Unlocking Math Success: How to Teach According to Learning Profiles

May 27, 2024 No Comments

Your upper elementary classroom is full of unique learners who all process information differently. So much uniqueness in one environment can make a classroom a magical place. However, it can also be one of the most significant challenges of teaching. How do we meet the needs of our unique learners when they are so diverse?

In education, we refer to a student’s approach to learning as their learning profile. These learning profiles are influenced by a student’s learning styles, background, gender, and culture. Each one can play a role in how students learn and process information. So, how do we work to meet our students’ various learning profiles? Through differentiated instruction.

Carol Ann Tomlinson describes differentiation as “a way of thinking about teaching which suggests that … we teach with an eye on the student.” When differentiating math according to student learning profiles, we focus on what makes each student unique. We try to take a personalized learning approach.

First, let’s establish the expectation that you will not always be able to differentiate instruction to meet each student’s learning profile. That is not realistic. The goal is to use a variety of differentiated instructional practices that your students can use throughout instruction and training. People can learn in a variety of ways. So, tuning into a few ways of learning may be a disadvantage. It’s all about finding the right balance to support your unique learners.

It’s also important to note that a student’s learning profile goes beyond their learning style. It heavily depends on who they are, their experiences, and their interests. Learning styles comprise a piece of their learning profile, but it is not the complete picture. 

Unlocking math success: How to teach according to learning profiles

So, what exactly does it mean to differentiate instruction according to student learning profiles? Let’s look at different teaching methods you can use to meet the various learning needs in your upper elementary math class throughout the school year and create a student-centered pathway.

Differentiating According to Learning Profiles: Learning Styles

The first step is discussing popular learning styles that can contribute to student profiles and help their academic achievement.

Visual learners: These learners do well when new information is presented visually. Here are some instructional practices that you can include in your instruction…

  • Create anchor charts for math concepts you are learning
  • Display information with charts or diagrams
  • Use visual representations of math concepts (place value charts, fraction figures, geometry shapes)
  • Use videos to teach and explain math skills.
  • Allow students to draw and create their visuals to demonstrate their understanding.

Auditory learners: They do well when information is presented verbally and when they complete different activities. Some instructional practices that are good to use with these students are…

  • Explain math concepts and steps verbally to your students
  • Whenever possible, pre-load vocabulary. Please ensure students know all the words they will use when practicing these math skills or standards.
  • Students can use mnemonic devices, such as chants, poems, etc., to remember processes or procedures. (Check out how to use mnemonic devices for measurement conversion here.)
  • Allow classroom discussion as students problem-solve and practice math concepts (both allowing students to share and hear what others have to say verbally)
Auditory learning can be part of a student's learning profile
  • Use podcasts to teach and explain math concepts. This can be fun for students and easy to put into a center!
  • Use recorded explanations and procedures so students can go back and listen while problem-solving and practicing new math skills. You can easily make a recording and put it online for your students to use whenever they are working independently. This is also great for homework help! 

Kinesthetic learners/ Tactile learner: These learners learn well when they can touch different types of materials and explore. Include these practices for these learners.

  • Use manipulatives whenever possible. Yes, even in the upper grades! You can use place value blocks, shapes, and more.
  • Allow students to manipulate objects and sort them. I especially like to allow hands-on exploration for many geometry skills. This will enable students to see various classifications.
  • Use physical movement while learning math skills. Take a look online. There are so many great resources to use to help connect movement with learning.
  • Role-play math concepts when possible. We can easily give our students a division problem on paper, but what if we provide them with something that they have to divide among themselves? This role-playing brings the learning to life.
  • Use math centers to practice. These centers can include games, manipulatives, and more. Plus, they get your students up and moving.

Logical: These learners do well when critical thinking is involved. Here is how you can help students who think like this in their learning profiles…

  • Break math procedures into steps that can be followed and repeated. You can easily create an anchor chart or notes pages that go into a math notebook that students can reference when they need to
  • Provide opportunities for practicing math skills through problem-solving. Allow students to practice their reasoning skills.

Use logic puzzles to build critical thinking skills. Logic puzzles can be valuable for students to complete and help them develop problem-solving skills.

These holiday-specific logic puzzles are differentiated to help students develop their critical thinking skills and require no prep from you.

Grab them in whole numbers or decimals and add them to your lesson plans. 

Logic puzzles are one way to differentiate according to learning profiles.
  • Show numbers in various ways so students can analyze and make conclusions about them. Want to hit a variety of standards? Show students decimals, fractions, and percents. Allow students to see numbers in various ways and build their flexible thinking skills.
  • Use project-based or inquiry-based learning that allows students to work through problem-solving. This type of learning can inspire students and motivate them to practice their math skills meaningfully.

Verbal learners: These learners like to see information presented and practiced linguistically through valuable conversations. I love to process information verbally. I don’t want to watch a video on doing something; I want to read how. I also love to talk out loud about my thinking. Let’s look at some strategies for learners like me.

