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Teacher Development & Awareness of Learning Styles
by Marjorie Rosenberg
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This article first appeared in the IATEFL Teacher Development SIG Newsletter, Autumn 2001

Ever since joining the Teacher Development SIG of IATEFL, I have often found myself explaining to both colleagues as well as those outside the teaching profession what I understood under the rubric "Teacher Development." The term seems to crop up consistently in teacher training courses, in journals devoted to the teaching profession and at international conferences. Therefore I was fascinated by the opportunity to become personally involved with pre-service teacher development in an entirely new and exciting manner.

In autumn 2000, we introduced a new subject called "Pädagogische Fachsprache" (the specialized language of pedagogy) at the Pädagogische Akademie des Bundes in der Steiermark (a state teacher training college in the federal state of Styria in Austria) where I am an instructor of English. In this class, which is held in English for all students regardless of their majors, we teach the English language as it relates to topics of general pedagogical interest. Teacher trainees learn vocabulary and structures which enable them to discuss the latest trends in teaching and learning. Through practical classroom work they also experience up-to-date methodology. The goal of the program is to brush up their English and for them to gain self-confidence and feel comfortable using the English language. Reading English journals from the teaching profession, searching the internet for information and working with a language portfolio are parts of the training whose aim is to produce teachers who can communicate with colleagues in the international world of education and are willing to take part in international projects.

The Basics of Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic Learning Preferences

During one part of the program we concentrated on information regarding the various theories of learning styles. We began by examining some of the models presented by Dr. Raymond Swassing and Dr. Walter Barbe dealing with modalities and their importance in modern day teaching and learning. This lead us to the further development of VAK (visual, auditory and kinesthetic channels of perception) by Richard Bandler and John Grinder, the founders of Neuro-Linguistic Programming. We filled out a questionnaire designed to determine sensory preferences, analyzed eye movements of different students, listened to their speech patterns to find out if they preferred visual, auditory or kinesthetic predicates and examined the characteristics of the different learning styles. After a demonstration of Michael Grinder's "Teaching - Re-teaching" model" (Righting the Educational Conveyor Belt, Michael Grinder, Metamorphous Press, 1991) the students had to create their own models and demonstrate them to the class. We had some fascinating presentations dealing with teaching primary school children to spell simple words in English, working with word recognition and connections of words and pictures, presentation of basic math structures, etc. The students greeted this information with great enthusiasm and found that much of what we did in our class could also be directly applied to their own situation as learners. Some of the comments found in reflection papers written by the students were:

"I already knew I was visual, because I always knew exactly where things were printed that I needed to learn. I knew if they were on the right or left part of the page. I also like to get handouts and now I know why. I just love photos and taking them is one of my favorite hobbies. I also remember most of the time what people wear." (Dagmar Esther Gumhold)

"I learned many new things about myself. Now I know that I am a visual and kinesthetic person. I have a very photographic memory and remember nearly everything which I have seen. I really like handouts with nice pictures and everything has to be written down for me. I am also very kinesthetic. I remember things I have done. I learn by doing! I like to walk around in my flat to get ideas." (Irmgard Göritzer)

"I am a visual and kinesthetic learner. I learn by watching. I remember things I have seen, I have a good memory for faces. I need to have things written down if I want to remember them. I often use high-lighters when I read texts. On the other hand, I also learn by using my feelings and intuition. I remember things I have felt and I learn best from a teacher I like. I need to have at least one good friend with whom I can discuss my everyday problems. I often take criticism personally and social contacts are important to me." (Petra Supanz)

"The test I took showed that I am an auditory and kinesthetic learner. At the beginning, I didn't believe this but now I am sure it is true. It is very important for me to learn alone in a room. I can't learn outside because there are so many things and animals around that distract me. It must be silent. I always speak and learn loudly. When I don't understand a topic, I discuss the problem with another person. I also need to be active which reflects my kinesthetic learning style." (Beate Paulitsch)

"I learned a lot about my learning habits and which type of learner I am. Now I know that I am a visual learner and I know which methods to use to help me learn more effectively. I am very happy when I get pictures and handouts during a lesson because I can more easily store the information in my head. I learn by seeing and have a photographic memory. I also like to read things on the blackboard or on the overhead projector. I also use coloured pencils and highlighters when I learn." (Doris Kappler)

"I am a visual type. I can't concentrate just by listening - I must write everything down in order to remember. I have a good memory for faces and make pictures in my head. If the room is too loud I have troubles learning." (Katrin Pendl)

"I am not very visual, I am mostly auditory and kinesthetic. I need to talk to myself when learning and also need to try things out for myself." (Tina Berse)

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