Differentiate instruction based on students' learning preferences

A task menu can be used to give options to students for the ways they will gather information, process information, and present information on a topic, based on their learning preference. An example is below, showing how you could possibly differentiate instruction on "how to write a business letter." It uses Sternberg's Intelligences as one way of thinking about learning preferences.

Sternberg's Intelligences:

Analytic Intelligence
People with strengths in this area tend to do very well with school tasks such as making meaning of text material, organizing information, seeing cause and effect, taking notes, and memorizing information.

  • For example, a student learning to write a business letter who has this learning preference could listen to a lecture (or watch a powerpoint) with step-by-step instructions on writing business letters. Take notes, then recreate a sample, given all the information for the letter (gathering information). They could use a single template given to them by the teacher to write three letters with different information, as practice (processing information). Then they could explain the format of a business letter to another student (presenting information).

Practical Intelligence
People with strengths in this area learn well when they see how things work in the world and how ideas and skills help solve problems. They learn better by using ideas rather than just learning ideas. They need to solve problems in a meaningful context.

  • For example, a student learning to write a business letter who has this learning preference could contact businesses to get copies of their letters. Determine what information is contained in the letters in general, and reproduce one they like (gathering information). They could look up forms for business letters on the internet, or explore Microsoft Word templates to see what’s available. Choose two that you like, use them to create two letters with the same information, then interview several people about which one seems more impressive to them (processing information). They could create a display of several business letter formats (presenting information).

Creative Intelligence
People with strengths in this area tend to come at ideas and problems in fresh and surprising ways. They prefer to experiment with ideas rather than work like everyone else. They “think outside the box.”

  • For example, a student learning to write a business letter who has this learning preference could brainstorm in a group the types of information that would need to go in a business letter, given a scenario (e.g. informing a customer that their order is delayed.) They could create their own template for business letters, choosing styles, etc. Create a letterhead for the business. Evaluate the tone and feeling that the format conveys. They could create an alternative to a business letter: a scripted phone call, a formatted email, etc.

The actual task menu might look like the chart on this handout:
A chart with this information, and a blank form for developing your own task menus (click to download)

Another way to think about different types of learners is shown on the "4MAT 4 Algebra" website: http://www.teaching-algebra.com/index.php/what-is-4mat. Click on the "Learning Styles" tab on the chart on this page. In an earlier version of their website they included the following chart:


Assignment: Choose one:
  1. Have you assessed your students to find out what their learning preferences are? Do you have a learning preference assessment that you like? If so, describe it on the discussion tab.
  2. Once you know your students' learning preferences, how does that help you differentiate instruction? Tell us your story about the use of learning preferences on the discussion tab.
  3. Do you have a task menu based on learning preferences that you'd like to share? You can either write about it on the discussion tab or email a copy of it to Theron Blakeslee to be posted on this site.