IATEFL2015 | Kirsten Waechter: Your class is your resource – making use of learner styles | Workshop summary

Posted: April 11, 2015 in Conferences
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Abstract: This workshop will look into how to use the different learning styles of students to develop adequate classroom exercises that will really help them to learn. This will include easy-to-use tools of helping them to detect their own preferred ways of learning, thus enhancing their motivation and class participation. Participants will be involved in preparing exercises.

Kirsten’s email: info@tailored-training.de – email her for the slides and the handout.

Kirsten started off by telling us word for ‘gloomy rainy day in Scotland’. We explored different ways to help ourselves remember this word:

  • by hearing it
  • by writing it down
  • by seeing a visual


Some students will have preferred mediums / activity types – different learning styles. 

Determining learning styles – why? 

There has been a debate about learning styles. Opponents say: just give s/s a variety of exercises.

Kirsten says that in her experience that’s just not the case:

  • s/s struggle with some types of exercises because they’re not in their learning range
  • some learners won’t see the value of some types of exercise (e.g. speaking exercises) regarding them as a waste of time. So in Kirsten’s opinion, part of the teachers’ job is to identify their learners’ learning styles
  • alternatively, some activities that the trainer doesn’t see value in / regarding them a waste of time might be valued by learners and even get them hooked
  • to help the trainer ‘read’ the learners’ reactions/state: is a student who’s doodling bored or is this something that they normally do to help them process information?

How to put this info to use?

  • Useful in group courses: too diverse groups – group similar people together; sometimes students feel ignored and as a result drop out – either ‘physically’ or they withdraw externally.
  • Understanding learner styles helps delegate responsibility for learning
  • Also for one-on-one courses (if teacher/student are non-compatible, s/s might not feel progress)

How much focus do you place on

  • the curriculum – course objectives, content, exercise
  • learning experience, learning style, composition of class?

The former is normally receives a lot more emphasis. Yet the latter part determines the success of the whole enterprise: if they can’t interact with the teacher, they won’t learn.

Determining learning styles – how? Are we trained profilers?

  • Give them a questionnaire (preferably, pre-course but this never works because no-one ever does that. Better to do this in the first class; tip from the audience: give students lots of time to reflect – between classes; if they don’t have enough English to do that, give them a questionnaire in their L1. But the length of the answers is also quite revealing – gives a good idea of how comfortable they are using English)
  • Try different ideas out, measure how they perform in different types of tasks and what they enjoy
  • Speak to them
  • Analyze their experience (create learner biography – get students to analyze how they’ve been learning language)
  • Classroom observation

Problem: a lot of students haven’t got a clue how they learn and learning strategies.

What types, then?

Sample questionnaire:


Comments on the questionnaire: Visual-Audiovisual-Kinesthetic classification is too restrictive. There are visual learners who like pictures but there are other visual learners who like text. It’s very difficult and restrictive to classify learner just into three styles.

Achieving better insight:

  • Language detective: learns by analysing structures, good at teaching themselves
  • Telephonist. Communicative learner who learns through dialogues / talking. Loves speaking, peer-work, role-plays.
  • Radio listener. Learns through listening and repeating. Might learn by listening, e.g. to pop music. The learners audio labs were invented for.
  • Bookworm. Learns through reading (written words) & pictures, how the writing is organized. ‘Visual learner’ (redefined)
  • Dancer. Learns by means of moving
  • Movie-goer. A lot of people are a mix: learns through pictures, listening, and subtitles (written word). Audiovisual learner.

A lot of published materials cater for the audio-visual learners and leave out everyone else as they seem to be less common. And yet students whose learning preferences are very different might react very negatively. Here are some reactions of Kirsten’s learners with other preferences: ‘I hate listening comprehension.’ ‘I just can’t do languages.’ ‘I hate role plays’ ‘We only talk in the classroom.’ ‘I hate grammar.’ 

Implications: exercises / classroom activities

  • Visual/ systematic learners: mind maps
  • Get s/s to teach vocabulary to each other; organize language tandems
  • Use crossword designers 
  • Further reflection: how to incorporate these activity types?

This does not mean that we don’t need to expose s/s of one style to activities of other styles.

So to summarize, if you want your students to be better learners, make them! 

This workshop reminded me of my ‘pet peeve’ weaknesses. I tend to underuse some activity types that I don’t ‘believe’ in – and I often fail to ask questions if I’m afraid to hear a difficult answer. It’s good to be reminded of reasons to try things out – and also to that you if you don’t see a problem it doesn’t go away.  

Take-aways: whether you love the idea of learner styles or whether you’re skeptical, researching learner styles and preferences brings benefits

  • the learners feel valued and acknowledged;
  • this facilitates the dialogue about learning strategies – and makes both learners and the teachers more aware and more open to a range of activity types 
  • this highlights ways to delegate the responsibility for learning to the learners.

In short, when you’re more informed, this allows you to take more informed decisions. 


Click here for an overview of all my write-ups from IATEFL 2015.

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