One size (style) does not fit all. Effective teachers try to understand how individual children take in and process information. They realize that not all children learn the same way. Learning styles describe the ways in which individual children acquire information, evaluate it, and then examine their findings. Learning styles in general are applicable to all content areas and settings. Effective teachers try to present materials in ways that will interest children and help them to absorb the information. Understanding a child's learning style helps accomplish this.

Most theories of learning styles, beginning with the theory of Carl Jung in 1927, focus on the personality and motivation of the individual. Most learning style theories place individuals into four groups of learners, with approximate percentages for each group. The following model by Silver, Strong, and Perini (1997) is a good example.

  • Mastery Style Learners: Absorb information concretely step by step. They value practicality and clarity (35 percent).
  • Understanding Learners: Work with ideas and abstractions using methods of questioning and reasoning. They value logic and evidence (35 percent).
  • Self-Expressive Learners: Learn through feelings and seeing images in materials. They value originality (12 percent).
  • Interpersonal Learners: Work with others using concrete ideas. Results should be of social value. They are the future humanitarians or volunteers (18 percent).

Currently, most learning style theorists believe that individuals become more flexible in the ways they approach learning as they gain knowledge and experience. Eventually most individuals will have a favored learning style but will use other learning styles when necessary. Teachers can help children develop a profile of their preferred learning style but should also encourage them to utilize other ways to process information. This will give them more options in the future.

Multiple Intelligence Theory

Understanding what is meant by intelligence or trying to separate intelligent from unintelligent behavior is difficult. There are many different theories. According to Wechsler (1975), intelligence is the capacity to understand the world, think rationally, and use resources effectively when faced with challenges. Gardner (1993), a Harvard theorist, defines intelligence as "the ability to solve problems, or to fashion products that are of consequence in a particular setting or community." Gardner (1983) does not define intelligence as a single broad-based domain, but describes nine distinct intelligences: linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal. naturalist, and existential. The first seven are described and integrated with learning styles in the next section. Each of these intelligences is relatively independent, but can combine with any other intelligence depending on the activity (Gardner and Hatch, 1989). This theory is based on research in physiology, anthropology, and personal and cultural history (Silver, et al., 1997). Individuals show different aptitudes in each of these content areas but no one is highly gifted in all areas. It is often easy to identify someone who is gifted in one area such as music, sports, or writing, but many times it is not so obvious. Consulting with parents helps teachers find children's strengths.

Integrating learning Styles with Multiple Intelligences

Each of these theories presents us with different information about children's learning. Gardner's multiple intelligences theory provides cognitive information about the various content areas and the products of learning. Learning styles look at how individuals may differ in the ways in which they process information. By combining both learning styles and multiple intelligences theories, one can understand the different ways in which individuals process information as well as look at how this occurs in the different content areas and contexts (settings).

The following chart shows seven of Gardner's multiple intelligences and how each of the four learning styles operates within a particular intelligence. It includes possible vocations people might choose. Individuals utilize their particular talents differently based on their learning style preference. For example, a journalist, lawyer, playwright, and salesperson all use their linguistic skills differently because of their different learning styles. Learning Styles are Mastery, Understanding, Self-Expressive, and Intrapersonal.

Linguistic Intelligence: the ability to produce and use language

Mastery: Uses language to describe events. Jobs: journalist, technical writer, administrator

Understanding: Uses logical arguments and rhetoric. Jobs: lawyer, professor, philosopher

Self-Expressive: Uses metaphoric and expressive language. Jobs: playwright, poet, ad writer, novelist

Interpersonal: Uses language to build trust and rapport. Jobs: salesperson, counselor, member of the clergy

Logical-Mathematical Intelligence: Ability to solve problems and think scientifically

Mastery: Uses numbers to compute and document. Jobs: accountant, bookkeeper, statistician

Understanding: Uses mathematical concepts for conjectures, proofs, and other applications. Jobs: computer programmer, scientist, logician

Self-Expressive: Sensitive to the patterns, symmetry, logic, and aesthetics of mathematics. Solves problems in design and modeling. Jobs: composer, engineer, inventor, designer

Interpersonal: Uses mathematics in everyday life. Jobs: tradesperson, homemaker

Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence: Ability to use parts or the whole body to solve problems, to construct products or displays

Mastery: Uses the body and tools to act, construct or repair effectively. Jobs: mechanic, trainer, craftsperson

Understanding: Develops strategic plans and critiques the actions of the body. Jobs: physical educator, sports analyst, professional athlete, theater or dance critic

Self-Expressive: Appreciates and uses the aesthetics of the body to create new forms of expression. Jobs: sculptor, choreographer, actor, dancer, puppeteer

Interpersonal: Uses the body to build rapport, console, persuade and suppport others. Jobs: coach, counselor, salesperson, trainer

Spacial Intelligence: Uses visual and spatial configurations

Mastery: Views the visual-spacial world accurately. Jobs: artist, guide, photographer

Understanding: Interprets and graphically represents visual or spacial ideas. Jobs: architect, icongrapher, computer graphics designer, art critic

Self-Expressive: Uses visual and spacial ideas creatively. Jobs: artist, inventor, model builder, cinematographer

Interpersonal: Uses color, space, line, form and space to meet the needs of others. Jobs: illustrator, artist, guide, photographer

Musical Intelligence: Uses skills involving music

Mastery: Understands and develops musical technique. Jobs: technician, music teacher, instrument maker

Understanding: Interprets musical forms and ideas. Jobs: music critic, aficionado, music collector

Self-Expressive: Creates expressive and imaginative performances and compositions. Jobs: composer, conductor, individual/small group performer

Interpersonal: Works with others and uses music to serve others. Jobs: choral, band, and orchestral performer or conductor

Interpersonal Intelligence: Interacts with others, sensitive to their moods, temperament, motivations, and intentions

Mastery: Effective communicator and organizer of people. Jobs: consultant, politician, evangelist

Understanding: Interprets differences in interpersonal clues. Jobs: sociologist, psychologist, psychotherapist

Self-expressive: Creates imaginative and expressive performances and compositions. Jobs: composer, individual or small-group performer

Interpersonal: Works with others to use music to meet the needs of others. Jobs: coach, counselor, salesperson, or trainer

Intrapersonal Intelligence: Understands one's own feelings and emotions

Mastery: Accesses and uses one's own weaknesses, strengths, talents, and interests to set goals. Jobs: planner, small business owner

Understanding: Develops concepts and theories based on self-examination. Jobs: psychologist

Self-expressive: Creates and expresses a personal vision based on inner moods, intuitions, and temperament. Jobs: artist, religious leader, writer

Interpersonal: Uses understanding of self to serve others. Jobs: counselor, social worker

This integrated plan for understanding the acquisition and use of knowledge can help:

  1. Teachers individualize learning in a manageable way.
  2. Children acquire the specific skills that society requires.
  3. Children acquire information and an appreciation of each intelligence by exploring it through their personal learning style.
  4. Children identify and develop their special talent or talents (Silver, et al., 1997).

(From: "Integrating Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences," by H. Silver, R. Strong, and M. Perini, September 1997, Educational Leadership, 55(1), pp. 22-27. Copyrighted 1997by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Reprinted with permission of ASCD. All rights reserved.)