How To Deal with Diverse Learning Needs

  • Anagha Vallikat
    Anagha Vallikat

The world is filled with diversity, and the classroom is no exception. From varying academic skills to different physical and cognitive abilities, the classroom is a diverse environment with varied learning needs. It is vital that the educators and students recognize the diversity and deal with the learning needs appropriately.

Identifying Diversity in the Classroom

Each student in the class is a learner with different skill sets, strengths, weaknesses, and interests. The prime responsibility of a teacher is to understand the learners and plan the lessons and activities that would cater to each learner’s needs. A class of students belongs to various social, linguistic, cultural, and economic backgrounds. The rule of thumb here is to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to classroom lesson planning. The educator must plan her lessons based on the student’s learning requirements.

Students’ Learning Style

Every student learns in a different style. Learning style refers to the most preferred way in which a learner processes information and retains it. The VARK model helps the teachers to recognize the style of learning in students. VARK stands for:

  • Visual Learners: They process information and learn by watching/observing things
  • Auditory learners: They learn by listening and take inputs through sounds
  • Reading/Writing: They learn by writing or reading from the written material
  • Kinesthetic learners: They learn by doing things

While identifying the learners, we should remember that learners can sometimes fit in more than one learning style depending on the subject and the activity. While planning the lesson, the educator has to incorporate activities that would cater to the diverse learning needs of all styles of learners.

Multiple Intelligence

As per educator Howard Gardner’s theory, people possess eight types of intelligence apart from cognitive abilities. They are:

  • Logical-mathematical intelligence
  • Linguistic intelligence
  • Spatial Intelligence
  • Musical Intelligence
  • Bodily-kinesthetic Intelligence
  • Intrapersonal Intelligence
  • Interpersonal Intelligence
  • Naturalistic intelligence

Every individual would have a few dominant intelligence. Teachers must plan differentiated activities so that students can explore different concepts through a wide range of disciplines as per their dominant intelligence. Differentiated lessons help in creating an inclusive classroom to deal with diverse learning needs.

Differentiated Teaching

Differentiated instructions are tailor-made instructional strategies to meet diverse learning needs. Differentiation challenges every learner at their level, making them meet their individual objectives.

Differentiated teaching strategies cater to the learning needs of the students irrespective of the level they are in. Thoughtfully strategized differentiated instruction provides appropriate support while challenging the learners to meet their goals.

It is not differentiated when the teacher plans the same activity for all the students and assesses them with the same parameters. Differentiated teaching is when the teacher can bring in various adjustments in her plan to suit the diverse learning requirements of the class. Differentiated instruction involves the following:

  • Adjusting the content: Teachers transact different parts of the curriculum to learners depending on their level of learning.
  • Altering the process: Teachers adopt varied teaching methodologies to suit the learning requirements of different learners.
  • Modifying the product: Educators allow variation in the way students demonstrate their learning and use different rubrics to assess students’ varied skills.

Teaching strategies to suit diverse learning needs

Educators are committed to ensuring that each learner’s learning needs are met. Accommodating each learner individually and tailoring instructions to individual learners can be challenging and often time-taking. Instead, the educators can expose all the students to a variety of subject matter, methodologies, and assessments. Most students have more than one learning style and dominant intelligence. Exposing them to various content, activities, and assessing tools will encourage maximum participation and classroom engagement.

The teachers can adopt the following teaching strategies to meet the learning needs of a diverse class of students.

  • Know your learners

Familiarize yourself with the specific requirements of students. Understanding the learning needs of students will help educators plan their lessons effectively to suit the learners’ needs so that there can be an inclusive environment in the class.

Teachers can work closely with the student counsellors and special needs educators to understand the learners better. Connect with the students and develop a bond with them. Have casual conversations to identify their learning styles, interest areas, and trouble areas. Knowing the learners well will help you determine the kind of instruction that works the best.

  • Incorporate different teaching methods

Studies confirm that learners are engaged effectively in a versatile classroom. Plan your lessons that are appealing to students of different learning styles. The days of monotonous chalk and talk classes have gone by. A teacher-centred approach in education poses a challenge to diverse learners. Active learning strategies must replace passive learning methods to ensure that all kinds of learners are benefitted.

  • Technology in education

Incorporating technology in learning with gamified videos and quizzes ensures higher classroom engagement, attentiveness, and participation as compared to traditional teaching practices. These teaching resources also cater to the diverse learning needs of different styles of learners.

  • Project-Based Learning (PBL)

Student-centric pedagogy develops learner independence, imparting lifelong learning in students. For example, project-based learning helps learners acquire in-depth knowledge by working on complex real-life challenges. It encourages higher-order thinking skills and fosters 21st-century skills in students. PBL can benefit a diverse group of students by providing them with an opportunity and freedom to learn in a way that suits their style and strength. It provides a space for students to collaborate, thereby supporting those with learning difficulties.

  • Group Activities

Small and flexible group activities promote learning. When students with mixed skills and abilities are put in a group, they complement each other’s skills and interests to achieve their learning goals. Peer learning accelerates learning and supports student engagement in a diverse classroom.

  • Alternate Assessment tools

“If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Going by this famous quote, it is imperative we use alternate assessment tools to evaluate diversified learners. Apart from the regular pen and paper assessments, various other assessment tools, including student portfolios, projects, case studies, and mind maps must be used to determine students’ understanding.

Conclusion

Dealing with students from varying backgrounds, abilities, and skills may be challenging but never unachievable. Focusing consciously on the varying learning needs brings remarkable differences in the learning outcome. After all, the skill imparted during the learning process has more power than the content taught. Hence have enough room for diverse teaching practices to deal with diverse learning needs!