IH Journal of Education and Development

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Researching Learning Styles at IH Mexico

By Orlando Mata

Introduction

Back in May 2008 I had the chance to enrol on the pilot of a new teacher training course which would help me prepare towards the Delta course I ended up taking in December last year: IH CAM. In this IH CAM course I was exposed to a number of areas focused methodology, one of which was on catering for different learning styles and the integration and development of learner training and autonomy. Like many teachers, I had sometimes found myself thinking about how my learners learn and whether I was actually catering for their specific needs. I knew my students learnt in very different ways; and still I sometimes did not know how to approach their different learning styles in the most convenient way.

Therefore, and as part of the IH CAM course, I wrote an action research plan to carry out with my adult learners and then assess the possible outcomes. I was interested in exploring my students´ learning styles, and the extent to which knowing them would help me become aware of how I could cater for their needs better. Such action research plan was based on a task which could then be used as a benchmark to measure results and outcomes. The following is a description of the action research plan and the corresponding findings.

Learning Styles Action Research Plan

Objective: The main purpose of my study was (1) to find any kind of differences in learner response on grounds of learning style; (2) to describe such differences; and (3) to determine what further work could be done so as to develop and improve the quality of learning achieved.

Task/ activity: The task to be used was an Authentic Use activity (appendix 1 – activity description) taken from taken from Scrivener, Jim, 2005, Learning Teaching. Macmillan: UK. (Resource Materials – 4 – What happened?). The very nature of this activity was that of a skill-using communicative whole-task. It clearly had the necessary features to cater for at least two learning styles – visual and analytical. The task certainly worked as a springboard for both spoken and written output, likewise furthering reformulation by means of co-operative work at a cognitive level. Similarly, facilitating anxiety was found, thereby helping learners carry out the task successfully based on their schematic knowledge. By the same token, language transference skills were also fostered.

Procedures: The study was designed to provide insights and retrospective data from English adult learners taking English lesson in company. I used three data collection instruments in gathering information on this. The first was a set of questionnaires given to the learners which contained a number of questions concerning learning style, brain side use propensity (Ducharme, Adele & Watford Luck, 2001, Learning Styles Preferences. Valdosta State University Press: USA), and multiple intelligences. Students were asked to answer such questionnaires accordingly and make any comments on them via email. The second data collection instrument was a brief interview conducted by me. The six learners were interviewed individually and their comments taken into account for the writing of their profiles (appendix 2). The third data collection instrument was the observation of learners´ behaviour in class while engaged in tasks.

Report and analysis of my action research plan upon implementation

Data Analysis: The data collected allowed me to see differences in terms of learner response and possible developmental work on grounds of learning strategies for learning. The fact that I carried out this plan with a 6-learner-group allowed for greater leeway in terms of thorough analysis and reflection thereof. In writing my findings, I first looked at learners´ task performance regarding learning style, multiple intelligences and brain side use, to then account for such differences by means of clarification on the possible dissimilar processes they went through when carrying out the task.

Outcomes and findings: Generally, I had success in identifying learner responses to the activity given to them. The data analysis confirmed differences, showing, for example, that while logical/mathematical learners excelled at ordering and creating the corresponding story based on their pictures, learner 1 experienced some difficulties in it – this being evidence of faulty cognitive learning. However, albeit most of the learners were logical/mathematical, these did show a number of differences when paired up for the first time. This was the case of learners 2 and 3, who, in spite of carrying out the task successfully, went through different metacognitive processes when engaged in the first and second part of the task respectively – written, and spoken output -, thereby favouring linguistic and spacial intelligences accordingly.

Similarly, results indicated that right brain learners displayed some reluctance to carry out the task headlong, this at times being a problem with pairs of right brain and left brain learners – thereby increasing the amount of time allotted to the task. Likewise, it is worth pointing out that while the majority of the learners engaged readily in the task, learner 4 somewhat showed resistance to the learning material – this being due to his thick ego-boundary .

Finally, the second part of the activity – writing – also gave evidence of individual variation, for reflective learners performed far better than activists- this being confirmed with their later production of comprehensible output.

Further improvement on learning and action research plan

In this case, it was considered most useful to provide and implement a series of learning strategies whereby learners could satisfactorily do elaborative or active mental processing of both classroom and non-classroom learning at different levels of reasoning. Similarly, a wider range of options should be given to cater for far more learning styles, this by means of production of mixed-ability supplementary material whereby learners could carry out tasks accordingly – allowing for more multiple intelligences and freer patterns of interaction whereby learners could strike a balance among their ego-boundaries

Conclusions

Perhaps the greatest benefit of this action research plan was that it helped me become more aware of the processes that my learners go through when engaged in productive tasks. The fact that I had the chance to explore this area of teaching and learning (learning styles) more thoroughly also allowed me to put myself in the shoes of my learners from a very different perspective, which in turn allowed me to plan my lessons better and cater for their needs more objectively than before. I believe this action research plan could probably be extended to other classes I teach, so that I can be able to compare findings and outcomes in this area of teaching which has shown to be worth researching.

References:

  • Arnold, Jane, 1999. Affect in Language Learning. Cambridge University Press: UK.
  • Ducharme, Adele & Watford Luck, 2001, Learning Styles Preferences. Valdosta State University Press: USA
    Scrivener, Jim, 2005, Learning Teaching. Macmillan: UK.

Appendix 1

Authentic Use activity description

Activity: Story telling based on visual prompts

Objective: To let SS use the language they know freely based on a series of visual aids to tell a story.

Procedure:

  1. T hands out a set of pictures and asks learners to work in pairs (learners 1 & 4 ; learners 2 & 3; learners 5 & 6) .
  2. T asks learners to tell a story based on the visuals and order it in the way they think the relevant events happened.
  3. Once finished, SS are asked to put their story in writing.
  4. T then asks SS to change pairs and narrate their story to the other classmate.
  5. Finally, SS share stories in OC.

Appendix 2.


Author’s Bio:
Orlando is a CELTA trainer and a Cambridge Oral Examiner, and he has started an MA in TESOL with the University of Manchester. He enjoys listening to jazz and cooking Italian food at the weekends.

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