Exploring Teaching Styles and Cognitive Styles: Evidence from School Teachers in Canada

By Evans, Carol; Harkins, Mary Jane et al. | North American Journal of Psychology, December 2008 | Go to article overview

Exploring Teaching Styles and Cognitive Styles: Evidence from School Teachers in Canada


Evans, Carol, Harkins, Mary Jane, Young, Jeffrey D., North American Journal of Psychology


In order to move from a "pedagogy of poverty" to a "pedagogy of plenty" (Tomlinson, 2005) and to cater to the increasing diversity of student learning needs, effective teachers need to be aware of and use a variety of teaching styles (Kulinna & Cothran, 2003). Researchers have attempted to isolate variables that determine teachers' preferred teaching style, but to date "little is known about teachers' use and perception of various teaching styles" (Kulinna & Cothran, 2003, p. 1), or the stability of such teaching styles (Evans, 2004). Teaching styles focus on teachers and their distinct approach to teaching. As Brookfield (1990) stressed, teaching style can be the expression of how teachers gain a better understanding of how best to implement their vision of teaching while responding to the contextual aspects of teaching. Through an awareness of their preferred teaching style, teachers may gain a better understanding of themselves and how their teaching style can be changed, modified, or supported to improve their interactions with students (Kulinna, Cothran, & Zhu, 2000; Lacey et al., 1998). Differences in teaching styles may also impact on areas such as classroom arrangements, the organization and assessment of activities, teacher interactions with students and pedagogical approaches, such as the use of questioning (Evans, 2004). However, there is limited research on Canadian teachers' teaching styles. Thus, the purpose of this paper is to explore the teaching styles of Canadian public school teachers and then to examine the relationship, if any, between their teaching styles and their cognitive styles. Initially the literature on teaching styles is reviewed.

Teaching Style

Teachers play a critical role in the teaching/learning process. Teachers' classroom behaviors impact on many different areas of this process, such as teacher preparation, classroom presentation, learning activities and approaches to the assessment of learning (Lacey et al., 1998; Masse & Popovich, 2006). The term "teaching style" refers to "a teacher's personal behaviors and media used to transmit data to or receive it from the learner" (Kaplan & Kies, 1995, p. 29), and involves the implementation of the teacher's philosophy about teaching (Conti, 2004). Heimlich (1990) indicated that the underpinnings of teachers' teaching philosophies may be their values, beliefs, attitudes, aspirations, personal biographies, social identities, cultural background and teaching experiences.

Researchers have also identified other areas that influence teachers' teaching style, such as the nature of the subject area (Evans, 2004; Genc & Ogan-Bekiroglu, 2004; Lawrence, 1997); the impact of government curriculum initiatives (Hargreaves, 2003; Richards, 1998); preservice teacher preparation and schooling socialization (Britzman, 2003; Evans, 2004; Harkins, 1997); job satisfaction (Opdenakker & Van Damme, 2006); as well as socio-cultural backgrounds and attitudes (Finn, 1999; Villegas & Lucas, 2002). Other researchers have also examined the relationship between teaching style and student achievement of learning outcomes (Adey, Fairbrother, William, Johnson & Jones, 1999; Aitkin & Zuzovsky, 1994; Conti, 1985; Zinn, 2004). Within this area, research has painted a far from clear picture with recent studies suggesting that although students may prefer to be taught in their own favored style, they are open to teaching styles that are completely different from their own preferred learning styles (Zhang & Sternberg, 2004). Although some research indicates that teaching styles are important with respect to student outcomes, Opdenakker and Van Damme (2006) questioned the degree to which effective classroom practices are dependent on teaching characteristics and styles.

Researchers have identified different teaching behaviors, which have demonstrated that teachers do have a preferred or dominant teaching style (Conti, 1985; Cothran, Kulinna & Garrahy, 2003; Ladd, 1995).

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