Breaking the Mold: Adapting to Students’ Diverse Learning Styles

Throughout college and for a few months after graduation, I tutored students for both the teaching experience and, being honest, a little cash on the side. While I was working as a teacher’s aide for seventh and eighth graders, I’d often tutor the students in those grades who were struggling.

One of these students, whom I’ll call Patrick, really struggled with reading comprehension. At the beginning of the school year, he failed nearly every reading quiz he took, and his writing was worse. He was fourteen years old and could barely spell or string together simple sentences.

His language arts teacher (my mentor and boss) and I were naturally worried about him, and she suggested that I work with him to help bring his grades up. I hesitated at first — he seemed like such a quiet, sullen kid — but agreed to do it because he clearly needed help.

The first few sessions were as awkward as I thought they’d be. I tried to chat with him and find out his interests, but after a couple minutes of his monosyllabic responses, I’d give up and just go over his homework with him.  He didn’t want to be there and his grades reflected it; he continued to fail quizzes and I grew discouraged.

Until the day he was assigned to read “The Tell-Tale Heart” for homework (it’s short, give it a read!). Students seem to love this genuinely creepy story by Edgar Allen Poe, so I was interested to see how he’d respond to it. As the narrator is a psychotic killer, the story practically begs to be read out loud in a sinister voice. So even though Patrick didn’t like reading out loud very much, I suggested that we alternate reading the story to each other, and he agreed.

Once we began the exercise, I felt like I was working with a different kid. I was amazed at his engagement, how he laughed and shuddered at the eeriness of the story, and how quickly and accurately he responded to comprehension check questions I asked him throughout. And that’s when I realized the problem Patrick was having — he was an auditory learner, and he simply wasn’t able to concentrate by just staring at words on the page. Thus, he’d grow distracted, retain nothing, and fail the quizzes. So with the helpful suggestions of my boss, I spent the rest of the semester experimenting  different teaching methods with him. We read aloud together, got audiobooks, made charts and diagrams, drew, got out of our seats, and sometimes I’d even have Patrick dictate writing assignments to me to help get his ideas flowing. His quiz scores began reflecting his progress in tutoring, and most importantly, his confidence surged as a result of his success.

My experience with Patrick convinced me that it’s absolutely true that students have different learning styles. When I was a student, I had no problems reading books and textbooks silently and did well on reading quizzes. But not all students are like that, and I think it’s time that teachers start exploring options beyond the traditional textbook model.

We’ve recently covered e-textbook companies such as Flatworld Knowledge and Inkling here on Technapex because of their increasing popularity, and it turns out this shift from the traditional textbook model to the e-textbook could be incredibly important for students with different learning styles.

Research shows that all brains are unique, and that each student learns and retains information in a different way. Like Patrick, not all students are successful in the conventional “read-the- textbook-take-notes-study-for-the-test” method used in so many classrooms. Because we all have different experiences, we have different neuron connections; thus, students benefit from receiving information in a variety of ways. While researchers admit they still have much to learn about the study of neuroscience, new knowledge about the brain can have huge implications for education. Read more about recent research on neuroscience and how we learn here.

The e-textbook offers a flexible alternative learning solution for all kinds of learners. By breaking out of the textbook mold and presenting information in a more visual, dynamic, and social way, e-textbooks can help students like Patrick who have trouble with reading comprehension. There are all kinds of companies who are offering an alternative to the standard textbook. One of which is TriplePoint’s client Nature Education, whose new e-textbook Principles of Biology offers interactive modules, assessments, social features, videos, and other capabilities that appeal to a variety of learning styles. Other companies such as the previously mentioned Inkling and Flatworld, as well as Coursesmart and Apple’s iBooks textbooks for iPad are also working to improve textbooks to keep students engaged.

As long as educators and innovators in edtech continue to challenge traditional methods and practices within education, kids like Patrick will continue to benefit from these new flexible learning methods.

Caity Doyle

Caity is a former English teacher and the editor of Technapex. Caity is extremely passionate about education and is TriplePoint PR's resident edtech expert. When not researching education policy and edtech, she enjoys running along the Bay Trail while blaring the Boss through her headphones, watching the Giants beat the Dodgers, and meeting fellow Italians in North Beach.

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About Caity Doyle

Caity is a former English teacher and the editor of Technapex. Caity is extremely passionate about education and is TriplePoint PR's resident edtech expert. When not researching education policy and edtech, she enjoys running along the Bay Trail while blaring the Boss through her headphones, watching the Giants beat the Dodgers, and meeting fellow Italians in North Beach.