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Learning Styles Are More About Teaching Styles: Teaching All Learners

Sep 21, 2021 by Judy Higgins

One thing I've learned over the past 20 years of teaching is that learning styles are really more about teaching styles. There are many different types of learning styles and it's important to make sure that we are teaching all learners and giving students the tools they need to succeed in the classroom. One example of how to accomplish this challenge in your own classroom is by improving access to the assigned reading for all students. To help, I am going to share the tools and strategies I use to engage all students in the nonfiction reading component of the KnowAtom science curriculum.

KnowAtom's next generation science standards (NGSS)-designed curriculum uses a similar routine for each lesson so that students begin to know what to expect. For each lesson within every unit, we start out reading. Students then take part in a Socratic dialogue using what they've learned from the reading. Next, we plan for a hands-on experiment, investigation, or engineering prototype. To wrap up the investigation, teams share their conclusions and debrief. As you can see, the nonfiction reading provides the launching point for each lesson.

No matter what level a student is reading at, whether they are an English language learner or whether they are predominantly a visual vs. an auditory learner, it's important that they can access the information in the reader upfront. To help students with different types of learning styles access the nonfiction text, teachers must understand how students learn differently. One popular model is the VARK learning styles theory. VARK identifies four different learning styles: visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and reading/writing. While most students have a combination of these different types of learning styles, some students learn predominantly from only one.

Connecting new phenomena to past experience

When beginning a new lesson, teachers should consider what knowledge and experiences students bring with them to the class. By establishing a common background when introducing new phenomena, teachers help level the playing field for students who are at different places along their learning journey.

For example, if we're investigating friction and the impact that a dog sled might have moving over snow, that context would be really difficult for a student who hasn't experienced snow to think about. "I don't understand because I don't know what it's like to walk on snow. I don't know the properties of snow. I haven't experienced that," the student is thinking. With the KnowAtom curriculum, the text before every unit helps give every student a common background and some insight into the phenomena they're about to explore.

For students with reading/writing predominance in their VARK learning style, reading the text before the hands-on experiment helps them understand the new concept when it is introduced. But that's not the only type of learning style you have in your classroom. Visual learners are better supported by the visuals in the nonfiction reader, including photos, charts, and graphs with explanatory text. Auditory learners may learn best from classroom discussions about the reading and can be supported by tools like sentence starter frames and annotating the text, so they come to the class discussion with the right questions to ask. Finally, kinesthetic learners learn from doing – and the tactile experience of completing an engineering project related to the new concept will help them better understand the lesson.

Another way students with all different types of learning styles can relate to the nonfiction text in the KnowAtom student readers is by connecting the new information to current knowledge – what they've learned before. Students start to think about, "Oh, I remember learning a little bit about that last year," or "I experienced something like this when I was cooking at home and the water started to boil." When working in pairs, small groups, or as a class – teachers can help students connect new phenomena with current knowledge by asking questions about what they've learned from the text and what it reminds them of.

KnowAtom's introductory text helps students start to think about what they will be exploring in the hands-on activity. It introduces or reinforces the vocabulary needed for the Socratic discourse, so students feel more comfortable joining in the classroom discussion. When using KnowAtom's NGSS-designed curriculum, we challenge our students to act like scientists and engineers, interacting with their peers in a professional setting. This helps level the playing field even further because all students are accessing the same vocabulary when discussing the new phenomenon and understand the rules of engagement when taking part in the classroom discussion.


Tools to strengthen reading fundamentals for all types of learning styles

One of the first things I do to help improve access to the reading material for all students is using prereading tools. The majority of my students are English learners, so they are often not reading at grade level yet. One tool I use to help them access the text is focusing on pictures. Asking students to find meaning in the images in KnowAtom's student readers and using a picture thinking graphic organizer helps them identify the images' object, action, and property. Students build critical thinking and active reading skills as they wonder what they will be reading about through the images and connect it to their current knowledge. This can be done together as a class, or in small student groups, or individually.

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Topics: Next Generation Science Standards, higher order thinking, Socratic dialogue, Expert, Middle School Science Curriculum, Phenomena-led teaching, Next Generation Science, Implementing New Science Standards, NGSS-Designed Curriculum, Remote Learning, Picture Thinking

The Best KWL Chart is Actually a Picture Thinking Routine

Sep 15, 2021 by Judy Higgins

What is a KWL chart, and how is it used in teaching science? Let's take a look first at what the 'KWL' stands for – it's an acronym for what students KNOW, WANT to know, and will LEARN during a lesson. KWL charts are graphic organizers that help students collect information before, during, and after a unit. Using a KWL graphic organizer supports the constructivist teaching model – the idea that deeper learning happens when students are actively involved in the learning process instead of passive recipients of new information.

When teachers use KWL charts to introduce new ideas and topics, they help students identify what they already know about the topic and better understand the objectives of the lesson. KWL charts can also be used by teachers to monitor student success. KWL charts help guide students through nonfiction texts, as they track their progress in three columns titled KNOW, WANT, and LEARNED. There are many different KWL chart format examples, and they can be used to teach a variety of topics and subject areas. I am going to share how I used a Picture-Thinking graphic organizer (one type of KWL chart) with the KnowAtom science curriculum to implement the Picture-Thinking reading strategy. This graphic organizer is even better than a KWL chart because students are working within a context to identify what they know, want to know, and what they've learned. I have been a teacher for about 20 years, and for the last five years of my teaching I have used the KnowAtom curriculum.


KWL Charts and Picture-Thinking Reading Comprehension

The picture-thinking routine is one of my favorite routines. I started using this in my classroom about two years ago, and it really made a huge difference in my students' engagement with nonfiction texts. When I made it part of my regular classroom routine, students started thinking in such different ways. I'm going to take you step-by-step through exactly how to implement this routine in your own classroom, using the Picture-Thinking graphic organizer to help.

What is a "picture thinker?" A picture thinker is someone who thinks more in pictures than in words or sounds. Incorporating the picture-thinking routine in your classroom will help not only those students who think "in pictures," it's a great way for all students to make strong connections between the context and new vocabulary words, concepts, and what they already know. Here's an example of a Picture-Thinking KWL graphic organizer I use in my classroom:

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Topics: Next Generation Science Standards, interactive science, Inquiry Based Learning, Next Generation Science Classroom Instruction, science education, KWL Chart, Picture Thinking

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