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A Learning Styles View of Success: Perceive and Achieve!

Abstract

The Dunn and Dunn Model of Learning Styles advocates individualized instruction. By teaching youngsters through their perceptual strengths, achievement and resulting perceptions of classroom success can be increased.

Introduction

Recently, I had a conversation with my youngest niece. She is a ninth grade Learning Disabled student at a middle-class suburban high school. She is a resource room student scheduled for inclusion classes with a special-education teacher. She described a lesson in her life science class on the classification of organisms. Her teacher, Mr. Kent, taught the subject in the time-honored tradition of lecture with a follow-up class assignment for the students to complete independently during the remaining time. My niece could not complete the classification table. She guessed the answers, expecting a class review. Not being an auditory learner, she was unable to master the material by hearing a lecture. My niece already knew she could learn the material by making task cards that evening. I had shown her how at the beginning of the school year. A tactual learner like my niece succeeds with this type of instruction. Unfortunately, Mr. Kent called on her to answer a question regarding the classification of the horse, which she had incorrectly guessed as a primate. Mr. Kent corrected her, joking with the class that he had never seen a horse in a tree. At other times, my niece would have flown into a rage when embarrassed; this time, she gave a half-hearted smile and remained quiet. Mr. Kent received her silence as acceptance of a playful joke. My niece saw only the disrespect of her teacher. Her already-limited attention was lost to further instruction. The teacher continued his lesson. For him, the incident was self-limiting; for her, that class was over. How could their perceptions of the same situation be so vastly different?

As educators, we all would like to think that we are master teachers. We work hard at preparing our lessons, making sure that all our objectives are clearly met, while maintaining a well-managed classroom atmosphere. We want our students to learn our material and to succeed in our classes. We strive to teach our students the skills to become life-long learners. Despite our best efforts, we know that not all our students experience success in achievement. We often reflect on the nature of the student-teacher learning partnership, and responsibilities. However, the question of achievement is not just the measurement of how well a student has met our stated objectives, but of that same student's sense of empowerment and perception of success. Youngsters need to feel as if they can learn the material we have to teach them. But these same youngsters also need to be taught the way in which they believe that learning can happen. When students feel helpless or frustrated, they most often become withdrawn or act out, leading other students to mark them as troublemakers to be avoided (Castleberry & Enger, 1998; Knight & Kneese, 1999). They may feel so anxious that they cannot enjoy learning (Hodgin & Wooliscroft, 1997). If only we could address these student needs for appropriate instructional methods and practices! The answer may lie with the Dunn and Dunn Model of Learning Styles.

Dunn and Dunn Model of Learning Style

Learning style is defined as the way in which individuals begin to concentrate on, process, internalize, and retain new and difficult information (Dunn & Dunn, 1992, 1993; Dunn, Dunn, & Perrin, 1994). The Dunn and Dunn model's 21 elements are grouped into five (5) strands--environmental, emotional, sociological, psychological, and physiological (Figure 1 - see issue's website http://www.rapidintellect.com/AEQweb/sump.htm).

Students' preference for sound, light, temperature, and furniture/seating design are examined at the environmental level. Students' levels of motivation, persistence, responsibility, and how much structure they require are the prominent points of consideration at the emotional level. The sociological strand corresponds to the need for variety versus routines and patterns, along with students' preferences for learning alone, in pairs, in groups, or with/without an authority-figure present. Perceptual strengths (visual, auditory, tactual or kinesthetic), time-of-day energy levels, and the need for intake and mobility are determined in the physiological strand. The classification and investigation of the global/analytic and impulsive/reflective information processing styles of learners are focused on in the psychological strand.

The Dunn and Dunn model is used with general and Special Education students and in all subject areas (K-college), and has documented that instruction matching students' learning-style strengths results in statistically improved academic achievement and attitudes (Dolle, 2000; Dunn & DeBello, 1999; Dunn & Griggs, 2000). This model of learning styles provides the foundation for a diagnostic and extrapolative approach, and has supportive valid and reliable instrumentation that provides practical direction to students. (Burke, Guastello, Dunn, Griggs, Beasley, Gemake, Sinatra, & Lewthwaite, 1999-2000; Curry, 1987; DeBello, 1990; Tendy & Geiser, 1998-1999).

Empirical Support for the Model

Most students are not effectively instructed, and may even be harmed, by a unilateral instructional approach to teaching (Dunn & Dunn, 1992, 1993, 1999; Tomlinson, 1999; Van Wynen, 1997). The assumption that there is one best way to learn, unfortunately, is one most parents and teachers share (Dunn & DeBello, 1999; Dunn & Dunn, 1992, 1993, 1999). And, because some elements are not readily observable and students' behaviors are easy to misconstrue, teacher identification of the complex matrix of learning styles is not necessarily accurate (Beaty, 1986). Education can be individualized with wide-ranging knowledge about each student's learning-style preferences (Dunn & Milgram, 1993). Whenever their learning-style preferences were identified and learning-style-based homework prescriptions were provided, students' academic achievement and attitudes-toward-learning improved significantly (Brand, 1999; Cook, 1991; Geiser, Dunn, Deckinger, Denig, Sklar, Beasley, & Nelson, 2000-2001; Honigsfeld, 2000; Lenehan, Dunn, Ingham, Murray, & Signer, 1994; Marino, 1993; Nelson, Dunn, Griggs, Primavera, Fitzpatrick, Bacilious, & Miller, 1993; Turner, 1992).

