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How To: Adjust Your Teaching Style to Your Students' Learning Style

How to Home
How To: Adjust Your Teaching Styles to Students' Learning Styles
How To: Develop as a Professional
How To: Implement Standards, Curriculum, and Assessment

Applying Literacy Strategies to All Content Areas
Sharon Longert

Even though we may closely monitor the acquisition of basic skills in reading, mathematics and writing, there may still be a question of whether students are really understanding what they are expected to learn. Deficits of comprehension are very subtle and have the potential to make school uninteresting and intimidating for many students.

Different students reveal different levels of comprehension. Children who are deficient in their understanding may be over reliant on memory and try to store and regurgitate material they cannot analyze or interpret. These problems are especially common in students in the sixth through the twelfth grades. Students have various weaknesses in language processing. Some students have difficulty following directions, interpreting verbal explanations and understanding what they read. Some may have difficulties because of superficial understanding of word meanings and some may have difficulty because they are English Language Learners. Students may know some words vaguely but may be unaware of the connections with other words, their shades of meaning, their applications and implications. As the curriculum becomes more complex, students are exposed to a wave of vocabulary that may be removed from the experience of everyday life. There may also be technical vocabulary that is subject specific and rarely used in the everyday context.

Understanding new information depends on attaching it to what you already know. Some students have limited access to their own prior knowledge, so it is difficult to make sense of new inputs. Other students cannot hold onto new information in short-term memory, especially if the teacher is going at a fast pace or delivering information in large chunks. These kids become disoriented and frustrated by oral directions, copying from the board, taking notes and comprehending ideas all simultaneously.

Since all content areas involve reading and understanding, it would be helpful to employ strategies borrowed from current trends in literacy.

Anticipation guides are a prereading strategy. They provide teachers and students the opportunity to discuss the content of what they are about to read and identify important information. Students might answer a set of questions about the text before reading, and then revisit their statements to compare answers after the passage is read.

Graphic organizers for vocabulary development use a quadrant card. One quadrant for the new word, one for the student’s definition, one for associations or examples of the word, one for antonyms or illustrations. A binder ring can keep the cards organized alphabetically.

Reciprocal teaching encourages student-teacher dialog and engagement with the text to increase reading comprehension. Working in a group of four, each student takes on a role related to summarizer, question generator, predictor and clarifier. As students read a passage, their roles help them focus on pertinent information, clarify information or words, and use prior knowledge to anticipate where the text may lead. The goal is for students to use these strategies when they read independently.

Scaffolded reading experience consists of a prereading, during reading and postreading activity that can be used in any genre. Students are supported through each of the processes until the scaffolds can be removed and there is evidence of understanding. Activities are designed to provide successful experiences that are teacher-supported until the student can manage independently.

A teacher who understands that students learn in “different ways on different days” and adjusts his or her style accordingly controls the way students approach learning tasks and the classroom experience. By ensuring that there is support for understanding, students have a better chance of becoming more engaged in the learning process and less likely to tune out on complex tasks.

Levine, Mel. “Getting at Getting It: The Quest for Comprehension,” www.allkindsofminds.org, Jan., 2005.
“Spreading the Word – Literacy Coaches Share Comprehension Strategies,” ASCD Education Update, Feb., 2005.

I hope you’ve found these basics helpful. If you have a question or suggestion, don’t hesitate to e-mail me.


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