Essay: Learning Styles Cognitive Learning Styles and Nonverbal Communication

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Learning Styles, Cognitive Learning Styles and Nonverbal Communication

Bilingual education and learning styles: Personal reflections

Learning a new language is by definition a multisensory experience. One of the difficulties some new students of a language have is the challenge of understanding the idioms, body language, and intuitive aspects of language that cannot be learned from a book. Bilingual education in all phases must incorporate visual as well as verbal media to be truly effective. That is why watching a video of two people communicating is so much more effective in reinforcing lesson concepts vs. simply listening to a recording. Just reading the dialogue is often the least effective method of all. For any discipline, deploying multiple types of learning methods that use different learning styles and strengths is necessary, but particularly in bilingual education. I have learned that merely to say something once, or introduce a new idea once is never enough: it is necessary to repeat something many times, and in many different ways for the idea to 'stick' in students' minds.

Howard Gardner's conception of 'multiple' rather than singular intelligences has confirmed by belief in the necessity for a teacher to use a wide array of approaches when teaching the same concept. Visual learners with high levels of spatial intelligence may be able to more easily pick up the body language of what is going on between two native speakers of a foreign language, and understand the meaning through inference. Kinesthetic learners may only truly understand a dialogue until they say it themselves. Some types of learners, like auditory or verbal learners might benefit from being able to listen to the lesson over and over again, and use interactive word and computer games. Mathematical learners might need to have a secure base in the grammar of the logic of a new language, while students with strong interpersonal or intrapersonal skills might benefit from a blend of interactive strategies, such as role plays and observations of others (Lane 2010). All lessons must take into consideration the needs of different types of learners: language education is based upon the scaffolding of previous concepts on top of other concepts. Lesson units are sequential in nature, much like a math lesson, so it is essential that no child is left behind in the learning process.

No child, of course, perfectly embodies a singular learning preference: Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences reflects tendencies rather than absolutes. And no bilingual instructor, no matter how slanted his or her class is in favor of one type of learner in its composition can cater to a singular learning style alone. Learning a living language in an academic context requires both acquiring a knowledge base of grammar and an awareness of nonverbal communication. But awareness of class tendencies can be helpful and older students can be encouraged to become more aware of their own preferences and intelligences.

Most of the time, teachers try to intuitively identify what learning style a child prefers. However, formal tests exist: The Edmonds Learning Style Identification Exercise (ELSIE) identifies learning styles through gauging reactions to auditory stimulus. The test of 50 one-word items is read aloud and students characterize their reactions from four multiple-choice alternatives: whether the word encourages them to visualize it; spell it out; hear it, or whether the word encourages them to have an emotional or physical feeling (Tendero 2009).

Distinct from 'learning style' or ability is a child's cognitive style: "Cognitive styles refer to the preferred way an individual processes information. Unlike individual differences in abilities (e.g., Gardner, Guilford, Sternberg) which describe peak performance, styles describe a person's typical mode of thinking, remembering or problem solving. Furthermore, styles are usually considered to be bipolar dimensions whereas abilities are unipolar (ranging from zero to a maximum value). Having more of ability is usually considered beneficial while having a particular cognitive style simply denotes a tendency to behave in a certain manner. Cognitive style is a usually described as a personality dimension which influences attitudes, values, and social interaction" (Kearsley 1994).

Tests of cognitive learning styles include the Child Rating Form, developed by Manuel Ramirez and Alfredo Castaneda in 1974, which classifies a child's style in terms of the cognitive style dimension of field dependence / independence. Field independence vs. field dependence/sensitive refers to an individual's tendency to approach the environment in an analytical, as opposed to global, fashion. "The global traits are the opposite of detail oriented, independent, and sequential" types of analytical and field independent learning (Tendero 2009 Field dependent students are "group oriented, sensitive to the social environment, and positively responsive to adult modeling. They are less sensitive to the spatial incursions of others, less comfortable with trial and error, and less interested in the fine details of tasks that are non-social" such as learning grammar and abstract concepts (Tendero 2009 ). Field independent personalities are also more intrinsically motivated by learning rather than social reinforcement. They can distance what they learn from the classroom or personal context to a greater degree.

While field independence is often prioritized in academic contexts, the teachers' knowledge that students are field dependent in terms of their cognitive style can be useful in eliciting higher levels of performance in bilingual context. I have fond, working with some classes, that creating socially rewarding scenarios, such as group dialogues, to be particularly effective. I try to be aware of the fact that a majority of my students may come from cultural contexts where 'field dependent' interactions are emphasized, so I have an expectation of a preference for this cognitive style in a class of students from high-context, collectivist cultures. I have found that recent immigrants from rural communities with parents who have limited formal education often exhibit this orientation.

Other cognitive styles that have been identified as relevant to foreign language learning include scanning, or the "differences in the extent and intensity of attention resulting in variations in the vividness of experience and the span of awareness," "leveling vs. sharpening" or the ability to have distinctive and segmented memories, "reflection vs. impulsivity" or the ability to create alternative hypothesis for events and "conceptual differentiation" or the "differences in the tendency to categorize perceived similarities among stimuli in terms of separate concepts or dimensions" (Kearsley 1994). Developing vivid and lasting memories of linguistic concepts, the ability to create different categories in the mind for ways of processing language (such as irregular verbs or the subjunctive tense), and the willingness to tolerate cultural differences are all part of the process of bilingual learning.

Children can still communicate, even when hesitant, in a foreign language through nonverbal communication. However, understanding the subtle nonverbal forms of communication particular to the language and culture of the new language is often learned rather than intuitive. Some students are better at gauging how the distance between speakers, the use of gestures, and the use of intonation in creates meaning in a language; often depending upon their own self-awareness about how socially relational aspects of dialogue create meaning in their native tongue.

Thus certain aspects of bilingual learning may favor interpersonal learners such as nonverbal subtitles while others, such as grammar and formal tests of ability, favor those with a more academic background and orientation. Verbal learners may excel at understanding idioms, interpersonal learners may excel in understanding language in a social context, while mathematical learners (who have a cognitive style with a high degree of field independence) may be fluent in grammar but find idioms and interpreting nonverbal communication very challenging.

Even for those who are not 'interpersonal' in their learning style, achieving true fluency involves applying the use of language to a variety of new and unexpected scenarios. In the classroom, it can be challenging to help ESL students grasp math and science ideas in a foreign language. It… [END OF PREVIEW]

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