  • Use written directions, steps, and explanations when teaching and practicing math concepts.
  • Allow these students to write or explain their thinking. Let them think out loud. This can be done with their peers or in conferences with you.
  • Integrate math journals and allow students to explore math concepts and skills through writing.
  • Use word problems and real-world math scenarios to practice skills. Real-world learning provides many opportunities to offer relevance around the math skills students are learning. Not to mention, real-world student work products can be very engaging. One of my favorite ways to practice real-world math is with Math City math projects. Check out these real-world math projects in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade standards!

Social learners: These learners like to learn from their peers. Here are some different ways to incorporate peer instruction into your math time.

  • Use partner games and activities to practice new math skills
  • Use both homogenous and heterogenous small groups and partner activities. Students can learn much from working with peers, regardless of their achievement levels.
  • Allow for shared time during instruction. Give students time to talk about their thinking with peers while learning. One of my favorite strategies is to think, pair, and share. It allows students the time they need to process and discuss things with others.
Social learning can be part of a student's learning profile.

Independent learners: These students may prefer to learn and practice at their own pace. Here are some different approaches you can use for these learners…

  • Create and use math menus that give students autonomy in their practice.
  • Allow time for self-directed learning.
  • Use goal setting to help students achieve certain milestones. This can be great for students learning math facts and more.
  • Allow for reflective activities that encourage students to think about what they understand and are still struggling with. Helping students develop reflection skills will help them build lifelong learning skills.
  • Use student-centered learning at certain times.

Various learning styles can lead to academic success, and your students will benefit from many. Seeing and processing information in multiple ways will only help them as they continue to grow as learners and process any additional information. 

Learning styles are only one part of student learning profiles. So many other things make up the unique learners in our classrooms, and they also need to be considered. Let’s take a closer look.

Differentiating According to Learning Profiles: Student Backgrounds

Our backgrounds and experiences shape and influence us; our students are no exception. So, when differentiating instruction according to their learning profiles, we should consider a student’s background. Students’ backgrounds may include their ethnicity, family life, gender, culture, and so much more.

When I taught 2nd grade in Virginia, I had a very diverse group of students each year. In fact, 12 different languages were spoken in my classroom of 23 students in one year. It was a fantastic group of unique little humans, and we had so much fun. However, the diversity also challenged me as a teacher. It could be hard to build upon background knowledge when they all had various backgrounds. So here are some strategies I used to help me differentiate for the different learning profiles in my classroom.

  • Pre-load everything! Pre-load vocabulary, examples, symbols, and anything else that may be used to learn a new math concept. Trying to level the playing field as much as possible is essential.
  • Try to use and find universal examples when instructing. 
  • Use a variety of resources that represent your class’s uniqueness. Representation matters, so include word problems, books, examples, and real-world math scenarios that are diverse in gender and culture.
  • Allow for flexible groupings in your classroom. Differentiation is dynamic, and your grouping should also be, depending on student needs. 
  • Always be mindful of cultural and social factors that might intersect with a student’s experience in the classroom.
  • Create a classroom where diverse school settings are celebrated.
  • Explore cultural contributions to mathematics to include mathematicians around the world. This allows students to see that math is a universal language.
  • Respect cultural differences in attitudes and approaches to mathematics. 
  • Use multilingual resources when teaching math. Include bilingual math vocabulary to support English language learners.
  • Involve families and communities in the learning process. Seeing how math has been learned and used in different settings can be interesting.
  • Create a more flexible learning environment.
A student's background is part of their learning profile.

You may be wondering how these relate to math, but they provide a foundation for students to learn. It’s the little things that sometimes students themselves aren’t even aware of that make a big difference. 

Differentiating According to Learning Profiles: Students’ Interests

A student’s interest is also a part of their learning profile. Ultimately, students will learn better when the learner’s passions are considered. One of my favorite ways to make a student’s new interests a part of their academic profile is with a math interest survey. It is an easy way to get to know our students as mathematicians and the unique people they are. Grab free math student profile surveys.

Want to learn more about differentiating according to student interest? Check out this blog post!

There are so many different learning methods and activities that will help your students grow as mathematicians. Your older students are unique, and so are their learning profiles. This list of strategies is a starting place. Don’t look at the list above as a checklist. Think of it as a menu that you can use to create a learning environment where your students will grow and thrive on a regular basis.

Differentiating math according to learning profiles isn’t something you do once and move on. It is a constant, dynamic process that evolves with your little learners. Which strategies can you implement today?

Amanda Stitt

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I’m a mom, military spouse, and teacher trying to find the elusive balance of everything going on in life. I am passionate about helping teachers feel supported and equipped to meet the needs of their unique learners. Thanks for stopping by and let’s start teaching together! Read More

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