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How DO They Learn Best? Using Learning Preferences in the Classroom and Beyond


How do you prefer to learn?
When attending professional development, taking a class or gaining a new skill, do you prefer to read? Listen? Watch someone do it? Learn by doing?

Based on just our own personal experiences, we can pretty easily figure out that different people use different styles of learning (or learning modalities) for different purposes.  The concept of “learning styles” has gotten a lot of attention in the adult education community over the past few years, especially among teachers who are trying to meet the differing needs of individual students while providing instruction in a group setting. It various forms, is also a commonly addressed in workplace professional development.

How have others’ learning preferences’ affected you in the workplace? Have you participated in ‘learning styles’ type training activities as an employee?

Learning Style theories propose that different people learn in different ways and that it is good to know what your own preferred learning style is. Often we hear learning styles defined as “visual, auditory, and kinesthetic” –  referring to how we use the senses to learn or demonstrate knowledge. Another popular model was developed by  John Gardner in the 1980s –  Multiple Intelligences Theory. 1  While he didn’t provide any direct empirical support for his theory, Gardner presented evidence from many areas of study including biology, anthropology, and the creative arts. 2  In the early 90’s he looked at how his theory might apply to the learning that goes on among children in school.His basic points were these:

  1. Individuals should be encouraged to use their preferred intelligences in learning.
  2. Instructional activities should appeal to different forms of intelligence.
  3. Assessment of learning should measure multiple forms of intelligence.

While Gardner did not include adult learners in his research, teachers working with our highly diverse groups of adult learners have found success in using this approach, as well as other learning style theories.  These days it is possible to find numerous tests, inventories and checklists that can be used by adults to help them identify their own preferred intelligences, or learning styles.

Have you used any of these ‘learning style/intelligences’ inventories/tools to determine your own preferences? Do you feel they were accurate? Helpful?

As an Instructor, how have you used (or might you use) information on your students’ preferred learning modalities? Do you feel it was (or is likely to be) important to your instruction?

Below is a story about one teacher’s ‘ah ha’ moment with her students – does her story sound at all familiar to you? Have you tried anything similar to the strategies she mentions?

Elizabeth Gardner is a Workforce Preparation Instructor at Suits for Success in Jersey City, NJ. For thepast 2 years she has been using EFF’s Preparing for Work curriculum to help prepare groups of clients for workplace success. In the Orientation Module at the beginning of the curriculum, an activity called “How Do I Learn Best?” guides students through the process of reflecting on and learning about their own preferred learning styles and strategies (including the use of an inventory). Elizabeth has facilitated this activity with several different groups of students, but note that one time it seemed to “work” above and beyond her expectations.

In this group, like others, some of the students had never done a learning style inventory, and several who had done one before noted that their preferred learning style had changed since the last time they did it. Because of the interest and enthusiasm they showed for the topic, I decided to take the activity beyond individuals just looking at their own preferences, and see if I could move them towards concepts in the Cooperating With Others Standard.

I asked my students to describe what they had learned about themselves to the whole class, and then to talk about how the class could play to their learning styles. As a result, in addition to talking about their own learning styles, they listened to each other, and some students started spontaneously brainstorming ideas for each other. Without being asked, they started thinking about how each of their peers might learn best!  Then the class ended up talking not only about how knowing your own learning style(s) can be used in the workplace, but also about how identifying other people’s learning styles can allow you to help out coworkers, i.e: How might you show consideration for someone else’s learning style at work? This conversation seemed to have a longer-lasting impact than I expected. I observed learning from students based on that discussion weeks later – such as a student ‘recorder’ for one activity drawing a picture next to the text “for visual learners” or one student asking another what was said because “I know you’re a listener.”

I think my experience of this one activity really affected how I plan other learning activities. It really helped me to understand that each group I work with will be made up of individuals with various learning styles, so each group dynamic will be different. This will cause students to respond differently to activities in the curriculum I follow; something that doesn’t work with one group could be a favorite with the next group of students. One group, for instance, might enjoy and learn from a role-playing type activity, but are much less likely to respond or stay engaged in more static “think and talk” activities –  while the next class  might be just the opposite! I think it is really important to figure out up front how students learn best, and then choose or change learning activities [from ANY curriculum] to match up with the learning styles/preferences/goals of each group of students.

