Differences in Approaches Toward Learning

Students differ not only in the experiences that support learning, but also in what they draw from those experiences. The acquisition of skills and knowledge is closely tied to children’s approaches to learning.

In the not-so-distant past, differences in what children learned from an experience were widely attributed to innate ability. Today, children (and adults) are viewed as having a set of intellectual strengths and weaknesses that allow them to make better use of some types of learning experiences than others, and of having different capacities to attend and persist that facilitate or hinder effective learning.

Those with linguistic, logical/mathematical, spatial strengths will learn about a topic most effectively with presentations that build on that capacity (Krechevsky and Seidel, 1998). A preschool class looking at wheels, for example, might reach some children most effectively through narrative—stories in which the use of a wheel changes experience and possibility—and others through the opportunity to construct with wheels. Those who are “intelligent” at constructing may not be those who are best at articulating ideas about why some wheel combinations work better than others. Access to learning opportunities that provide multiple points of entry is of particular importance in early childhood education, for young children have not yet had the instruction that would enable them to use less naturally favored approaches.

The NCES survey collected parent ratings on children’s task persistence, eagerness to learn, and creativity, and teacher ratings on persistence, eagerness to learn, and attentiveness. Each scale was dichotomous, distinguishing never/sometimes from often/ very often. Both parents and teachers found that a little more than a quarter of the children had limited persistence at tasks, with girls and older children rated as persisting more often than boys and younger children (Tables 3–7 and 3–8).

Parents perceive their children as being more eager to learn than do teachers, and while parents see a small difference by gender and age, teachers see a larger one. Teachers see quite substantial differences in attention by gender and age, as well. Only 58 percent of boys were rated as being able to attend often, com-

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