Teachers are faced with the challenge of students bringing with them, vastly different experiences, cultures, interests and abilities. These characteristics can have a great impact on how students learn. Teaching to such a diverse group requires teachers to be more flexible and place a greater emphasis on the individual. Through the aid of variety and choice, teachers can differentiate presentation to motivate interest in the individual, and hence aid the student to become an independent learner. (Tomlinson, C. A., Brighton, C., Hertberg, H., Callahan, C. M., Moon, T. R., Brimijoin, K., Conover, L. A. and Reynolds, T. 2003)
While it is unfair to expect teachers to fully grasp the psychological & cognitive complexities that comprise learning, they should have a solid understanding that individual students have different preferences in the way they prefer to receive, perceive, interact and respond to information; known as their preferred “Learning style”.
A widely used model of learning styles is based on Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligence theory, which suggests learners fall into seven distinct categories of learning intelligence. “Visual/Spatial” learners prefer pictures and images; “Aural” learners prefer sound and music; “Verbal/Linguistic” learners prefer words in writing and speech; “Physical/Kinesthetic” learners prefer the use of touch, movement & action, and “Logical” learners prefer reasoning and sequence. Aligned with these learning styles is also a preference by students toward “Social/Interpersonal” learning, in groups or “Solitary/Intrapersonal” learning where the student prefers to learn alone. (Howard Gardner, multiple intelligences and education. 2007)
Most students have a preferred learning style, but are not solely dependent on one style. They can adapt to other styles and use them in combination with their preferred style.
APPROACHES IN THE CLASSROOM
Diversity in the classroom inevitably creates complexities for teachers in formulating learning and teaching models that suit their specific context, situation, and the students varying needs. (Rayner, S. 2007)
Some researchers, agreeing that learning styles are important, suggest that teachers should match instruction to the content being taught rather than the preferred learning style of the student (Glenn, D. 2009). This seems plausible in light of research into brain plasticity, which suggests that the brain has the ability to transform, adapt and “increase its capacity to learn” (Walker, S. 2010).
Other’s place greatest emphasis on “matching” instruction with the learning styles of the individual student, which the overwhelming literature suggests is the ideal approach for the benefit of the student. However, in practice, theory and expectation can often fall short of reality.
With class sizes often ranging from 20 to 25 students, trying to cater to every student’s individual learning preference can be very resource intensive. Very few teachers will have the knowledge and understanding of every form of diversity within their classroom. Teaching students with special needs is a prime example, often requiring assistance from specialist aids. This is all good and well in principle, however, additional assistance usually comes at a financial cost, where often schools are restricted by budgetary constraints.
High stakes testing such as NAPLAN can also create conflicts between what is best for the students and what is best for the school. This may exacerbate the unwillingness of school hierarchy to deviate from traditional core curriculum/structures, as overall results can often be linked with a school’s reputation as well as government funding. (Tomlinson et al. 2003)
LESSONS FROM JESUS
Jesus was the epitome of what a teacher with a diverse student body needs to...