Please share with us your experiences in using information about students’ preferred learning styles in your instruction – how that information helps you meet your students’ needs, how you address the differences you find, any ‘ah-has’ you’ve had, etc.  Any of the questions posed in this post can help you get started.

We look forward to an exciting conversation!


Click to learn more about EFF Preparing for Work curriculum or contact us via eff@utk.edu.

For more information on Learning Styles, you can start by visiting this page.
Note that the links ‘For Further Study’ listed on the right hand side lead to some sample inventories.


Post Contributors:
Peggy McGuire, EFF Trainer & Content Expert, Center for Literacy, Education and Employment
Duren Thompson, Program Coordinator and EFFTIPS Technical Editor, Center for Literacy, Education and Employment
Elizabeth Gardner, Workforce Preparation Instructor at Suits for Success in Jersey City, NJ

References:

1 Gardner, H. (1982). Art, Mind and Brain. New York : Basic Books.

Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of Mind. New York: Basic Books.

3 Gardner, H. (1993a). Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice. New York: Basic Books.

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Helping Writers Develop Their Own Ideas: Revising the Content of Writing


Peggy McGuire photo

Peggy McGuire
EFF Writing Content Expert

As mentioned in a previous post,  I presented ‘Writing the Book’ on Writing for Postsecondary Transition at COABE in April this past year. One thing that stood out for me was a lively conversation by the participants around the ‘revision’ component of the Convery Ideas in Writing  process.*

When you think of “revising” a draft piece of writing, what activity comes to mind?

When you ask students to “revise” their first draft of a written text, what are you actually asking them to do?

For many of us, revision of writing immediately brings to mind the act of “correcting” – correcting mistakes in spelling, punctuation, grammar, etc. – that might also be called proofreading. There is no doubt that it is important to learn how to correct mistakes like these in writings. Otherwise, errors could get in the way of a reader’s ability to understand what we are trying to say in our writing. Further, if our students can fix mistakes of these kinds, they are providing evidence that they know about, and can correctly use, common writing conventions.

There is, however, another meaning for revision. This meaning, while sometimes overlooked, is important for our students to be aware of and understand: revision of the actual content of their writing. If our goal is to Convey Ideas in Writing, then content revision is the strategy for making sure that we are conveying our intended ideas to our targeted audience via our written text. And of course, content revision is a process that we can teach our students to employ for all types of writing tasks at ANY functional level (not just for those transitioning into postsecondary settings).

Do you currently ask your students to engage in content revision of their writing drafts? If so, what activities or strategies do you use to support them in the content revision process?

Here are a couple of ideas for helping your students learn how to revise the content of their writing:

Idea #1: Compare Your Draft to Planned Ideas

So much of successful, effective writing comes back to what we do (or don’t do!) during the planning stages – affecting all other components of the writing process, even content revision.  Once your students have produced a first draft, encourage them to compare it to the information and ideas they generated during their planning, and then to decide if they have said everything that they planned to say about the topic. To come up with ideas for ‘what to write about,’ did the student:

  • Brainstorm a list of terms/key points on the topic?
  • Make a mind map?
  • Freewrite on the topic?
  • Develop an outline?
  • Keep a writing journal?
  • Highlight important information in a text they were reading?

Whatever kind of planning was done to generate and organize ideas to use in writing, at the content revision stage, encourage your students to:

  1. Look at the results of their planning,
  2. Reread their drafts,
  3. Reflect, and decide:
    • Did I incorporate all the ideas I wanted to into my draft?
    • Did I miss anything important?
    • Did I include anything that doesn’t really seem to belong there now?
    • Did I come up with new ideas that I hadn’t thought about when I was planning?
    • And in the end, is my point clear and am I saying what I want to say about my topic?

 Idea #2: Seek Feedback on Your Writing

Revising writing content becomes much easier when a writer can get direct and constructive feedback from an external audience. This can give writers an immediate sense of whether or not they are in fact conveying the ideas they want to convey. So – encourage your students to find an audience!

