The purpose of this presentation is to describe an approach which uses learning styles as one component of working with culturally diverse, special needs students, ie Aboriginal. The presentation describes the links between learning styles and culture, as well as between culture and special needs. The primary advantage of using a learning styles approach is that it helps the teacher to identify and build on strengths of the learner – strengths related to cultural background, and strengths that occur despite, or because of, the student’s special need. This approach is particularly useful when formal assessments of the students’ special needs are not possible, such as geographically isolated areas, because it does not rely on external assessment by specialists.
A four step process has been developed for using the model as a positive way of assisting minority culture students. Step 1 involves identifying the learning styles of the individual learners. This is done, first, by using the learning style and teaching style inventories. Second, it involves looking at the cultures of the students (traditional and contemporary; homeland and new home) for ways of learning which are more likely to be learning styles; but the teacher must not assume that every individual will have these learning styles. Step 2 entails the teacher matching teaching styles to student learning styles for difficult learning tasks. Step 3 is comprised of strengthening weaker ways of learning, because sometimes the nature of the learning task requires a particular way of learning even if it is not a strength. Step 4 involves helping the students become aware of their strengths and helping them to develop learning style selection strategies.