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March 1, 1997
Vol. 54
No. 6

Eric Learns to Read: Learning Styles at Work

"All children can learn" is more than a motto at Alta Vista Elementary School in Abilene, Texas. Here's how two 3rd grade teachers use learning styles to ensure that all students succeed in their inclusive classroom.

Instructional Strategies
Eric came to our 3rd grade inclusion class from a regular 2nd grade class where he had been referred for an attention deficit screening. His self-esteem was low, and he did not want to participate in classroom activities. We administered the Carbo/Reading Styles Inventory and discovered that Eric was a strong tactile/kinesthetic learner with an extreme sensitivity to light. We decided to allow him to move away from his desk to complete his independent practice.Each time he went to the same place under a large table at the back of the room. Here he worked in dim lighting and usually swung or tapped his leg or arm. This constant motion had annoyed other students and teachers in the past.As the year progressed and Eric continued to work in "his spot," we saw a dramatic improvement in his attitude and his academic work. Because he was not always in trouble, other students were more receptive to him. Eric matured academically, and the need for an ADHD evaluation was no longer an issue. In the spring Eric qualified for the gifted program. He had mastered all objectives on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills and had received academic recognition for his work.
Eric is not an isolated example. We have seen dramatic changes in many students in our inclusive classroom since we have employed learning styles strategies. In our class of 22 students (10 Hispanic, 12 Anglo), 4 students were identified as learning disabled and qualified for special education and another 3 had attention deficit disorders. The students' IQs ranged from 74 to 126.
  • Noise. We have created places where students can listen to classical music while working. Other youngsters, who need a quiet area, wear old headphones with the cords cut off.
  • Light. Because most of our students prefer low light, we asked the custodian to remove half the fluorescent lights in the classroom. Some students work under tables to have even lower lighting levels.
  • Temperature. We encourage students who prefer a warmer climate to bring a sweater, and those who get hot easily to wear layered clothing that they can remove.
  • Design. Our classroom has an informal area, as well as a number of learning centers.
  • Sociological stimuli. We have created areas where students can work alone, in a team with a buddy, or in a group. We seat students who need adult presence close to the front of the room or near the teacher's desk.
  • Perception centers. Learning centers and daily instruction include activities for the auditory, visual, and tactual/kinesthetic modes. In addition, students can use computers, a language master, and a listening center.
  • Mobility. We allow our students to move around the room and to use special workplaces of their choice.
  • Intake. We have built snack times into the classroom schedule. Students are encouraged to bring healthy snacks such as fruit, vegetables, crackers, or cereal.
Although we can measure our success by standardized test scores and other academic indicators, we feel especially successful when we see a frustrated child like Eric begin to relax and enjoy learning.

Creating a Learning Styles Environment

We teach our students that the freedom to work in their preferred space and style carries certain responsibilities. Our students know we expect them to attend to their lessons and work better than before, and not to disturb anyone else. They understand that if they abuse a privilege, they will lose it.
As we plan our lessons, we discuss how to group the children for perceptual, sociological, and mobility needs. We use many tactile/kinesthetic materials, a variety of instructional groupings, and other small-group activities. We design our instructional presentations to accommodate the psychological needs of our global students. (Global students must see the whole picture or hear the whole story before learning takes place and before they can see the little pieces that make up the whole.)

Introducing Learning Styles

We introduce learning styles to our students at the beginning of each school year. We expose them to a variety of learning styles elements (for example, working with the lights off, while listening to classical music, or with everyone sitting on the floor) and discuss how the different elements help or hinder learning ability. After reading stories about learning styles and explaining the Learning Styles Model, we hold class discussions.
Then we administer Marie Carbo's Reading Style Inventory (Carbo 1994). After we tabulate the results of the inventory, we give each child a sheet that highlights his or her personal learning styles. We again review the Dunn Learning Styles Model (Dunn 1996). During this discussion, we encourage students to draw pictures or write notes about themselves. We stress that there are no good or bad learning styles. We explain that when students use their preferred learning styles, they will do better work.
After introducing our students to learning styles, we hold a meeting to share each child's Reading Style Inventory with his or her parents. We explain the inventory, show a filmstrip about learning styles, and answer questions. Parents who are unable to attend receive a short letter of explanation with a copy of their child's Reading Style Inventory.

Reading Strategies

Although classroom design is important, the methods and the strategies used are the critical factors in teaching children to read. We have found that when we accommodate their reading styles, every child can learn to read. Children with special needs do not always read at grade level, but they can read and participate in classroom activities.
Our goal is to help each student stretch and become the best reader possible. Consider the case of Michael:When Michael came to us from out of state, he was reading on the 1st grade level. Although he qualified for special education services, testing revealed that he was a very capable learner with an above average I.Q. He showed large gaps in his reading skills, however.After we introduced Michael to the Carbo Recorded Books system, his reading fluency and comprehension began to increase. Steady improvement continued throughout the year. At the end of the school year, Michael was reading at the 3rd grade level, and he passed the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills. The following year Michael was one of the few children in 4th grade to read all the books on the Texas Bluebonnet list.
We can attribute many successes to our use of the Carbo Recorded Books Method (Carbo 1989) and related strategies. One strategy we have found highly effective is to introduce new information globally.
For example, we introduced the book Shiloh (Reynolds 1991) by bringing a beagle to school and talking about its characteristics. We also invited a representative from the local animal shelter to visit and talk about abused animals and how to take care of pets. This connected the story to real-life experiences and helped the children focus on the story.
After the global introduction, we initiate activities in which the students can hear, see, and become actively involved in the lesson. Before distributing worksheets, we have students work with tactile/kinesthetic manipulatives or games, or do other group activities. In this way we accommodate all the perceptual strengths so that each student can be successful once the independent practice begins. Our students especially enjoy using tactile/kinesthetic materials such as Electroboards, Flip Chutes, task cards, Pic-a-Holes, and special card and board games related to the learning objectives.

Indicators of Success

Our students' scores on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) during the three-year period from 1993 to 1996 demonstrate the effectiveness of reading styles and inclusion practices. During 1993-94, the year before we implemented reading styles and inclusion, only 50 percent of the regular student population passed the test, and none of the special education children passed.
We saw dramatic improvements during the next two years as we implemented the reading styles strategies and inclusion practices. All the regular education students passed the test both years, with 25 percent of special education students passing in 1994-95, and 20 percent in 1995-96. In addition, student mastery of all test objectives increased from 11 percent in 1994, to 67 percent in 1995, to 80 percent in 1996.
We saw another indicator of success in the classroom climate. Our students worked together in heterogeneous small and large groups. Because we did not separate students by ability level, our students were not aware of any labels. The self-esteem, motivation, and attitude of all students improved because they did not feel stress, learning was fun and pleasurable, and it was easy to succeed. We had created a real community of learners.
Creating a new classroom environment does not happen quickly. Both Rita Dunn and Marie Carbo stress that it takes three to five years for a teacher to develop a learning styles classroom. Then, you must update the plan annually to meet the unique needs of each new group of students. But the rewards are great, as each year you tap into your students' strengths and watch them blossom.
References

Carbo, M. (1989). How to Record Books for Maximum Reading Gains. Syosset, N.Y.: National Reading Styles Institute.

Carbo, M. (1994). Reading Style Inventory. Syosset, N.Y.: National Reading Styles Institute.

Dunn, R. (1996). How to Implement and Supervise a Learning Styles Program. Alexandria, VA.: ASCD.

Reynolds, P. (1991). Shiloh. New York: Dell Publishing.

June Hodgin has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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