Equity for All Learning Styles
For my mini ethnography I decided to focus on equity over the three different learning styles; audio, visual, and kinesthetic. Throughout my studies I wanted to find out if one learning style has an advantage over the other learning styles. From my personal experiences, it seems as though teachers use audio learning techniques the most. Therefore, my hypothesis is that audio learners will have an advantage over kinesthetic and visual learners. To prove or disprove my hypothesis, I have decided to conduct fieldwork at W.H. Robinson Elementary School in Mrs. Payhe’s second grade classroom.
Necessary Behavior as an Observer:
Before I went into W.H. Robinson to observe I decided that I would need to behave in a certain way in order to receive the information that I need. By following these guidelines I would be able to observe and learn without intruding on the students. First and foremost I would need to explain what I am there to do. I would explain to the teacher that I not only want to observe their subculture, but I want to feel like an insider by the time that I am done with my fieldwork. To feel like an insider I would need to be respectful of everything the students participate in. Before I begin to conduct my fieldwork I would need to invent a well thought out plan. I would need to know exactly what I want to observe, what I want to learn from the experience, what questions I want answered, and who I need to talk to in order to answer those questions. I would need to keep an open mind throughout the entire experience. By doing this I would learn more than I would if I had expectations and made assumptions. If I have certain expectations going into the field work, I may miss out on very discrete but important things within the school. I would need to become involved though interview and observation. By talking to some of the people within the subculture I would be able to understand things more clearly. However, I would need to ask the right questions and then listen in order to receive that answers that I am looking for. After observing, interview is a very helpful tool, if it is done correctly, because it leads to the first hand feelings and opinions of an insider. Finally I should record the information clearly and with great detail, including how I feel about certain rituals. But, I should not make note taking my main focus. Although it is important, I do not need to become so involved with it that I do not take the time to feel like I am part of the school. If I become too concerned with taking notes, I may not obtain all of the information that I need.
Thoughts and Feelings:
Before I began my fieldwork, I hoped that I would learn many things about the students, the teachers, and the parents. I wanted to see how they all interact with each other. Since my goal was to find out if there was equity between each learning style, I conducted an interview with Ms. Pahye, researched the school, and observed. I looked forward to learning more about the subculture of W.H. Robinson and I wondered what this experience would teach me.
I was once an elementary student, but I attended a private school. Therefore my experiences were probably very different from a student who is now at W.H. Robinson Elementary. However, I learned the basics, such as saying my ABC’s, reading and writing s, and doing simple math problems. I learned how to interact with other students and teachers, and on some days I really missed my mom and dad. All of my experiences are things that are happening in the lives of the students at W.H. Robinson.
Although I did not attend a public school, I felt that I would be able to relate to the children in the classrooms, cafeteria, and playground. I wanted to know how the children felt, what they thought, and how they acted, alone and with others. I wanted to learn more about specific children’s learning styles. Then I wanted to see if the teachers focus on all of them when they teach.
I thought that this would be a very interesting subculture to study. It would be easy in some ways and hard in others. While children are innocent and honest, they also act differently when something out of the ordinary happens. I had questions like; will I affect the way the children act if I sit in the classroom during class? The students may act up and try to show off, or they could act like “perfect little angels” to impress me. I knew it would be hard in these cases to learn how the children really act. It turned out that for the first couple of minutes the students acted a little confused, and they all wanted to know why I was observing the class, but after that it was almost as thought they forgot that I was in the room. Therefore I feel as though my observations were pretty accurate in this sense. Also, I knew that another difficulty would be learning what kind of learner each student was. Since they are young, they are probably not aware of what type of learner they are, so the easiest way for me to find out would be to ask the teacher what she thinks. I ended up consulting Ms. Pahye about the class in general. She said that this year she feels that her class consists of a fairly equal amount of students from each of the three learning styles (Neuhoff, 2010.)
Insider and Outsider Point of View:
At Robinson I consider myself both an insider and an outsider. An insider because I was once in elementary school and because I have grown up in Pitt County so I am familiar with the way the Pitt County School Board works. I am an outsider because I am now a college student, the only public school I have attended was a high school, and because I had never been inside of W.H. Robinson before.
Although I tried to eliminate all assumptions and expectations as I began observing at W.H. Robinson, I knew that some of them would still remain in the back of my mind. It seemed as if studying a subculture that I knew nothing about would be easier because I would not have had as many preexisting expectations.
