No Two Children Are The Same…
We’re all familiar with the phrase ‘no two children are the same’. Even if they are brought up in the same home and have the same biological parents, no two children are alike.
These words can be heard even from the very start of a child’s life, ‘every baby is different’. Some babies sleep well; others don’t. Some babies feed well; others don’t. Some babies crawl early (some opting for shuffling on their bottoms), and others may skip the crawling and go straight to walking. Some babies love the noise and bustle around them, while others settle better in the peace and quiet.
By the time children reach two years of age, they usually have a preference for a particular learning style. Do they love cuddling up to read their favourite book, listening to the words, looking at and touching the illustrations or do they jump up and start acting out their favourite part of the story? Do they observe toys carefully, examining the rough and smooth, watching the bright colours or prefer to move about, tumbling and rolling?
So, where am I going with this? I’m fast-forwarding to when these children are in primary school. How will we cater to their individual learning styles and preferences now they are at school, unique learning styles that have been evident in their lives up to this point?
As a parent, I know each of my children, their likes, dislikes, abilities, and strengths, though we are always on a learning journey, and I know I have yet more to discover. This also applies to the children we teach in our classrooms. Each child has different needs and learning styles that emerged from the moment they entered this world.
We know all this as our education system is one of the best, with highly trained teachers. Still, unfortunately, with our class sizes one of the highest in Europe, we can’t expect to teach large numbers and breakthrough to all children on an individual level, even though we try our best to get to know each and every child. Different learning styles and needs vary on an individual basis. This can be one of the advantages of teaching multigrade classrooms, though, as teachers often have the same children for two, three, four or even more years of their education. Or if a teacher is assigned the next class up for the following teaching year and so gets to continue their journey with the class of children they have been teaching. During these years, teachers can figure out pupils’ idiosyncratic needs as a bond and trust develop between teacher and pupil - very similar to the Finnish schools where pupils often have the same teacher for up to six years of their education.
Many of our traditional ideas about teaching suggest that there is a set way to learn particular skills. Sometimes parents get frustrated because their child seems unable to grasp and accomplish a task the way they were taught themselves. But as we become familiar with the individual preferences and learning styles of a child, we can provide learning experiences that help that child and often, it is as though watching a flower bloom as they grasp an idea and understand it.
We understand that we can’t and shouldn’t expect children to adapt to one way of teaching in our classrooms. So what can we do in our classrooms to try and reach as many children as possible to cater to their learning styles?
Howard Gardner identified multiple intelligences in his book Frames of Mind (1983). The eight intelligences he refers to are:
Verbal – Linguistic (word smart): These learners use an expanded vocabulary, love to read, tell stories/ jokes and play word games. They have a strong ability to analyse information and produce work that involves written and oral language.
Logical-mathematical (maths smart): These learners have an ability to recognise patterns, order, love working with numbers, ask lots of questions about how things work, keep collections and think logically.
Bodily-kinesthetic (body smart): These are learners who like to use their bodies to solve problems. They love sport, use their body skillfully and love to be active. Look for the learners who like to act, engage in sport or mime and use body language. Maybe they could act out a skit, dance. These children understand well when using manipulatives in maths or building models with clay, for example.
Musical (music smart): These learners love to listen to and play music, sing, hum, love to rhythm, make their tunes or replicate tunes. They can have skills in the areas of musical performance, composition and appreciation of patterns in music. Do you have a learner who loves to sing and hum? Maybe they can create a rap song about whatever subject they are learning about in class. Perhaps they would enjoy making a podcast, radio recording or other auditory items.
Spatial (picture smart): A spatial learner can create mental images to solve problems and visualise concepts and space. These learners like to doodle, paint, draw, build with blocks and Lego, take things apart and put them back together, study maps, puzzles and mazes. Do you have a learner who loves Lego or can solve a Unifix Cube? These learners can struggle with note-taking methods, so help them by highlighting and using symbols or colours to make sense of their notes.
Naturalist (nature smart): These children love to spend time outdoors, catching insects, collecting rocks or shells, picking flowers, asking questions about the different animals, plants and weather formations of the natural world around them.
Interpersonal (people smart): Look for the child who has many friends, is an excellent team player, can mediate between people, can understand people’s moods and motivations. This learner loves learning and will flourish in group activities. An interpersonal learner understands people and relationships. Let them teach the class on a topic. Why not use technology like Skype to interact with others, interview authors etc.
Intrapersonal (self-smart): Learners with this type of intelligence often observe and listen. They work best when working alone and can surprise you with their intelligence as they are often present and seen in the classroom but not, seemingly, participating. It can be helpful to have a folder of individual assignments that may appeal to these children. They like blogs, keeping journals and writing essays on personal topics.
Many of these intelligences overlap, with children using several. I think many teachers can relate to the theory of multiple intelligences. We’ve all had students that have amazed us, a student who couldn’t write a paragraph but can solve any puzzle. What about the child who is fidgety in their seat or keeps tapping their foot, not realising it, but because it helps them think. You can probably see which ones applied to yourself growing up!
I was ‘word smart’, a lover of books, rarely seen without a book in my hand, but also influenced by music. I loved playing the piano, and as I grew older, learning to spell or studying for exams, it was usual to hear me belting a tune from my bedroom. I made up a song for everything - table facts, rivers of the world, planets of the earth, maths theorems and more. I would probably throw ‘body smart’ into my mix also as there was a path worn into the carpet of my bedroom by the time my leaving cert was over, as I liked to walk or skip about the room as I learned aloud, bounce a ball or even punch syllables and beats into the air. I loved learning, and I was lucky that my mother accepted that all the noise coming from my bedroom (where I studied) was actually work in progress!
Our educational practices and theories are constantly evolving, but in truth, we still incline to value logical-mathematical and linguistic abilities over others. At the end of each school year, it’s that time when standardised testing comes into play, the blanket way we test for subject comprehension. We study the STEN’s of the results, with children who have a more dominantly logical-mathematical or linguistic mind fairing better (and parents compare the results at the school gates).
Unfortunately, sometimes all that people see are the numbers. What about the fact that the side of the brain that deals with skills like logic and mathematics, the analytical left side, does not usually begin to develop in most children until the age of ten, even eleven. What about the children who show other sets of strengths? What can we do for the child who can paint so well it looks likes a photograph? How can we reinforce his skills? What about the talkative child who is itching to talk in class, an example of interpersonal intelligence (people smart) in play? Take advantage of this talkative energy for class discussion and group work.
Let’s remember the proverb. ‘Tell me, I’ll forget; show me, I’ll remember; involve me, I’ll understand.’
Julieanne Devlin is Deputy Principal in Co. Donegal. A busy mum of five, Julieanne has over 19 years teaching experience. Specialising in the area of oral language and vocabulary development, Julieanne has spoken internationally on the topic in addition to delivering CPD training and seminars in numerous Education Centres countrywide. Her popular educational blog (www.julieannedevlin.com) was a hive of activity throughout the pandemic receiving up to 2000 unique visitors per day supporting parents and families during the school closure period and beyond. Julieanne is the author of Language for Living (Tip of the Tongue), a whole school oral language and vocabulary development programme for primary schools and most recently, Julieanne has developed Nibbler’s Aistear Adventures, the only full programme for Aistear developed, thus far, in Ireland.
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