Learning Profiles vs. Learning Styles

I know I've neglected this blog, but after a recent #efamath chat (and a little hint from @druinok) I'm ready to dive back in and am ready to share, reflect and learn!

Over the past two years, our district has wholeheartedly embraced differentiated instruction (aka DI) and they are doing everything right to make certain that we know, understand, and do everything to embrace it, too.  In my role as an instructional specialist (an instructional "coach" for our school) I have participated in all kinds of wonderful additional professional development, have planned training for our departments and school, and have tried a lot of new things in my classroom.  These struggles and successes have provided enough material for at least 10 new blog posts, and I hope to use this forum as a place to help reflect and sort through what I've learned.

On to Learning Profiles...
In Embedded Formative Assessment, the author discusses the "myth" of Learning Styles and the lack of research to substantiate the use of learning styles to improve learning.  Several teachers mentioned this misconception in the recent #efachat, and I will raise my hand to admit that I've given kids quizzes at the beginning of the year to assess learning styles!

Thanks to some amazing training (first at a DI Institute with Carol Ann Tomlinson and then with a lot of follow up from my district) I now have a better understanding of a learner's profile, rather than a learning style, and have used learners' profiles a bit in my classroom.

It has taken me almost 2 years to comprehend and begin to implement the DI philosophy into my classroom (DI is not a set of strategies, by the way!) so a blog post will not do it justice.  However, for the sake of getting to the point, one of the non-negotiables of DI is flexible grouping.  According to Tomlinson, you may group students based on readiness, interest, or learner profile (or random) and each grouping achieves different goals.  Readiness leads to growth, grouping by interest increases motivation, and grouping by learner's profile improves efficiency.

The DI gurus use either Robert Sternberg's Theory of Multiple Intelligences (analytical, creative, practical) or Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences Theory (which I believe more people know) to address learning profiles.

To introduce the idea to our faculty, we used this brief activity during a staff development (which we modeled from something we saw at our DI Institute.)   After teachers completed the task individually, we asked them to group together with one person from each group to share their responses.  (Hold up a finger 1, 2, or 3, and find the other two numbers to form a group.)

We then shared the slide to show the green group was analytical, yellow was the  practical group, and purple was the creative group.  If we had grouped by like intelligences, the discussion would have been very quick, thus the efficiency.  (One person read the definition, yeah, we all got that, too.)  

Now to stretch yourself, what if you complete the same activity using the prompt from another group?  Or what if we asked teachers to write the definition in 3 different ways?  (That idea reminds me of a Frayer model.)

In a math classroom, a quick example (or exit ticket) could be something like "Explain what a function is," choosing one of these prompts: a) write a definition that you might find in your textbook glossary; b) write a list or examples of the attributes of a function; or c) draw a visual representation or metaphor of a function (not necessarily a graph).  I only did this a few times, but a goal for next year is to make this type of quick assessment more of a norm.  "For concept _________, either write a definition, write how you could explain it to someone, or draw a representation."  Students could turn in their work, share with their table, or share with "unlike" intelligences.  (Wouldn't this be an easy assessment for any level, any content area?)

For my classroom this year, instead of the good ol' learning styles quiz (auditory, visual, kinesthetic) that I had used in the past, I tried assessing my students on Gardner's multiple intelligences.  With my class blog post, I found several surveys (online and paper copies), included videos and definitions, and had the kids complete a Google form with their results.

I then created a seating chart based on their intelligence preference (as best as I could) and let the kids try those groups for a few weeks.  I did notice the discussions, questioning, and explanations were quite different from each of the groups, so that was interesting, but I didn't design enough tasks that catered specifically to their strengths.  (Another post for another day...)

In Embedded Formative Assessment, the conclusion to the "Learning Styles" section was simply to be aware of different styles and encourage all students to use as many styles as possible.  So I don't think the old learning style idea is completely wrong, but perhaps it's just incomplete and can be strengthened by adding a bit more information.  This document is something from our district, but I do not know where it came from, so I cannot give the appropriate credit (and it's a PDF, unfortunately) but it is an example of a very thorough learner's profile.  In addition to the intelligence theory, DI also requires building the community in your classroom and with your students, which means the importance of learning students' interests.  (Another post for another day...)

I'm really looking forward to reading the rest of the book, and the book is about using assessments, not the small tangent of learning styles/profiles.  But in learning about differentiation, I really see the connection and importance of both.  Isn't the bottom line that we must know our students?? 

Once again, thanks to @druinok and #made4math to motivate me to start blogging in the first place.  I've been an avid blog reader for several years, but writing about practices really helps me solidify my thinking.

I loved this post by @pamjwilson who challenged us to "Model What We Wish To See" and who now posts her great reading list on her blog.  So to follow her lead...

Summer Educational Reads:
Embedded Formative Assessment, Dylan Wiliam
Essential Questions, Jay McTighe & Grant Wiggins
How to Assess Higher-Order Thinking Skills In Your Classroom, Susan M. Brookhart
Leadership for Differentiating Schools and Classrooms, Carol Ann Tomlinson & Susan D. Allan
Teach Like a Pirate, Dave Burgess

Interesting Posts:

Thanks for reading!  Anything to add?  What else do you know about learning profiles?
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About Kathryn Laster

I love teaching, learning, and sharing!
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  1. What a great share! Love your reading list! Need to check out EQ soon, and all things Carol Ann Tom,inson are great! So glad to see you jump-in again! Looking forward to more fantastic posts!

    1. Thanks so much for the inspiration! I plan to add the reading lists to "school emails," too.

  2. May I know what is the limitations for learning profile for SEN