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Cognitive Learning Styles (page 3)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Dec 8, 2010

Low Conceptual and High Conceptual Learners

David Hunt described low conceptual learners as categorical thinkers who depend on rules and have trouble generating their own concepts or weighing a number of alternatives. They have a hard time directing their own learning. He described high conceptual learners, on the other hand, as students who generate their own concepts, provide their own rules, consider different viewpoints, and flexibly shift among alternative strategies when solving problems. They are more inquiring, self-assertive, and capable of independently handling complex conceptual material. The majority of students with learning disabilities are low conceptual thinkers.

Studies find that low conceptual students learn better from highly teacher-directed instruction than from a discovery approach, and when a rule is presented before rather than after an example so that the student knows what to be looking for. The low conceptual student needs to be told all the information that requires attention and the exact point being illustrated by examples. High conceptual learners can learn equally well no matter what the method, but they prefer discovvery approaches that give them more freedom in learning.

On a simple "memorize the story" task, one researcher found that good learners preferred to be asked questions after they had heard a folk tale because they liked to organize the information in their own way. Poor learners, however, could retell the tale only if they heard the questions right before the story was read, so they could be more focused in listening for the appropriate information.

School tasks generally favor the high conceptual learner. Teachers frequently encourage students to discover relationships for themselves with questions like "How could we solve this problem?" or "Why did that happen?" They less often directly provide key concepts or precise choices to ponder, yet this is just what the poor learner needs—an orderly approach to learning that provides focus and reduces confusion by coming right out and telling the child the pertinent facts and ideas. For many students with LD teaching approaches that are more structured and explicit are just what they need to promote greater integration and generalization of information. The teacher's lower-level questions (e.g., fact and sequence) will build the foundation for higher-level inferences. We must be prepared to adapt our teaching approaches to match these students' preferred instructional styles.

Simultaneous and Successive Learners

Imagine that you and your l0-year-old nephew Ken have just arrived at a busy airport. You head to the hotel van pickup board where 50 hotel pictures and logos line the wall. While you're still searching for your hotel, Ken shouts "There it is!" Why did he come up with the answer so fast while you were still scanning the wall, up one column of logos and down the next? You used a successive (analytical) approach, which takes time, while Ken used a simultaneous (global) approach, which is faster. For Ken, the logo just jumped out at him as in a 3-D movie.

Youngsters who prefer a simultaneous processing strategy do better on spatial-conceptual tasks such as deciding whether two different-shaped beakers contain the same amount of liquid, or whether two lines are still the same length when the distance between them increases. They readily grasp spatial language concepts such as "taller than," "below," or "inside," and they can see the big picture when organizing compositions. Successive learners, in contrast, are better at understanding the sequencing of language and sound, and thus are better at learning to read and comprehend.

Problems arise when students bring inappropriate successive or simultaneous styles to a task. Children who learn well typically use a simultaneous approach ~o visual and motor tasks, but successive approaches to auditory and verbal tasks. Unfortunately, children with LD may approach these tasks with the least-suited strategy. Even if they eventually solve a problem, it takes longer and is more effortful, thereby depleting enjoyment in the accomplishment and leaving little room for higher-level reasoning. If the child looks at the world in an overly global way, he or she will miss important details. On the other hand, if the child's approach to learning is always analytical, details will cloud the overall meaning. The detail-bound child is also more likely to miss social cues that could help the child fit in better.

The stories of Ariel and JJ illustrate how overly rigid styles, either successive or simultaneous, can interfere with learning. Although both of their teachers adapted their methods to suit each child's preferred learning strategy, these children still needed to be shown how to be more flexible in their styles. Ariel's boring, overly successive style was helped when her teacher asked her to first tell her classmates her conclusion before she launched into the endless details of a story—"where is this leading?" The teacher shifted copying from the board to the beginning of class to give Ariel more time to copy and alleviate her stress about finishing on time. Brainstorming sessions helped Ariel outline her work better. JJ, who leaps to conclusions, was helped when his teacher drew sticks next to numerals so he could count out the math answers rather than guess. The teacher also asked JJ to forecast what would happen in a story to help him focus on details and time sequences. Task modifications like these adapt to children's conceptual styles and are exactly what students with LD who are overly rigid in their approaches need to help them succeed.

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