Breaking the Learning Barrier for Underachieving Students: Practical Teaching Strategies for Dramatic Results


George D. Nelson

  • Citations
  • Add to My List
  • Text Size

  • Chapters
  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
  • Dedication

    For Leslie

    And in grateful appreciation of all the wonderful teachers who sacrificed much to share with me their love of life and learning.


    View Copyright Page


    Never before had she been this excited about anything associated with school.

    Now, for the first time in her life, learning was rewarding and satisfying. Even the thought of missing school, for any reason, was simply out of the question. How could this be the same young woman who used to find every possible excuse to stay home?

    Now she worked hours on her own, without compulsion, to prepare for class. She felt that she had discovered a vast secret, and she longed to share it with everyone she met. Every search seemed to lead to new answers. New answers led to new questions. In her mind, she was beginning to picture her educational journey like the ever-splitting branches of an enormous tree. What an adventure! What a thrill! The world looked like a completely different place. Something new and different was happening, and she liked the change. Even the thought of missing school, for any reason, was simply out of the question. How could learning and study be fun? Was it even possible? How many times in the last little while had she blessed the name of the teacher who helped her to see what she had never imagined?

    Is this not the dream of every educator: to be the person responsible for changing the life of a student? There is no amount of money that can replace the thrill and joy of seeing a young mind come alive with wonder. In truth, most teachers endure all the associated headaches of academia for these moments. Lured by this dream and not by money, fame, or status, teachers everywhere have been willing to pay a high personal price to have this effect in the life of a student.

    If this dream is what has drawn people to the teaching profession, then by now the practice of teaching should be an exact and perfected science. By the sheer weight of these aspirations, pedagogical formulas, theories, and practices should have been carved in stone years ago. The improvements in knowledge, theory, and practice in other fields of endeavor that are only a few decades old cast shame on those of us who have chosen to make teaching our profession. What has happened? Why are we still caught in quagmires of revolving thought and reworked ideas when our motives are so right? Why, in all these years of experience, have we come so few steps forward?

    As a teacher of teachers, I am deeply troubled by the universal confusion that surrounds teaching and the preparation of teachers. I ponder this dilemma every day with questions like these: “Why don't we get it?” “What's so mysterious about learning?” “Is there something more I can do to ensure that my teaching efforts will help my students learn better and become better teachers?”

    My search for these answers has led me down many divergent paths. I've observed the practice and researched the ideas of many different educators; some have provided exciting insights and hope, but just as many have deepened my confusion and doubt. How could this task be so difficult? Why, in this time of ultimate access to information and knowledge, are we seeing more and more students turn their backs on learning? I recently addressed a group of twenty-five hundred teachers in Alaska as they prepared to return for a new school year. I voiced this frustration to them in this fashion: “Let's suppose from the outset that each of you has taught an average of 10 years. Now I know that many of you have been teaching since I was a lad, and I know that some of you are new to the profession. Still, if we each average 10 years of teaching, then together we represent over twenty-five thousand years of experience. Twenty-five thousand years—what can I possibly say in the next two hours that will be of any help? What do I know that hasn't been said before by wiser and keener minds?”

    I feel the same way at the outset of this project. How can my educational passions, observations, and discoveries over the last 40-some years make a difference in this field that is so full of proposed practices and theories? My only answer is, “I feel I must.” Every time I push this feeling aside and think I should leave this task to others, I hear the deeply emotional voices of devoted, veteran teachers who approach me at the end of a workshop and say, “Why didn't I know this 30 years ago? Think of the difference it could have made.”

    Hoping that this can make a difference for you, I submit first what many see as a ludicrous notion. It is simply that each of us, in our own way, is an expert teacher. By this, I mean that we are all experts at teaching people who learn exactly the way we do. The simplicity of this notion ends when we have to teach students who learn differently from the way we do.

    From our earliest consciousness, we have been the recipients of the teaching efforts of others. Everything we know has been taught to us either by the natural consequences of life's experiences or by the formal and informal teaching of those who have taken their time to pass on what they have previously learned. Our entire life journey is a process of learning. Our brain, through the data-gathering assistance of our other organs, is constantly fed with new information. The acquisition of knowledge is one of the overriding purposes of life and the continuation of our species. Each new rising generation gathers the lessons they have learned from the previous generation and expands their understanding by adding their own personal discovery and insight to what was previously known and shared.

    Along this journey of learning, we have observed all types and styles of teaching. We have seen what we consider good and bad, and we have formed well-defined opinions of what appeals to us and what does not. We have gathered a collection of favorite teachers, learning environments, and ways to learn. These observations form the basis from which we evaluate all our learning experiences. From these experiences come our individual preferences as they relate to the gathering and processing of information.