Your student-authors can ask someone they trust to read what they have written (or listen to them read it aloud – remember, the focus is on content, not writing mechanics at this point). Authors can then prompt the readers/listeners to:

  • Tell the authors what they ‘heard’ in the piece of writing – basically “reflecting the piece back” to the writers.
  • Ask questions and/or clear up any confusion about specific points, asking the authors what they meant to convey.
  • Describe to the author specifically what they liked about the piece. This gives authors information about what’s working well in their writing.
  • Describe the words or images that stood out for them as they read/listened to the piece of writing.
  • (If needed) Ask the authors, “What’s hard/easy about writing this piece?” This gives the writers a chance to talk about what’s blocking them, and to find their own ways ‘through’ the block.

As you may have noticed, this idea can also assist students to be effective peer reviewers/editors as well!

The above activites are designed to provide feedback focused on helping writers develop their own ideas. Note, however, that your student-authors may need a bit of practice before they feel comfortable performing these tasks. It may be a good idea to model these strategies with your students, and provide supported practice opportunities before asking them to use them on their own. They will find, however, that the payoff can be considerable. Such strategies for content revision empower students to really think about the substance of their writing and to revise their drafts (as needed) to meet their own communication goals.

What is your experience with teaching content revision to adult literacy (or ESL) learners? Please post a comment to share your ideas, thoughts, and insights. Here are a couple of questions to get you started:

  • Have you ever taught your students strategies like these? How did it go?
  • Have you used other effective strategies for helping your students revise the content of their writing? If so, please share!

We look forward to hearing from you!

*Note that effective revision of writing is also a  Writing Anchor Standard of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and as such appears at every grade level of these Standards.


For more ideas, take a look at how these two writing lesson examples from the EFF Teaching Learning Toolkit  address content revision:
Heritage Books: Family Literacy    Preparing for Release: Corrections


Post Contributor:

Peggy McGuire, EFF Trainer & Content Expert, Center for Literacy Studies

Teaching Text Structure and Signal Words: A Key to Reading Informational Text with Understanding


How much ‘informational text’ do you read in a day? (as opposed to narrative/fiction reading)? Consider ALL the reading you do – including all the ‘incidental’ and ‘necessary’ reading (like billboards, headlines, package directions, blogs, e-mail at work, etc.)

How much ‘informational text’ do you think your students read? How much do they NEED to do in order to reach their learning and career goals?

Informational (or expository) text is the text we use to learn about something. For most of us, informational text forms the majority of the necessary reading and writing we do in a day.  As adults at home, at work, or in our communities, we are constantly faced with informational text that we need to read with understanding.

EFF LogoIn recognition of this, the EFF Performance Continuum and the Curriculum Framework for the Read With Understanding standard emphasizes the importance of students reading a wide variety of different kinds of materials for varying purposes, particularly in real-world contexts. This aligns with the Common Core State Standards Initiative’s College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading which states:  Reading is critical to building knowledge in history/social studies as well as in science and technical subjects. …Students must be able to read complex informational texts in these fields with independence and confidence because the vast majority of reading in college and workforce training programs will be sophisticated nonfiction.

Yet research shows that informational text presents greater burdens to reading comprehension over narrative text. This can present a problem since so much of what we need and want to read as adults is, in fact, expository in nature.

What strategies do YOU use to read informational text? To make it easier to analyze and comprehend?

At home, at work, or in our communities, adults are constantly faced with informational text that we need to read with understanding. We all use a variety of strategies when trying to comprehend text. One strategy that might be especially helpful to us, and a strategy that we can teach to adult learners, is recognizing text structure.

We all use a variety of strategies when trying to comprehend text. One strategy that might be especially helpful to us, and a strategy that we can teach to adult learners, is recognizing text structure.  Every informational text has a structure. Depending on what the writer of the text wants to accomplish with it – the writer’s purpose – the information in the text will be organized into one of several possible structures.

So for instance:

If writers want to focus on…  the text structure might be:
 Steps in a process or a logical chain of events …………………  Sequence
 Similarities or differences between two ideas ………………….  Comparison / Contrast
 The impact of an event or the reasons that something happened  Cause / Effect
 Details to elaborate on a topic …………………………………..  Description
 A way to resolve a situation, or a suggested course of action …  Problem solution

Skilled readers are able to identify the structure of the texts they are reading – even if they are not aware that they are doing it (since the more skilled a reader is, the more “automatic” this kind of behavior becomes). This ability helps to clue them in on the purpose of the text and to understand what they are reading more deeply. Teachers can explicitly teach students how to recognize and use text structure (as part of the process of reading that is described by the EFF standard Read with Understanding).

