Spot Light


Ann Higgins ’02
Oak Knoll School of the Holy Child
Summit NJ
Grade 1 teacher

Today’s Classrooms Must Teach to the 4 Types of Learners

When I was in school, a well-planned, one-size-fits-all lesson was the way we learned. We sat at our tables quietly, listened to our teacher and raised our hand when we had a question. You could usually hear a pin drop, as noise was frowned upon. The teacher was the star of the show, and the students were the audience members. Today, the classroom is made up of an ensemble cast, featuring both the teacher and the students.

The Four Types of Learners
In today’s classroom, there is much more of a focus on differentiation – teaching different methods to the different kinds of learners in the classroom, versus teaching a lesson with a single approach. The different types of learners are:
  1. The visual learner, who benefits from a visual aid, such as a chart or graph.
  2. The auditory learner, who will remember what they hear.
  3. The read-write learner, who takes diligent notes and can explain the lesson in their own words.
  4. The kinesthetic learner, who works best when he/she can move around, and they will remember things better when they are singing and dancing to an educational song, playing games or using manipulatives.
Teaching to the Four Types of Learners
In Oak Knoll’s coeducational elementary school, we use the newest version of the Envision Math program - called Envision Math 2.0 – in grades K-4. The authors of Envision Math 2.0 acknowledge that the material should be explained in ways that are clear to all the different learners that make up a single classroom. In addition to materials that support the more traditional read-write learners, there are videos that go along with each lesson, so visual and auditory learners can see and hear an explanation to a problem or to an approach. There are games and small-group projects that get the children out of their usual “paper/pencil” routine, so they can apply the lesson in a real-life way – and making a real-world connection makes the kinesthetic learner more likely to remember the lesson in the first place.

In addition to the tools Envision Math 2.0 uses to appeal to different learners, it also teaches a single concept in a variety of ways; the student then chooses the method they prefer. For example, our second graders recently learned the many different ways there are to subtract:
  • We learned how to count back by tens and then ones on an open number line.
  • Next, we learned how to count forward to subtract on an open number line. Students were asking, “Why are we adding when it’s a subtraction problem?” and it really got them to think about the process and what they were doing.
  • We learned to break apart numbers to subtract: 46 – 29 can be thought of as 46 – 20 (26) and then subtract the 9 ones (17). By the end we were doing these kinds of problems in our heads!
  • Finally, we learned about compensation – changing numbers to create easier problems. 88 – 59 can be thought of as 89 – 60 (just add 1 to both numbers); both subtraction problems have the same difference of 29, and 89 – 60 is easier for most to do in their heads.
In school, I loved paper/pencil math. I still do. But I don’t think I really got what I was doing. Today, there is much more of an emphasis on mental math. We will still learn to do the standard algorithm (minus the ones, borrow from the tens if needed), but the students are getting a better picture of how numbers work, why they are changing and how we can make problems easier (and do them in our heads!) before learning a more procedural method.

It is my belief that some children can fall into all of the categories – some identify with three; others are really the strongest with just one. Our learning styles are as different as our fingerprints. The teacher has a great responsibility – not only to teach the material in his or her curriculum – but also identify the learners that make up his or her classroom and offer a variety of strategies and techniques to the students.