    Each of us has a different view on what makes good teaching. But, as different as we are in this area, there is one thing that binds all learners together: We all want the things we are learning to have meaning in our lives. We want learning to be relevant to our existence and to compel us to understand and gain increased mastery of skills and knowledge. We long to be engaged, to have our minds entertained and held captive by new ideas, concepts, and meaning. Because we are all different, we arrive at this place by differing means and avenues. This is why there are so many different opinions on what constitutes good teaching practice.

    A careful examination of our most powerful learning experiences reveals that these important educational events have much in common. The truth is that all sound educational theories are correct in their place, but not for every student and not in every situation. Attempts to create an overarching method or set of rules to govern all teaching practice have failed because proponents of such systems do not understand that what works brilliantly for one learner is anathema to another.

    To say that we are all experts suggests we have more to learn from each other than we have ever imagined before. It also requires us to accept that each of our students has similar experiences and feelings as they relate to their individual learning preferences. Acknowledging this fact puts teachers and students on a strange and equal footing. It begs us to learn what we can from each other rather than dismissing contrary practices or styles out of hand. Acknowledging this fact would allow our profession to move forward at the speed of our changing technology and to finally stop the educational pendulum from making its predictable 10-year swing. In so doing, we would forever break this cycle that keeps us continually hashing over and revisiting old ideas and past practices.

    As educators, we must realistically answer this question: “Will I be more successful if I expect students to change the way they learn to correlate with the way I teach, or will my students be more successful if I learn to modulate my style of teaching to meet their learning needs?” To those who hold the latter half of this question to be correct, I invite you to consider the ideas and principles you will read on the pages that follow and see if they can help you achieve the Aristotle Effect in your classroom. The ideas, theories, principles, and practices I discuss are an amalgam of the influence that many great educators have had on my life. They are presented and explored in an effort to help put the fun back in our teaching and help us remember why we entered this profession in the first place. If we can focus on our own wonder and awe for learning, we can find the personal energy and drive to sustain an awe-based educational approach in our own teaching environment.


    Corwin Press gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the following reviewers:

    Laura Cumbee

    Classroom Teacher

    South Central Middle School

    Emerson, GA

    Dr. Stacey Neuharth-Pritchett

    Associate Professor of Elementary Education

    University of Georgia

    Athens, GA

    About the Author

    George D. Nelson is a professor, writer, teacher, curriculum designer, director, and educational consultant. His work and influence has been felt in a wide range of institutions and educationally oriented organizations, colleges and universities, state departments of education, state departments of corrections, public schools, corporations, community outreach organizations, and foundations. Curriculum he has created has been used internationally to help teachers and trainers better reach their dramatic learners.

    Professor Nelson travels extensively giving workshops, lectures, and inservice training for trainers, teachers, professors, and administrators. He is presently an associate professor at Brigham Young University with a dual appointment in the David O. McKay School of Education and the College of Fine Arts and Communications. He has received numerous teaching awards and has been recognized by the American Alliance for Theatre in Education with the Linn Wright Special Recognition Award for his work with incarcerated dramatic learners.

  • Conclusion

    We must conclude this journey where we began. It is our shared dreams and aspirations to make a difference in the lives of our students that must drive us on. Ideally, you have been able to find a few morsels of my experience that will help you on your way. My message is very simple. We just need to be wiser than we have been in the past. If we can see our way to reduce the complexity of all learning theories and practices down to a few simple guiding principles, our noble dreams can gain wings. If we can band together as pilgrims headed to the same destination and truly recognize that our real strength is in our difference of opinion, then we will finally stand on the common ground from which we all can progress.

    For many of us to come to this place, we must finally be willing to admit that the best and right way to educate all students varies depending on the individual needs of the learner. The acceptance of this fact is not an admission of weakness or shortcoming; it is the actual bonding agent that will hold us all together and propel our profession ahead into great new worlds of success. It will allow us to rediscover the true joy of learning and enable us to pass it on with more regularity to rising generations.

    If we can find a common belief, our anatomy of learning, we can build on the past and move our whole field forward. The simple principles we must cling to are the same ones that have given the real fire to our dream. They are simultaneously tangible and elusive, but so are all things that edify the human soul. If we can remember that the awe of learning grows out of our natural desire for personal discovery, we will never lose our way.

    The principles I have proposed are very simple. I repeat them here for the sake of clarity and summary.

    • Learning in the natural world, away from man-made structures, requires the active involvement of the learner. Therefore, nothing can be learned without the willing participation and effort of the learner.
    • Life without drama is meaningless and uninspiring. Therefore, learning that is not built on dramatic elements is also meaningless and uninspiring.
    • Learning must be value based. Therefore, when teaching takes into account the values and preferences of a learner, he or she will be motivated to participate.
    • Learning must be fun. Therefore, when the first three conditions exist, learning becomes the most rewarding, engaging, and fun activity in life.