What approaches or strategies might you – as an adult reader –  use to recognize different informational text structures? What strategies do you teach your students to use?

An important strategy that writers employ to help readers understand their main points is the use of “Signal Words”. Signal words are the words in a text that suggest its structure.  Skilled readers use these signal words to identify and follow the text structure that the writer of the text intended. Let’s consider the most common kinds of text structure and some of the signal words used for each.  [Click on the image below to view the full-sized pdf document.]

But WAIT, here’s an important note to remember  (making things just a bit more complicated): While one particular text structure will probably predominate in any given text, other structures may also be present in that text. In other words, texts may include more than one text structure. You will need to assist students to determine the primary text structure for a document. If readers are aware of text structures, they can select strategies for reading comprehension that are likely to be effective.

Many readers need direct instruction to develop awareness of basic text structures. Teachers should provide explicit and systematic instruction in text structure, supported by scaffolding. Here are some practices that can be especially effective:

Suggestions for Teaching Text Structure via Scaffolded Instruction

Please share with us your thoughts on strategies for supporting adult learners in reading Informational Text – its importance both in and outside the classroom, how you address it, any ‘ah-has’ you’ve had, etc. Below are some questions to get you started:

  • What kinds of informational texts do you use in the classroom? How do you find and select informational texts to use with your adult learners?
  • What kinds of strategies do you teach your students to use when reading informational text with understanding? How do you teach these strategies (what examples or approaches do you use)?

We look forward to reading your thoughts and experiences.


Learn more about teaching Text Structure for Informational Text in the EFF online mini-course,
Using Text Structure and Graphic Organizers: Strategies to Enhance Reading Comprehension
or via other EFF professional development materials/services!


Post Contributors:
Peggy McGuire, EFF Trainer & Content Expert, Center for Literacy Studies
Duren Thompson, EFFTIPS Technical Editor, Center for Literacy Studies

FAQ: What is “Standards-based Instruction”?


From time to time, we address questions on key/core education concepts from adult education practitioners like you. These blog posts are collected on the EFFTIPS FAQ page for easy reference.

Question-puzzle imageEFFTIPS is designed to be a place for adult education teachers to learn and exchange ideas about implementing standards-based instruction and/or instruction based on quality instructional principles.

Q: But what exactly is “Standards-based instruction?” What do we mean when we say that?

In adult education, we feel that standards-based instruction starts from a BIG IDEA:  that the quality of the adult education services we offer is better when we focus teaching, learning, assessment, and accountability processes around the knowledge and skills that adults need to accomplish their goals in life.

Thus one part of the answer to “What is standards-based education?” is this: Instruction that is structured around the content that people widely agree is most important to be taught, learned and assessed.  ‘Standards” then, are a set of clear and broadly understood descriptions of that content. You may also have heard some other phrases lately: “core standards,” “performance standards” “content standards,” “state standards,” etc.

So going back to our BIG IDEA, “Content Standards” for adult education must then DEFINEthe knowledge and skills that adults need to accomplish their goals in life.”

Q: But what is that knowledge? What are those skills?

Read the rest of this entry

“Writing the Book” at COABE 2012: An Interview with Peggy McGuire


On Thursday, April 12, 2012, writing content expert Peggy McGuire lead a discussion at the National COABE Conference exploring how to support adult students in writing effectively for postsecondary transition.

Peggy McGuire photoAs a follow up to our post earlier this month, we interviewed Peggy about her session at COABE, and have posted her responses here for our readers. If you attended her session, please be sure to chime in and add your view point.  If you weren’t able to attend, please don’t hesitate to post any questions or idea you have for Peggy on this topic – she’d love to hear from you all!

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Thanks, Peggy, for taking the time to share with us about your COABE session in Norfolk.

No problem, it was a great session, and I’d love for our blog readers to hear about it.

So, Peggy, remind us, what was your session about?

