Online Professional Learning and
Technical Assistance for
21st Century Community Learning Centers


January 4, 2023

In the spirit of setting new resolutions, take this opportunity to break any old habits that have crept in over the years and wipe the slate clean with positive alternatives to problematic teaching practices.

The “Theory of Learning Styles” Is “Outta” Style

If you’re in the education world, chances are, you’ve heard about the theory of learning styles. Often, it’s (mis)interpreted like this: Auditory learners? They learn best from recorded lectures, so don’t give them a graphic organizer. Visual learners? They always remember information best through charts or diagrams. Kinesthetic or tactile learners? The only way they can learn is to touch, build, or draw something.

The problem with this approach? While it’s true that individuals may prefer to learn in certain ways, we may shortchange students if we classify them as being only one kind of learner: auditory, visual, or tactile. The “learning styles habit” can send the untrue message that students can only ever learn in one way. It may also discourage them from trying new things and “learning to learn” outside their comfort zones.

Out With the Old

In addition to the learning styles habit, have you or your staff picked up other habits that aren’t necessarily productive? For example:

  • Asking empty questions like “Does everyone understand?” or “Is anyone confused?” No doubt, you’re asking these questions in good faith. But how likely are students to voluntarily say, “I don’t get it”? Chances are, most will stay silent rather than risk embarrassment. Try replacing the empty questions habit with the guiding questions habit, where you say things like, “What do you think about…?” or “How is this different from…?” Or what might happen if you adopt the coaching habit, where you observe students during individual or group tasks — and use guiding questions or the five whys to help them clarify fuzzy thinking or solve a problem? Give it a try and let us know what happens!
  • Using behavior charts to motivate positive behaviors. The hope may be that using behavior charts will steer students away from infractions. In reality, these charts can publicly shame and discourage some students while prompting others to mock their peers. Some students end up settling into the destructive patterns the behavior chart is putting on display. Kick the behavior chart habit and replace it with the little victories habit: Make sure each student goes home with a “little victory” to share with their parent or guardian, such as completing a homework assignment or learning a new science concept (Hey Mom, did you know baby frogs are called tadpoles?!).

In With the New

Back to the question of learning styles. What can you do to ensure that every student benefits from the activities you and your staff work so hard to plan? Consider replacing the learning styles habit with the multimodal learning habit. Research shows that multimodal learning, which combines all the learning styles, is much more effective.

According to the authors of Why Are We Still Doing That? Positive Alternatives to Problematic Teaching Practices, multimodal learning combines words, images, and demonstrations into a single lesson, thus activating multiple sensory systems and creating “more tightly integrated networks of memory and meaning.” Additionally, when a concept is presented in more than one way, students exercise the mental muscles needed for real-world interactions. Everyday life, after all, rarely presents one-dimensional problems! Multimodal learning opportunities mirror students’ experiences outside the classroom and prepare them to apply their knowledge “in the moment” as they encounter various situations.

Lost on how to incorporate multimodal learning into your program? Here are three things to try:

  • Present familiar content in a new light by incorporating graphs, charts, or artwork.
  • Get buy-in from students by administering student interest surveys, like the ones from Y4Y for elementary and secondary students. Use the results to design activities they’ll love!
  • Bring in mixed media like podcasts, games, and videos to broaden students’ perceptions of everyday concepts.

Bonus points: Y4Y has a Multimodal Literacy Tool Kit that offers quick-use tools for reinforcing all modes of written language in out-of-school time.

There’s no guarantee that every student will absorb every lesson you embed into program activities. However, by kicking old teaching habits and providing diverse learning experiences, replacing empty questions with guiding questions, and sending students home with “little victories” to share, you’re building confident, well-rounded, creative young thinkers!


The documents posted on this server contain links or pointers to information created and maintained by other public and private organizations. These links and pointers are provided for the user’s convenience. The U.S. Department of Education does not control or guarantee the accuracy, relevance, timeliness or completeness of this outside information. Further, the inclusion of links or pointers to particular items is not intended to reflect their importance, nor is it intended to endorse any views expressed, or products or services offered, on these outside sites, or the organizations sponsoring the sites.