A common trait among volunteer teachers is to teach others according to their own learning preferences. This is normal and would be fine if everyone learned in the same manner, but this is not the case. If only a small segment of your class seems to be "with you" while the rest seem to be "zoned out," you may be limiting your teaching approach to methods that appeal to your learning preference.
Effective teaching requires that we present material in a manner that will engage all of our students. The first step to accomplish this is to acquire a basic understanding of the kinds of learners we are likely to find in a typical classroom. Generally our students will fit into one of three broad categories: content-oriented learners, activity-oriented learners, or goal-oriented learners.
Content-oriented learners have a primary goal of accumulating information. It really doesn't matter how the information is transmitted as long as it is presented clearly. The content-oriented learner views the role of the teacher as a person who presents material for student consumption. Once a subject of study is mastered, the content-oriented learner is ready to move on to the next content area. Many professional students are content-oriented learners.
Activity-oriented learners hate to sit still. They are more interested in the process of learning than they are in the information that is being dispensed. Often the activity-oriented learner will fail to complete a study or become distracted if the relational aspect of the learning process is diminished. The activity-oriented learner is best reached through the use of a variety of teaching methods in every class session.
Goal-oriented learners want to be able to do something with what they learn. Facts, figures, and memorization that have minimal application to the student's day-to-day existence are viewed as a waste of time. The goal-oriented learner wants to reach his or her goal as fast as possible. He or she is willing to participate in any methodology that will help accomplish the goal. The teacher is seen as a resource person who contributes to the accomplishment of the goal.
In addition to having an outcome preference, students also have primary learning styles that facilitate their education. David Kolb and Bernice McCarthy identify the imaginative learner, the analytic learner, the common sense learner, and the dynamic learner as typical of four basic learning styles.
Imaginative learners do not simply accept things as they are presented. They are curious people. They want to see how things work together to produce an overall result. Imaginative learners understand that there are many facets of any concept and are not satisfied until they have examined them all. In addition to discussions, an effective way to teach an imaginative learner is through the use of role-play and case study. These learners do not respond well to long lectures, memorizing, or working alone.
Analytic learners are opposite from imaginative learners. They like the lecture format, viewing the teacher as the primary information provider. It is the student's job to analyze the information and pass judgment on it. These learners value facts, figures, and the way it "should be." In addition to lectures, they enjoy debates, information sheets, and guest experts. They don't enjoy group activities unless there is opportunity for an exchange of ideas.
Common Sense Learners
Common sense learners are not satisfied with the theoretical. They want to test ideas to see if they are workable. They are the problem solvers in our groups. They like to move while they learn. Being hands-on learners, they want to see results. The best way to teach these individuals is through practical demonstrations, testimonies, and projects.
Dynamic learners look at things with an eye to the future. They are creative and have a "what if" mentality. They are risk takers. The past is important only insofar as it leads to the future. Dynamic learners tend to be leaders. They also see the humor in situations. Flexibility is an important aspect of their learning style. They are typified by having many projects started but few finished. These learners want a teacher who will facilitate rather than dictate. They enjoy drama, creative writing, or art projects that allow them to express themselves.
Imagine yourself walking into your classroom next week and seeing all your students engaged in the learning process. This dream can become reality if you will make the effort to use a creative mixture of instructional methods that meets the varied learning preferences represented in your class. Don't settle for anything less than teaching all of your students.
Clancy Hayes is training coordinator and district liaison for the Sunday School Department, Springfield, Missouri. Sunday School. All rights reserved. Used with permission.