Because I was a student myself, I felt as though I already had an idea of what I would learn while conducting field work. I have sat in an elementary school classroom, listened to the teacher talk, and participated in the activities. I knew that there would also be some surprises, but I could not imagine what they would be. The subculture seemed pretty straight-forward, especially because I was working with an elementary school. I thought that young students would be much easier to understand than middle school or high school students.
Even though I have been an elementary school student, it was many years ago and I attended a private school. I had a feeling that many of the surprises that I would encounter would be things that are different between public and private schools. After just one day of observation, I had already noticed some differences between the two. Also, I knew that I would probably remember many things that I had forgotten. I looked forward to seeing how my perspective was going to change as I continued to observe.
I now feel that for the most part I was correct. Learning about an elementary school was pretty straight-forward, but one thing definitely shocked me. I recently changed my major from nursing to elementary education and I think that conducting fieldwork helped me make my decision. Although I was an elementary school student, as a fieldworker I gained a new perspective. I could see all of the students soaking in information, each in their own way, and I decided that I wanted to be a part of that by becoming a teacher.
I decided to read about learning styles before I began my fieldwork. I knew that this would help me know what to look for in the classroom. Also, it helped me develop interview questions for Ms. Pahye. The research showed that it is extremely important for teachers to use many different teaching techniques because what works for one student may not work for another. In order to do this, teachers have to have a well thought out lesson plan (Smutny, 2010.) Also, I read about the different techniques used when teaching elementary school students to read. There are many visual, audio, and kinesthetic techniques that teachers should involve in their lesson plans. If teachers use techniques that apply to each learning style, they will reach many more students than they will if they just use techniques that apply to one learning style (Walpole, 2007.)
I started my fieldwork research by first observing the area that W.H. Robinson was in, the outside of the school, and the people who went in and out of the school. I decided to do this because I wanted to obtain an outsiders view without having an effect on the students.
Something that surprised me was how many people went in and out of the school in the thirty minutes that I was there. It seemed as though there was a constant flow of people when I first arrived 10:45 am. When I left at 11:15 am it had subsided some, but the school was still very busy. I am guessing that the vast majority of the guests were parents, but a few, maybe volunteers, looked younger and did not exit the school while I was observing. Some of the parents came in with lunch boxes and book bags while others picked up or dropped off students. I never thought about how busy an elementary school office must before I began observing. I started to think about how often young students forget things and how involved parents are in their school lives.
I was intrigued by the size of the school. I attended a small private school from the time that I was in kindergarten until I was in eighth grade. When I went to a public high school I was shocked by how big it was and became lost many times during the first couple of weeks. I could not imagine being an elementary student and trying to find my way around such a big school! I wondered if they always stay in the same classroom or if the teacher leads them around when they have to go to a new classroom. I later found out that when they have art, music, and computer, they walk silently in straight lines with a teacher leading the way.
I was disturbed by how little parking space there was outside. There were people parked both ways on the sides of the road, there were only a few parking spots for visitors, which were all full when I arrived, and there was a small parking lot for faculty. I ended up parking in the faculty parking lot because I knew that I would not be there for long, and I needed to be able to see the school clearly in order to be able to make good observations. While I was thinking about the parking it made me wonder how the parents pick up and drop off their children. Do they use the street to line ups? Does it block traffic? Is there anyone to help the small students in and out of the cars? Is it safe? Another thing that disturbed me was the “Drug Free School Zone” sign that was near the street. I am glad that the school is drug free, but I was also shocked that they would even need to have that sign in front of an elementary school. I guess part of the shock came from my private school sheltered life. It made me wonder how many elementary schools are not “drug free.”
By this point in my research I already felt like I was beginning to learn more about W.H. Robinson. I was excited to expand my knowledge on this subject as I continued to do fieldwork and conduct other types of research.
When I first went inside W.H. Robinson, I visited the office to sign in. It was then that I found an artifact from the school. It was my visitors pass that I was given so that I would be able to walk around the school freely. The pass was a white sticker with a red apple on it. It said “visitor” in big blue letters and had a place below to fill in your name. This is very important for the school because it helps them regulate who is inside, which also protects the teachers and students.
