Cognitive Learning Styles
Cognitive style theorists stress that school tasks can contribute to learning disabilities when they require students to use problem-solving strategies that they find unnatural. A person's cognitive style (his or her preferred way of looking at and interacting with the world) tends to remain stable throughout life and is influenced by such factors as personality, heredity, and brain injury.
Recall Jonah, the hyperactive first grader. His teacher asks him to find an educational game to play quietly while she works with a reading group. He flits from game to game, never finishes any of them, and he gains little from the experience. His classmate Juli, given the same instructions, chooses one game and plays it over and over, intrigued by its details and trying to get a better score each time. Time is up long before she even thinks about trying a different game. When the teacher asks these two children to tell the reading group which games are available, Jonah's hand flies into the air because he's tried them all. But when she asks them to demonstrate a game, Juli is the one ready with an answer.
Is one child a better learner? In general, our society favors Juli's reflective approach. She's more task oriented, takes more time to arrive at solutions, and likes to analyze and memorize details. School tasks are more compatible with Juli's disposition than Jonah's. But Jonah's impulsive style has benefits too. When the teacher asks the children to find her pen in the classroom, Jonah's ability to scan the environment rapidly works well. Ask Jonah to find the movie theater listings in the newspaper, and he locates them quicker than Juli, who methodically goes through each page one at a time.
Cognitive style theorists presume that in many cases students who are experiencing learning problems have intact learning abilities, but their styles of learning are inappropriate for the classroom demands. This leads to underachievement and cumulative information deficits. On the other hand, when curricular demands match students' preferred learning styles and when students are taught more effective learning strategies, these students can learn well.
The next section discusses the most common learning styles found among students with learning disabilities.
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