Attending to Learning Styles in Mathematics and Science Classrooms
We all have our own ways of doing things, from washing dishes to planning a trip. The preferences, tendencies, and strategies that individuals exhibit while learning constitute what have come to be called "learning styles." Formal study of learning styles has developed over the past 30 years from a variety of conceptual orientations. Among the theories of learning styles, that of Dunn and Dunn (1978) is among the most comprehensive in scope and practice for teachers. (DeBello, 1990)
The Dunn Model
The model of learning styles created by Dunn, Dunn & Price (1979, 1980, 1990) comprises five major categories called "stimuli." Within these five major categories are 21 different elements that influence our learning. Following are the five types of stimuli and the elements they comprise:
- "Environmental" includes: light, sound, temperature, and room design.
- "Emotional" includes: structured planning, persistence, motivation, and responsibility.
- "Sociological" includes: pairs, peers, adults, self, group, and varied.
- "Physical" includes: perceptual strengths, mobility, intake, and time of day.
- "Psychological" includes: global/analytic, impulsive/reflective, and right- or left-brain dominance.
As each of us develops and accumulates experiences, we each come to rely on some of the elements more than others. For most individuals, four or five of the elements become extremely important when attempting to learn new or difficult information. Giving attention to the elements that most influence a person's learning is what constitutes attending to one's individual learning style.
Applications of the Dunn Model to Mathematics and Science Education
Apart from administering individual Learning Style Instruments for each student and analyzing the results to find strengths and preferences, teachers can attend to individual differences by being attentive to individual stimuli and elements that influence learning. One way to do this is to focus on a particular stimuli or element of the model.
Consider the environmental stimuli. Attention to the classroom learning environment may include changing the physical layout of the room, allowing for seating changes with regard to light from natural or bright light (near windows), or to softly lit areas. Temperature differences may also be addressed with careful seat arrangements or placement of fans. Some classrooms lend themselves to greater flexibility than others, allowing space for some assignments to be completed at large tables or on the floor. Temperature preferences can be noted when some students are often seen wearing their coats or layered sweaters indoors on warm days, while others have a preference for cooler temperatures. Attention to some of these environmental details can be carried over to home study environments as well. Individual student-teacher discussions may reveal environmental preferences, such as those for studying while reclining or while music is softly playing, that may be more easily accommodated at home.
Sociological elements can be addressed in how teachers structure learning activities. Do certain students always prefer to work by themselves, in pairs, in small groups, or only with an adult or authority figure? Math and science instructors may vary the way they require students to work together, noting the number of opportunities in a given week or month that students are able to work in the various social arrangements. Teachers may also encourage students to study or prepare assignments outside of class using particular social arrangements and discussing the results following assignments or assessments.
Some science or mathematics instructional strategies can easily be adapted to include elements of the Dunn Model. For example, having students move around the room at teacher-directed time intervals in order to complete practical questions for laboratory exercises or make observations can be great for students requiring much mobility or kinesthetic activity. Allowing students to use blackboards, bulletin boards, and large floor space to demonstrate mathematical concepts or team teaching tasks can be enriching. Varying assessment strategies and employing peer review, portfolios, and interviewing, or similar techniques can tap learning strengths. Assignments and activities can be structured to include some flexibility so students can utilize perceptual strengths (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, or tactile). Science and mathematics labs can emphasize the use of tactual manipulation of materials, the use of demonstrations that capitalize on more than one perceptual element, and varied social groupings.
Psychological elements can be addressed by considering the manner in which lessons are initiated. Sequential and analytic teachers often prefer to get to the details of a lesson while global students may need a hook or meaningful overview before focusing on the details. The planned use of stories, cartoons, anecdotes, and diagrams can help global students see how details fit into a larger schema. Biographical anecdotes of historical mathematicians or scientists can put a personal face on otherwise impersonal content. Varying assignments to accommodate student preferences, sometimes with increasing structure and guidance, sometimes with increasing freedom and open ended outcomes may attend to psychological preferences. Students need to spend time working with the finer details and the larger interdisciplinary scope of concepts. (Caine & Caine, 1991)
Reprinted with the permission of the Education Resources Information Center.
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