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TEACHING STRATEGIES FOR EFFECTIVE LEARNING

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Teaching strategies for effective learning

A brief background The relation between the application of a wide range of teaching strategies and effective learning in the classroom has been the subject of periodic but fierce debate during the last 30 years. This has been for a number of reasons. Firstly, there was an extensive debate about the efficiency as well as the effectiveness of various strategies, particularly in the primary sector, following the publication of the Plowden Report in 1967. The report recommended, inter alia, `a combination of individual, group and class work' in primary schools, and welcomed `the trend towards individual learning' (CACE 1967: 474). The subsequent debate both questioned the efficiency of attempting to provide such a wide range of strategies, and rehearsed the comparative benefits of what were polarised into `formal', whole-class strategies and `informal', group- and child-centred ones. Secondly, the prescriptive content of the national curriculum now taught in schools has meant that teachers have not always been able to rely upon the intrinsic interest of what they teach in order to retain the interest of all students in their classes. Teachers have therefore sought a variety of ways of presenting similar materials and topics. Inextricably linked with this quest on the part of teachers has been a growing interest in and concern for the interests and opinions of the students themselves about their learning. Thirdly, repeated expressions of concern about our ability to maintain our competitive position in the international economy has seen a concerted and coordinated government effort to improve the outcomes of our educational system. This has driven schools and other educational institutions to look at various ways of enhancing their performance. One of these ways has been to encourage teachers to look at alternative ways of delivering the curriculum to groups of students who have formerly been regarded as marginal within their schools. This in turn has provoked a new interest in learning styles. The government has taken the unprecedented step of effectively prescribing teaching methods, in the delivery of the literacy strategy and of the numeracy strategy in its primary schools. Both approaches have been subsequently

Matching Teaching to Learning A toolkit for self-evaluating teaching and learning styles

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extended to Key Stage 3, along with strong advice on the delivery of the Foundation subjects and an equally strong emphasis on the need to engage students' interest in their learning. Proposed changes in 14-19 education and in further education stress the need to match teaching methods to a wide range of learning styles. Mapping teaching and learning With the high profile given to effective teaching and learning in the 1990s, one which persists to the present day, it is unsurprising that the activities of school improvers have concentrated to a considerable extent on what goes on in classrooms. The IQEA (Improving The Quality of Education for All) School Improvement Project, started in Cambridge and subsequently based at the University of Nottingham, has considerable experience of mapping teaching and learning styles across a range of schools, using an observation schedule based upon the work of Kolb (see Beresford, 1999). Some background information to the observation instrument used is provided below. Kolb's seminal work, Experiential Learning (1984), effectively reconceptualises Piaget's work on developmental learning in the light of subsequent neurological research findings. What Piaget regarded as four sequential phases of learning (sensory-motor, representational, concrete operational and formal operational) is re-defined by Kolb into four distinct and authentic learning styles, with no implicit hierarchical structure. These four learning styles can be represented as quadrants in a grid where the two dimensions of perceiving and processing information have been juxtaposed (see Figure 1.1, p8). Kolb gives useful descriptors of each learning style, which I have summarised in Figure 1.2, p9. I have found in talking to teachers that applying each of these learning styles to different ways of mastering the use of a computer provides further illumination. Someone with an accommodator learning style will sit at the keyboard and try out different methods, in a hit-and-miss way, of achieving the same end. They will listen to advice from others, but will trust their own intuition at least as much as the information derived from others. Divergers will want to watch others working on a computer, and will want to discuss their experience with them before trying a variety of alternative approaches themselves. Assimilators will also want to watch and listen, but will make their own notes and design their own method of working, which they will then test out. Convergers will consult the manual, and approach learning how to use the computer in a logical way, on their own.

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Matching Teaching to Learning A toolkit for self-evaluating teaching and learning styles

TEACHING STRATEGIES FOR EFFECTIVE LEARNING

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A lesson that caters predominantly for accommodators would typically allow children to experiment with various materials with minimal intervention from the teacher. Similarly a predominantly diverger lesson would require the teacher to facilitate group discussion on an issue. Both of these types of lesson cater primarily for social learning. In a predominantly assimilator lesson students might listen while the teacher talks on a topic from the front of the class. In a converger-type lesson students work alone applying acquired skills to practical activities, for example solving mathematical problems. Both of the latter two lessons generally involve students working alone, and a high degree of didactic teaching. Clearly most people will learn using a mixture of these approaches. However, Kolb's typology recognises the integrity of each learning style as a way of accessing and processing information. He argues that an individual's approach to a learning situation will be strongly oriented to one of these approaches. The research literature suggests that the range of teaching strategies and learning opportunities operational within the school context needs to cater for each of these learning styles in order that numbers of students are not excluded from the learning process. Kolb's work concentrates mainly on university students, and his Learning Style Inventory, derived from his four models of learning, is intended more for individual adult learners. The Inventory does not lend itself easily to an analysis of group needs and preferences. However, much of what Kolb writes about learning environments is applicable to English school classrooms, and much of what he says about learning styles can be used in a broadbrush way to assess group as well as individual needs. The value of such an approach has been acknowledged elsewhere: There is no one theory or model which fully describes learning differences or offers a panacea for teachers. Working with one of the models can help teachers to recognise powerfully the extent of the differences in the way that people learn and the fact that there is no single best way to teach. They can provide teachers with a powerful tool to help them examine and develop their practice.

