In this blog post, I’d like to point out the importance of taking learners’ personal learning styles into account when they are asked to do a reading task. This idea is interesting for me personally because I think not all the techniques and strategies which exist to help us do a particular task can work for all in the same way.
For example, all ESL teachers and a majority of ESL learners know about “skimming” and “scanning” as two essential reading techniques, and in almost all ESL learning contexts, teachers try to have learners use them in approaching a certain reading task. Recently however, I’ve asked myself “What if these techniques, or maybe the other ones, do not work in the same efficient way for all learners?” In other words, is it possible that some learners are just not a “skimming person”? This thought had me approach reading tasks differently in my classes for the past two months, and here is what I found out.
First, as always, I taught certain reading techniques in class before working on a particular activity. I presented what was necessary for getting a task done, and then I made sure learners had made sense of it and therefore could call upon those techniques when requested.
Second, and here is what I decided to do differently, I had them reflect on their personal learning styles to see if they could actually relate to such techniques. In the beginning, they gave me a doubtful look, saying these techniques are just the general techniques to be applied and have nothing to do with our learning styles! But I assured them that through reflecting on their own learning styles, they could discover great things about their preferred technique – one that resonated more with their style when encountering a new problem or task.
During reflection time, some learners came to the realization that they usually get stressed when they feel the pressure of looking for something specific during a reading task. That’s why they always had such a hard time applying scanning successfully. Interestingly, if not scanned, they could still easily find the word in a timely manner. Some learners eventually came to the conclusion that as much as scanning is conducive to the process of doing a reading task, it’s not actually for them. Another example in this case could be “guessing the meaning of unknown words from the context”. This technique is generally recommended and advised as well, so everyone thought it would work for everyone with no exception. But again, reflecting on their learning styles and reading preferences, some learners found that this technique took them a very long time and more often than not their guesses were irrelevant! In the end, guessing the words left some learners baffled and feeling lost! That’s why as much as this technique is useful for many learners, others don’t fully benefit from it.
This reflective process was a very good experience for me as a teacher, to see if certain techniques could match some learning styles better. From what I observed, that was true and the outcome was a more engaging, purposeful and meaningful approach to assigning reading tasks. Ultimately, these tasks are an experience that all learners should benefit from, regardless of their learning style.