As I sat in the second grade classroom at W.H. Robinson, I recalled memories about my own second grade classroom. The room was rectangular, with a board at the front and a few round tables with small chairs around them where the students sit. There was also a large window on the wall opposite from the door and a teacher’s desk in the back corner. I could see many charts, posters, and pictures on the walls. I noticed one large calendar for October that had the dates on paper pumpkins. Beside it was a list of the assigned classroom duties, which included door holder, line leader, and other various jobs. These two things helped the children learn organizational skills and responsibility. All of the other posters included pictures, classroom rules, and information about writing and math. They were all very colorful and helped to make the room brighter and more exciting.
The temperature in the room was a little warm and I felt cramped. The seat that I sat in was made for a second grader, not made for someone who is my size, 5’4”. I could also feel the restlessness coming from the students. It was the afternoon and the students had just gotten back in from recess so it was hard for them to sit still. Ms. Pahye asked many questions and talked clearly and loudly so that she could keep the students attention.
Throughout all of my fieldwork, I noticed a pattern. Even though I did not have an extraordinary amount of hours of fieldwork, the time that I spent at W.H. Robinson provided me with enough experience to clearly see that each student had their own learning style. The more extroverted a student was, the easier it was for me to see what their learning style was. Also, I noticed that some students seemed to have a combination of learning styles. Ms. Pahye used many different techniques while she was teaching. During my third session of fieldwork she was teaching a math lesson. Throughout this lesson she did a very thorough job of covering every learning style. The students were learning about number placement in ones, tens, and hundreds columns. Ms. Pahye would write the number on the overhead projector for the visual learners, say the number for the audio learners, and allow the students to use number blocks for the kinesthetic learners. She seemed to reach the majority of the students by using these three techniques. The only students that she could not reach were the students that simply would not pay attention.
Interview with Ms. Pahye:
Interviewing Ms. Pahye provided a lot of insight into what teachers see in the classroom every day. She said that different children definitely had different learning styles. This school year she said that she has an even amount of visual, audio, and kinesthetic learners in her class. However, there have been a few trends that she has noticed over the years. It seems as though boys usually require more hands on learning while girls usually have audio or visual learning styles. Also, children often take after one of their parents. Ms. Pahye has noticed that children who have attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) need to have hands-on-activity to help them stay focused. Also, contrary to my hypothesis, she believes that audio learners do not have an advantage in the classroom. She believes that all of the students have equal opportunities to learn no matter what their learning style is. However, visual learners do have a slight advantage when they are taking tests because most tests are paper pencil (Neuhoff, 2010.)
Completing my field work taught me many things about the learning styles of the second graders in Ms. Pahye’s class at W.H. Robinson. I am very glad that I had this opportunity, especially because I plan to teach elementary school. In conclusion, I do not agree with my hypothesis. Now that I have observed and conducted research, I believe that there is equity for all learning styles in general, and there is a slight advantage for visual learners when taking tests.
Neuhoff, B. (personal communication with Jessica Pahye, November 15, 2010)
I conducted an interview with Jessica Payhe on November 15, 2010. She provided valuable information and answered all of my questions thoroughly. She addressed her reason for teaching, the different learning styles, teaching techniques, and many other things. The interview helped answer many of the questions that I had after conducting my fieldwork at W.H. Robinson. She helped me to realize that my hypothesis was incorrect. In actuality, students, no matter what their learning style, have equal learning opportunities. However, visual learners have a slight advantage when taking tests because most tests are done with paper and pencil.
Smutny, Joan. (2010). Differentiating For the Young Child: Teaching Strategies Across the Content Areas, PreK-3. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin.
This book explains how to teach primary age students. It is directed towards primary school teachers and it informs them of how they can focus on all the different types of learning styles. It also talks about many other important things such as the students’ learning environment, planning ahead of schedule, and connecting and studying each student to assess their individual needs.
Walpole, S., & McKenna, M,. (2007). Differentiated reading instruction: strategies for the primary grades. New York: The Guilford Press.
This book addresses how important it is to reach every student when teaching them how to read. In order to do this, teachers need to be well trained use many different techniques. Not every technique will work for every student. This book helps teachers, and students who are planning to be teachers, by helping them plan out a well rounded lesson plan that incorporates things that will apply to each and every student. It is a valuable and dependable source because the authors have talked with many professionals and completed detailed research. Walpole works in the School of Education at the University of Delaware as the Assistant Professor and McKenna is a Professor of Reading at the University of Virginia. They are both working to increase the literacy rate by publishing information about reading.