Research with the Dunn and Dunn Model of Learning Styles has indicated increased achievement and improved attitude when students' learning styles have been accommodated (Dunn & DeBello, 1999). Females and males often possessed distinct perceptual, sociological, and emotional learning-style traits. Females tended to be auditory in their perceptual strength, whereas male students tended to be more visual, tactual, and/or kinesthetic (Dunn, 1996). Female students were more conforming, authority-oriented, and parent- or self-motivated than their male counterparts (Marcus, 1979). An informal classroom environment that encouraged active learning and mobility tended to appeal to male students more than to female students. By contrast, Pizzo, Dunn, & Dunn (1990) found that females significantly needed less noise and more quiet than males when learning new and difficult information.

Specific learning-style characteristics also were correlated with levels of academic achievement and giftedness. Clay (1984) deduced that college freshman with lower grade-point- averages (GPA) were those whose learning-style characteristics included learning-with-peers in an informal environment, music and soft light in the background, mobility, and varied modes of instruction. According to Calvano (1985), low achievers tended to require tactual experiences for learning and needed mobility and an authority figure presence nearby while learning. High achievers were persistent, conforming to authority, and in need of warmth and intake while learning. McCabe's (1992) findings supported these conclusions. Academically gifted students preferred variety when learning and were parent or teacher motivated. Yet, at the same time, they needed to know why it was important to complete the mandated undertaking from the person asking them to do it (Milgram, Dunn, & Price, 1993). These often non-conforming students required options and choices when asked to perform a task.

Practical Application of the Model

No two students learn exactly the same way, but most students possess strengths that can be accommodated when learning new and challenging information. In classrooms, both in this country and in others around the world, strategies connected to the Dunn and Dunn Model are already in place (Dunn, 1997). Many teachers use a variety of methods to teach similar content, such as computer-assisted instruction, diagrams, games, and hands-on materials (Hlawaty, in press). Tactual teaching tools include electroboards, task cards, and flipchutes. Visual learners do well with posters, diagrams, photography and graphics. Those who have an auditory preference achieve through music, audiotapes, songs, and poems. Floor games, role-playing activities, and field trips help kinesthetically inclined students to learn. Peer-oriented students do well when assigned to small-group activities, such as Team Learning, Circle of Knowledge, or Brainstorming. Contract Activity Packages (CAP) are quite useful for the student who prefers to learn alone or with peers, with a variety of perceptual strengths, and needs options when completing an assignment. Self-motivated tactual and visual learners who require structure often can use Programmed Learning Sequences (PLS), which teaches subject matter through short factual frames in a shape related to the content. A Multisensory Instructional Package (MIP), with its array of multisensory resources, appeals to students who are resistant to learning, since these youngsters can achieve at their own self-correcting pace. Environmental preferences can be accommodated by allowing students to wear headphones (either to block out sound or to listen to soft music), sweaters, and learn in a(n) formal (desks)/informal (beanbags or carpets) setting. Materials are not expensive and can be enhanced through color, stickers, and other decorative means and can be constructed for use both at school and at home. By teaching our youngsters through their learning styles, we grant them the capability to achieve in our educational system and in our world (Dunn, Griggs, Olson, Gorman, & Beasley, 1995).

Conclusion

In order for students to feel respected and empowered in their classroom, they must feel as if they have a stake in what they learn, have control of how they learn, and are accepted for the unique individuals they are (Sheets & Gay, 1996). Students who do not believe they have some control in a learning event are less likely to be highly motivated to be successful (Harter, 1981; Tjeerdsma, 1995). One way to allow students some control in their achievement is to give them options for how they can learn a topic and some control over the amount of time to learn it (Duffield, Allan, Turner, & Morris, 2000). Conventionally, our classrooms are not designed for individualized choices; rather, we often lecture our students with the "chalk-and-talk" mode of teaching, imparting our knowledge to the whole class at one time from a prominent point in the room during a specific time period (Perreault & Isaacson, 1995). Individualized instruction seems too difficult a task for so many bodies in one place. This type of instruction is an integral component of the Dunn and Dunn Model of Learning Styles, and appeals to the distinctive learning styles of most students. Learners are taught the skills necessary to engage in their own learning, allowing them to reap the benefits that can be achieved by such an individualized approach. Students who perceive they can succeed at learning are more likely to improve in attitude and achievement (Dunn & DeBello, 1999) and to feel less alienated and more accepted in schools (Hanson & Boody, 1998; Lee, 1999; Knight & Kneese, 1999; Sheets & Gay, 1996).

Success begets success, and failure perpetuates continued failure (Diener & Dweck, 1980). How students perceive success in the classroom is often different from how teachers perceive success. Students want a learning atmosphere that is interesting and challenging, yet tolerant and supportive to their individual needs (The Education Digest, 1993). Learners do not want to feel ridiculed or ostracized for their differences, but accepted for their own and their classmates' successes (Hamlin, 2000). It is our responsibility as teachers to have the optimal conditions for all our unique charges to perceive that they can achieve.

For Notes and References

see issue's website http://www.rapidintellect.com/AEQweb/sump.htm

Heide Hlawaty, St. John's University, NY

Heide Hlawaty is graduate student, St. John's University, New York and high school science teacher.
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Author:Hlawaty, Heide
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2001
Words:1939
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