(SCOTTISH CONSULTATIVE COUNCIL ON THE CURRICULUM, 1996)

In addition, Fielding had usefully identified a range of classroom activities and strategies associated with each of the four learning styles (see Fielding 1994, and Figures 1.3 to 1.6). Adapting this list, I produced an observation schedule which could be used to record the incidence of these various activities in a lesson (Figure 2.1, p18). The most striking feature of this list is the unevenness of the numbers of strategies identified with each

Matching Teaching to Learning A toolkit for self-evaluating teaching and learning styles

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learning style. There are, for example, only six accommodator strategies identified, compared to 14 converger ones. While Fielding does not explain this imbalance, it can be seen that the lists of assimilator and converger strategies and activities contain some that are related to the monitoring, checking and review of learning which the other two do not have. This is not to say that such monitoring does not or should not take place in lessons where there is a predominance of accommodator and diverger activities, merely that such processes do not necessarily take place as part of the teaching in such lessons. Monitoring and review may, for example, be an activity undertaken by a teacher once such a lesson has ended, through a scrutiny of the work produced. Importantly, however, the list can be used to compare directly the strategies used by different teachers across different schools in different Key Stages. Learning styles

SENSING / FEELING

Concrete experiences

Accommodators

Divergers

DOING

Testing implications of concepts in new situations

WATCHING

Observation and reflections

Convergers

Assimilators

THINKING

Formation of abstract concepts and generalisations

Figure 1.1: Kolb's Four Learning Styles (adapted from Fielding, 1994)

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Matching Teaching to Learning A toolkit for self-evaluating teaching and learning styles

TEACHING STRATEGIES FOR EFFECTIVE LEARNING

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ACCOMMODATORS Groupwork organised Gut feelings asked for Mistakes allowed Reporting back methods varied Simulations Variety of approaches

Figure 1.3: Accommodator strategies and activities

Matching Teaching to Learning A toolkit for self-evaluating teaching and learning styles

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ASSIMILATORS Accurate recall Action planning Case study Classwork Data collection Demonstrations Hand-outs Lecture Specialisms tapped Video Working alone

Figure 1.4: Assimilator strategies and activities

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Matching Teaching to Learning A toolkit for self-evaluating teaching and learning styles

TEACHING STRATEGIES FOR EFFECTIVE LEARNING

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CONVERGERS Accuracy stressed Choice of activities Clear goals expressed Comprehension Note-taking Planning of work by pupils Practising skills Problem-solving Relevance of work explained Scientific experiments Testing Thoroughness stressed Working alone Worksheets

Figure 1.5: Converger strategies and activities

Matching Teaching to Learning A toolkit for self-evaluating teaching and learning styles

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DIVERGERS Brainstorming Discussion Group interaction Investigations Open-ended questions asked Paired work Reflection on experience Role play

Figure 1.6: Diverger strategies and activities

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Matching Teaching to Learning A toolkit for self-evaluating teaching and learning styles

TEACHING STRATEGIES FOR EFFECTIVE LEARNING

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The nature of each of the lists throws up some interesting contrasts in the possible approaches to teaching and learning in the classroom. Some of these contrasts are graphically represented in Figure 1.7, below. Teachers familiar with the kinaesthetic/auditory/visual (VAK) categorisation of learning styles will note that the Kolb categories match this well ­ learning by doing corresponds to the left-hand side categories in Figure 1.1, learning by looking and listening to the right-hand ones. These two contrasting styles also correspond to active and passive learning.

Independent learning Active learning Teacher-dependent learning Passive learning

Student-student interaction Kinaesthetic learning Teacher-student interaction Auditory/visual learning

Social learning

Accommodator

Diverger

Learning alone

Converger

Assimilator

Figure 1.7: Contrasting possibilities of approaches to teaching and learning

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In the same vein, one would expect a lesson where the teacher used predominantly accommodator and diverger strategies to have a high degree of independent learning, for example some kind of research activity that involved students interacting and with minimal intervention by the teacher. In such a lesson the locus of control of learning is with the students. Conversely, in a lesson where the teacher used mainly assimilator and converger activities and strategies, one would expect high levels of didactic teaching, teacher-student interaction and teacher-dependent learning, with the teacher typically being the main source of information provided in the lesson and the main director of learning activities. Students would tend to work alone, and the locus of control of learning would be largely with the teacher. Along with mapping the teaching which takes place in lessons, an integral part of the technique has been to assess students' preferences for the various teaching activities. I originally drew up a schedule similar to Figure 2.1, p18 on which students were asked to indicate which of the activities they preferred. This original schedule is reproduced elsewhere (Beresford, 1998). This schedule has subsequently been refined (Figure 2.4, p25) in order to make the nature of the various activities more explicit to students, and thus to reduce the amount of time needed for elaboration by the teacher or researcher prior to students completing the schedule. Methods of undertaking lesson observations and the student survey are outlined in the next section. Summary There has been a cycle of debates about effective teaching that have taken place since the late 1960s. These have largely centred upon the efficiency of providing a wide range of teaching styles and strategies. There has been a growing recognition that pupils learn in different ways. Other pressures, for example the imperative to improve public examination results and to engage more pupils in their learning, have led teachers to explore alternative ways of teaching. Part of the effort to engage pupils more in their learning has been to involve them in a dialogue about how they learn. Finding out pupils' learning preferences, and comparing those to the strategies they are offered in lessons, enables teachers to match teaching to learning.

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Matching Teaching to Learning A toolkit for self-evaluating teaching and learning styles

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