By Heidi Holland, Gonzaga University School of Law
Most of us are familiar with the concept of learning styles and the VARK model initially developed in 1987 by Neil Fleming. VARK is an acronym for Visual, Aural, Read/write, and Kinesthetic sensory modalities that are used for learning information.
Visual learners prefer graphic depictions of information. Auditory learners prefer information presented in lectures, group discussions, etc. Read/write learners prefer to have information presented as words. Finally, kinesthetic learners prefer “demonstrations, simulations, [and] videos . . . .” Most people are, however, multimodal.
How then does one incorporate those different styles in a way that encourages our students to learn more effectively? Here is one example of what I have done in teaching legal research.
Recently, I was teaching my students how to do statutory research. Each of my sections is approximately fifteen students, and I break each section into two smaller groups for this exercise. I have a short fact pattern that I present to the students and then show them how I would use the annotated code to find the statute, notes of decision, and cases. Then, I break up the students into smaller groups and have them do a very short research problem following the same steps. They are each given a handout with the problem and detailed instructions. I rotate among the groups to answer questions and redirect them as necessary. Once they have all found “the answer” to the problem, we regroup and discuss. At that point, I give the students homework involving a slightly more complicated fact pattern. The detailed homework instructions include a research flowchart and require them to follow the same steps we did together during our class time.
During the next class period, we walk through step-by-step the research they should have done for homework. The homework review includes a PowerPoint presentation with screenshots of what they would have seen in the books or online.
By the time we’re done, students will have watched me do research while I explained it, done it with a classmate under my supervision, done it on their own, and then reviewed the process again in class. Visual learners will have seen graphic depictions of the research process in the homework instructions and the homework review’s PowerPoint presentation. Auditory learners will have heard the information in lecture, peer discussion, and class discussion. Read/write learners will have class handouts with instructions, homework instructions, and PowerPoint review (which I also post on TWEN). Finally, kinesthetic learners will have the benefit of demonstration and then personal application in class and for homework. Ultimately, the goal is to facilitate learning. By utilizing various learning styles and repetition, our students’ understanding can be enhanced.