The Benefits of Assessing Learning Styles of Your Students and Intervening Early

Updated on May 4, 2018
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I have been a special education teacher for 16 years and teach in an urban school district.

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Why Should We Assess Our Student's Learning Styles?

The people that we encounter in life are usually different than we are and likewise have experienced different things than we have. In fact, it can be said that the same is true of the learning process. Everyone learns differently, therefore it would seem to make sense that schools adjust according to this. However, this has not been the case. In general, educators have been accustomed to grouping students into two tracks- linguistic and mathematical. In the process, educators may fail to recognize that students learn differently, therefore instruction should be adjusted to accommodate these needs. Tomlinson (1999) states that educators should meet a student at his or her level in order to maximize potential. This, however, has not been the case up to this point. Instead, education is geared to teaching to linguistic abilities (Peterson, 1994). In the essence, the current system does not seem to accommodate the needs of all learners. Oftentimes, the children who do not do well linguistically, are the same children who do not do well in school (Peterson, 1994). The literature suggests (Campbell, Milbourne, & Silverman, 2001; Williams, 1983; & Armstrong, 2001) that children who do not fit into this continuum are those left behind. In fact, many of these same children are viewed as having a weakness, thus this results in them being placed in special classrooms (Tomlinson, 1999).

Recent research was conducted to determine caregiver perceptions of children with cognitive "limitations" (Campbell, 2001). Campbell, et al (2001) found that children with cognitive limitations were viewed in terms of weakness, rather than in terms of having strengths. In reality, it may be that these children are not cognitively limited, rather they are not challenged in another intelligence. Educators and caregivers may have become too accustomed to trying to "fix" a child’s weakness when instead they should be trying to broaden the child’s strengths (Campbell, et al, 2001). This is where problems in the educational system surface. Studies (Peterson, 1994; & Campbell, 2001) suggest that instruction that fails to meet a child’s learning style will result in more students being placed in special education classrooms. It seems unfair that students who learn differently are being placed in a classroom because it is believed they require extra help. In fact, Tomlinson (1999) feels that this has indeed resulted in schools placing students in specialized classrooms. She states that this should not be the case, especially if educators become more aware of how each student learns. Instead, educators should help "students and society find ways to accommodate, encourage, and develop students’ varied strengths..." rather than focusing on their individual weaknesses (Williams, 1983, p.9). With the advent of programs, Williams (1983) believes that the educational system will become stronger. In turn, fewer students will be referred to special education (Armstrong, 2001).

Assessment practices may need to focus on adapting instruction to include the different ways a student learns. It is necessary to assess the strengths and limitations of young children, as this may provide useful information before a child enters school (Buffalo University). Assessments can be a desired tool to help meet students before they begin developing problems. However, it is suggested that a good assessment will include information on what a child knows, what the child can do, how the child learns, and where any concerns or problems lie (Rudolph, 1999).

How Do We Use Information From Assessments?

When people refer to assessments they immediately think there is a problem. Rarely have assessments been linked with providing a profile. It might be beneficial to conduct assessments for the purpose of identifying how a student learns and what his strengths are. By doing so, educators will have a better glimpse of how a student learns best. Of course, intelligence tests are not the only form of assessments that should be utilized. Instead, an educator could begin by meeting the student at his level. Begin by observing how the student learns and reacts to information (Tomlinson, 1999). Many schools are setting up learning centers in order to assess student progress. This may be an excellent way to track student progress. In fact, students may also be able to track their own progress. Tomlinson (1999) suggests that if a teacher modifies the content, process, and product, she will be able to gauge a learning profile for each student. It may also be helpful to provide intelligence testing to young students in order to further understand their abilities. Intelligence tests can provide educators with a baseline scope of abilities. This, however, should not be the only method, as intelligence tests do not currently measure the different intelligences.

Purpose of Meaningful Assessments and Implications for Its Use

Assessments are used for many different reasons, but primarily to determine if a problem exists. However, assessments can and should be used as preemptive methods to ensure that success ensues. It is probably vital to use assessment measures to generate a profile of a student’s learning style. If assessments are used for this purpose, educators will ensure that they are catching problems early on, rather than waiting until later (Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, 2001). This would be the optimal time to deal with educational needs of a child who may struggle later on in school. This, though, is rarely the case. Too often, educators wait until the problem becomes so big that it is more difficult and costly to deal with. By engaging in utilizing assessments before a child enters school, it will alleviate some of these problems later. Missouri Department of Education (2001) indicates that greater benefits accrue when a program is designed to match a child’s learning style and risk conditions. Thus, a child will be more successful in school as a result of administering an assessment of how the child learns. According to Armstrong (2000), MI theory can help teachers identify how a student learns and the students’ strengths to decide what type of learning environment is the most conducive to the child learning. Meaningful assessment allows the educational system to include all students in assessment in order to meet their needs.

