What are VARK Learning Styles?
By Rachelle Dene Poth
In education today we need to stay informed of the different strategies and resources that are available for providing more personalized learning experiences for our students. Being able to differentiate our instruction, relies on our understanding of the types of learners that we have in our classroom. When we differentiate, we design our lessons based on specific student learning styles. We have options to either create individualized choices for students to work independently, or we can group students based on a specific topic, an area of interest or even based on level of understanding with the content. When it comes to resources, we can create handouts, study guides, worksheets, and use different teaching strategies in our classroom. One example is through blended learning and the use of stations in the classroom. Through the use of stations, teachers can design different activities for each station where students interact with the content in a variety of ways. By creating structured activities that provide a variety of learning options for each student, we empower students with more meaningful learning and provide time for teachers to work with each student throughout the class.
What is the VARK Model?
The VARK model was designed by Neil Fleming in 1987. In this model, Fleming developed a way to help students learn more about their preferences.
VARK learning styles are visual, auditory, read/write, and kinesthetic. Personally, I have always been more of a visual and somewhat kinesthetic or Hands-On learner. There are many students in my classroom who also are visual learners and I have often noticed that they have specific ways of processing the information in class as we work through it.
Students who have a visual learning style may often prefer sitting in the front of the classroom. They may prefer to highlight, or use a lot of connectors or diagrams, create graphic organizers, and may be seen taking more detailed notes which are very organized, often color coded or have other ways of making distinctions between the content.
For visual learners, we can try using sketchnotes. Sketchnotes are a combination of doodling and text that enables the processing of information to be quicker and that attaches more meaning to the content as students are creating and associating meaning with their own representation of it.
Auditory learners listen carefully and often focus on the tone or the rate of speech, and may also benefit more by having supplemental resources like videos or audio components. If students working group, these learners benefit by more discussions and exchanging ideas, reading aloud and even repeating some content thinking out loud.
Some ideas that can help auditory learners are using Flipgrid to post a question and have students post responses, Synth to create a podcast to have the active listening component addressed, and even using strategies like “telephone” where you tell a story and then students have to retell it in their own words. Doing this type of activity leads students to focus on what you are saying but also processing it and summarizing it back to you in their own spoken words.
Read/write learners often prefer to have the text in some format. Whether they first write and then rewrite their notes, read over their notes each day for review and class preparation, they interact with written formats more often. Students may create diagrams and then convert them back into statements, making lists or arranging words in some type of hierarchy.
Students with this learning style may benefit more by creating presentations where they take a large quantity of information and then convert it into some presentation format. Some options could be using a blogging tool like Kidblog, or creating a presentation to tell a story such as Buncee, StoryboardThat or even PowerPoint. Students also can benefit from tools like Storybird or Book Creator where they can create their own digital book or create a print book that then could be used in the classroom.
Kinesthetic learners learn best through Hands-on learning opportunities. In classrooms today, students spend a lot of time sitting and more passively learning. There has been more discussion about the need for students to be more active in the classroom, even for teachers, who are getting rid of traditional desks and moving toward standing desks. Students who have this learning style may become distracted because of the need to move or to be active in the classroom. As a law school student, I can recall prepping for the Bar exam and walking around and talking about different parts of the law or reading and moving around as I read a case. I’ve also noticed students doing this in the classroom.
Other possibilities are to give students opportunities to create with the content whether it is by making flashcards, creating some poster or other resource to use in the classroom. Providing graphic organizers are helpful so students can process the information and put it into a chart or some other format. Also with STEM and STEAM curriculum, makerspaces or project-based learning (PBL), giving students the opportunity to create a model of something promotes this hands-on learning.
We want our students to be successful and to help them get there, we need to understand what their needs are in terms of learning style. We must be able to provide different options for each student to engage with the content in a more personalized way and show the learning that has occurred in a way that means their needs and interests.
Which type of learner are you? Can you quickly recall information because you remember the way that it looks in your notebook or other place where you wrote it? Do you prefer listening to a presentation or reading out loud? Are you a person who takes a lot of notes and then either rewrites the notes or makes lists or creates some other text based representation? Do you need to move and interact with some type of an activity and practice while working towards learning the content?
And if more than one of these sounds like you, then you would have a multi-modal learning style. A multi-modal learning style means that you benefit through multiple ways of processing the information. Want to find out? You can take the VARK questionnaire and find out what type of learner you are!