My COABE 2012 workshop was a double session (two 75-minute sessions back-to-back) titled ‘Writing the Book’ on Writing for Postsecondary Transitions. I designed the session to focus on the writing that adult education students need to do for successful postsecondary transitions, and on ways that adult ed teachers can prepare them to do it. Specifically, I was trying to support the proposition that to help our students write for transitions, we can teach them strategies for:

  •  Identifying transition-related purposes, audiences and tasks/contexts for writing (i.e., “rhetorical aims”).
  •  Identifying writing genres appropriate to the rhetorical aims to be addressed.
  • Generating and organizing ideas for writing.
  • Using the full writing process at the transition level to accomplish their writing goals/rhetorical aims.

Tell us a bit about the participants – who attended your session?

13 folks participated; they represented at least 6 states and a variety of adult education/literacy centers and community/technical college providers. This was admittedly a fairly small group; however, it felt like an ideal size to me for some good interaction and collaborative learning, and the members of the group were really smart, engaged and insightful! I felt really fortunate to get to work with them in a pretty intense way, and the time just flew by!

You had a double session on the COABE schedule – how did you organize your presentation?  Can you give us some more specifics about what you covered?

I organized the session so that the first part focused on what I call “the WHAT and WHY” – instructional activities that teachers can use to 1) help students identify the rhetorical aims of the writing they need to do, and 2) help students know the “rules” of the different kinds of writing they will need to use – different writing genres like persuasion, description, comparison, process analysis, etc. — in order to meet these rhetorical aims.

The second part of the session focused on “the HOW”. In it we looked at the EFF content standard Convey Ideas in Writing and the research-based writing process that it describes, as an overall approach to accomplishing transition-related writing tasks that we can teach our students. With it, they will be able to apply the writing knowledge and strategies they are learning to plan, draft and revise text that will meet their writing goals. Then we spent time discussing some fairly detailed examples of what this kind of writing instruction might look like in actual teacher lesson plans.

That sounds great – a really chock-full session! Was there a specific format to the example lesson plans?  Could you share one of those examples with us?

Sure, here’s a model lesson plan we worked with that focuses on teaching students to write an ‘academic-type’ persuasive essay similar to those needed for post-secondary education placement tests and coursework.

As you can see, the lesson planning tool/form we looked at is organized so that the teachers have to clearly describe:

  1. What they expect students to know and do in each step of the writing process for a particular writing task, and 
  2. Exactly what knowledge, skills and strategies they will need to teach students in each step along the way.

As one participant pointed out, the planning form we looked at might also serve as a tool for developing scoring rubrics that both teachers and students could use to evaluate the resulting writing.

Sounds like there was a lot of discussion going on – like the participants were really involved.

In general I always like to “mix up” information-sharing and hands-on activities in a workshop like this, so participants did a bit of writing and talking to each other as well as listening to me! I remember one particularly great exchange about how we can help students learn how to do content revision of their writing (instead of seeing “revision” only as correcting mistakes or proofreading). In both sessions I tried to model in my own facilitation some instructional strategies that teachers can replicate and use in the classroom.

And how did the participants like your session? What kind of feedback did you get?

Participants seemed pretty pleased with the session. They indicated that they particularly enjoyed:

  • The discussion and interaction between presenter and participants – the good sharing of ideas.
  • The emphasis on explicitly identifying writing purposes and audiences (“rhetorical aims”), and
  • The focus on teaching specific conventions and strategies so that students have the tools to consciously make choices about the best way to address their writing purposes.

When asked how the session might have been better, they pretty much said that they would have liked MORE — more strategies, more materials, more time! I have to tell you – as a facilitator I love to hear that, even though there never seems to be enough time to do everything I’d like to. That was especially true for me at this session because the participants were so interested and so interesting; what a wonderful opportunity it was for a good conversation among colleagues!

Well it sounds like it was a great ‘writing’ session at COABE – thanks so much for sharing with us!

Thank you!  I’m just hoping I’m lucky enough to enjoy many more such opportunities – both at COABE and via this blog.

Again, Peggy would love to hear from you – whether you attended the session or not, please share your thoughts on this topic!


For more about on the EFF approach to teaching writing, including the research behind the process, visit the EFF Assessment Resource Collection and The Research Base for Convey Ideas in Writing