Implications

Assessment is such a timely and costly effort that many schools only use it when needed to identify students with problems. Very rarely does a school use assessment to determine how a child learns. If assessments were to be used for this purpose, schools might have to adapt the curriculum to the different learning styles. The fact remains, however, that education has a long way to go if it is to adapt its curriculum to meet the needs of all learners. By using assessments to determine how a child learns this would significantly raise the budget, possibly raising taxes. Many schools may not be willing to go this route unless there is a proven track record of success. In order for this to happen, a test study would need to be conducted on children who are just entering kindergarten. Many educators would not be willing to stake money on testing every child in order to determine how he learns. That is- not unless there are statistics that prove this system will save them money in the future. Research states ( Harrower, Fox, Dunlap, & Kincaid, 2000; & McConnell, 2000) that early intervention does indeed work, therefore early intervention assessments would be of great benefit to educators.

Another implication of early intervention assessments lies in the fact that it may require a complete restructuring of the current educational system. The current system caters to students who are linguistic and mathematical. If assessments were conducted on each student to identify his unique learning abilities, schools may need to create programs that address all of these abilities. Again, the issue of money arises, as more teachers may be required in order to do this effectively. However, it may be wise to utilize the staff in-house. For instance, Armstrong (2000) recommends that special education teachers could be utilized more as "pull out" teachers rather than as full-time classroom teachers. In the essence, the special education teacher’s role would change to meet the demands of the system. In addition, it would benefit the whole inclusion method that is currently in place. All students would be taught in one classroom and by two different people, thereby allowing the student to gain access to teachers who have different teaching styles.

While it may be a long journey before schools start identifying a need for early intervention assessment, it is evident that such a practice may be beneficial to all parties involved. The research has indicated that students learn differently, therefore they benefit from environments where instruction is varied. If educators begin before a child starts failing, they will be saving themselves both money and problems later on. The best way to determine the most effective programming is to begin by assessing how students learn early on. While there is no one assessment that is the best to use, it is important to remember that assessment is an ongoing process. After all, educators have the most contact with a student within a days time. This is the best time to assess how a student learns best and adapt to fit his needs.

References

Armstrong, C.A. (2000). Multiple intelligences in the classroom. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Buffalo University (2002). Intelligence: the expression of learning. In Learning styles in young children: part three.

Campbell, P.H.; Milbourne, S.A.; & Silverman, C. (2001). Strengths based child portfolios: a professional development activity to alter perspectives of children with special needs. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 21 (3), .

Elliot, S.N. (1995). . In Creating meaningful performance assessments.

Harrower, J.K.; Fox, L.; Dunlap, G.; & Kincaid, D. (2000). Functional assessment and comprehensive early intervention. Exceptionality, 8 (3), .

McConnell, S.R. (2000). Assessment in early intervention and early childhood special education: building on the past to project into the future. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 20 (1), .

Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (2001). . In Evaluating education reform: early childhood education.

Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory (2001). . In What are the alternatives? http://www.nwrel.org/request/july99/article8.html

Peterson, R.W. (1994). School readiness considered from a neuro-cognitive perspective. Early Education and Development, 5 (2), .

Rudolph, A. (1999). . In Alternatives to social promotion.

Tomlinson, C.A. (1999). The differentiated classroom: responding to the needs of all learners. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Williams, L.V. (1983). Teaching for the two sided mind: a guide to right brain/left brain education. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

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    • KrystalD profile image

      Krystal 6 years ago from Los Angeles

      Thanks Jenny. It was good to hear a parent's perspective on assessments. I have recommended 4 assessments since the beginning of the school year! As a first and seocnd grade teacher, when a red flag appears, I believe in jumping right in. The more information, the better. Thanks for responding!

    • jenntyl99 profile image
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      jenntyl99 6 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Krystal, it used to be that assessments were recommended later on, after a child has been in school for awhile. However, children are learning new concepts earlier and as early as kindergarten children can read chapter books. I would say that the age of 6 or 7 is a good baseline age to begin assessing whether or not a child will need interventions. This is the age when most children who struggle with newly taught concepts begin having difficulties that should be addressed. Judging from what I have seen when visiting my daughter's classroom (for parent teacher meetings) there were students I could clearly identify as being candidates for needing extra exposure to interventions. If we can do this when we first notice a problem, we can help these kids get on track. Thanks for asking this question!

    • KrystalD profile image

      Krystal 6 years ago from Los Angeles

      Learning styles are so important! I have often requested assessments for children because it helps the parents and teachers provide the best education and support. The sooner kids are assessed, the sooned they can be helped. What do you think the best age is for an assessment?

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