used.

Fortunately for our students, in many of today’s classrooms there is more of a student-centered approach. Teachers now have more research-based information available to them and techniques for making sure that they factor in students’ individual learning styles and needs before they plan their lessons. Students come to our classrooms with different needs, different educational backgrounds, different attention spans and interests, different language abilities, and different cultural backgrounds.

An important step for educators is to understand and reflect on their own teaching and learning styles, which will enable them to modify how they teach to include a variety of modalities and preferences that best serve the students. This will then make it possible to guide their students to discover their own learning style and preferences, strengths and weaknesses. There are many learning style inventories available that you can take to inform your practice and ones that you can administer to your students so that they understand how best they receive and process information.

The days of one-size-fits-all instruction should be a thing of the past. I compare this to nutrition. Two people eating the same portioned meal, one may be stuffed and the other still hungry. We must discover and address the individual needs of each of our students. Many factors need to be considered when we plan our lessons, such as communication and learning styles, response styles, processing styles and social interaction styles. These can vary depending on the culture of the students.

The next time you give an assignment to the class, if you are that educator that wants the “proof of knowledge” to be in a written format, perhaps you could allow a variety of ways for the students to show that they understand and have mastered the lesson or unit. Maybe one may make a poster or PowerPoint presentation, one may act it out, one may even sing for you.

At the end of the day, when each of your student’s needs are met, they will be more engaged in their learning. If you haven’t connected with what interests them, it can lead to disruptive behavior that not only limits their learning but the other students’ learning as well. Everything you try will not work for everyone, there will be much trial and error. But, ultimately you and your students will benefit.

Janet L. Royal is an associate director in the NJEA Professional Development and Instructional Issues Division and is the coordinator for the annual NJEA Convention. She can be reached at jroyal@njea.org.

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