    Everything else I have written to this point means nothing without the context of these four simple principles. They are the North Star of my teaching practice. In the roughest of seas and on the blackest of nights, I know I can return to these principles to regain my bearings. I also know that when I stray from them I end up in uncharted and dangerous waters. I apologize if they seem too simple, but I am firm in my commitment to them.

    In over 20 years of training teachers, I have seen the validity of these principles played out over and over again in the lives of learners of all ages. I find that they have universal application in all educational environments. It doesn't matter, therefore, if the learning is happening on the bedroom floor of a three-year-old child, beside a stream, in a formal classroom, behind prison walls, in a university lab, or in a corporate boardroom. Learning is learning.

    I challenge you to examine these principles and ideas and see if they can bring greater success to your teaching efforts. I repeat my simple promise that you will be more successful if you learn to apply them than you have been without them. This has been my motivation for putting these things in writing. I wish you the best of luck in your efforts to reach the learning needs of all your students, but most especially your dramatic learners. I invite you to respond to me so we can continue down this road together.


    The following information has been compiled to assist readers who are not fully conversant with the ideas and methodologies that have been used over the years to understand human behavior in terms of personality or learning styles. From the earliest recorded history, theories have been postulated about why people behave and learn the way they do. The ancient Egyptians believed there were four different and distinct personality types, as did the ancient Greeks.

    Hippocrates, the father of medicine, believed these four different temperaments or personalities were a result of an imbalance in the body's major organs. He believed that good emotional and physical health was achieved through a proper balance in the respective abilities of the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys to produce bodily fluids or humors. He called his four different personality types after these humors: namely melancholic, choleric, phlegmatic, and sanguine. Several other ancient Greek physicians built on and expanded his original observations.

    It is interesting to note that in modern times, a significant amount of the major work that has come forward on personality and learning styles is generally in harmony with the work of these ancient observers and physicians. The founding father of this modern research is Swiss psychologist Carl Jung. His foundational work in the area of psychological types and preferences has spawned the development of many different instruments and approaches designed to accurately measure the personality attributes that he identified. It is important to note that much of Jung's work was overshadowed by that of his contemporary, Sigmund Freud. Since the rush to adopt Freudian psychological positions has finally passed, many individuals, who once overlooked Jung's work, now find it remarkably sound. Jung's research provides strong evidence to support his main observation: that human behavior was not random. He identified opposite preferences within people, which helped to determine how they generally approach life and their daily decisions.

    These opposite preferences are extroversion/introversion, sensing/intuition, and thinking/feeling. To Jung, each individual was born with a specific predisposition to these preferences. He observed the habitual exercise of individual choice consistent with these preferences, and he noted that these patterns of decisions could be used to help understand the fundamental differences in people better.

    In the early 1940s, a mother-and-daughter team, Isabel Myers and Katharine Briggs, combined the recently translated works of Jung with their own findings and created an instrument called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Today it is one of the most widely used personality surveys. Their instrument expanded on the work of Jung and identified four opposite scales, rather than the three that he had identified.

    These scales are extroversion and introversion, thinking and feeling, judging and perceiving, and sensing and intuition. Their original self-assessment survey contained 160 questions and was used to identify 16 different and distinct personality types. These personality types are designated by a four-letter code that corresponds with individuals' preferences as they relate to the four opposite scales mentioned above. The first letter of each of the scales is used to identify the strongest preference between the opposite elements: (E) for extroversion, (I) for introversion, (T) for thinking, (F) for feeling, (J) for judging, (P) for perceiving, (S) for sensing, and (N) for intuition (because the letter “I” was already used as the designator for introversion). A detailed discussion of what each of these designators means can be found in Chapter 3. The 16 different MBTI personality styles are identified as follows:

    Myers-Briggs Type Indicators
    1. ISTJMeaning that the individual typically prefers introversion over extroversion, sensing over intuition, thinking over feeling, and judging over perceiving.
    2. ISTPMeaning that the individual typically prefers introversion over extroversion, sensing over intuition, thinking over feeling, and perceiving over judging.
    3. ESTPMeaning that the individual typically prefers extroversion over introversion, sensing over intuition, thinking over feeling, and perceiving over judging.
    4. ESTJMeaning that the individual typically prefers extroversion over introversion, sensing over intuition, thinking over feeling, and judging over perceiving.
    5. ISFJMeaning that the individual typically prefers introversion over extroversion, sensing over intuition, feeling over thinking, and judging over perceiving.
    6. ISFPMeaning that the individual typically prefers introversion over extroversion, sensing over intuition, feeling over thinking, and perceiving over judging.
    7. ESFPMeaning that the individual typically prefers extroversion over introversion, sensing over intuition, feeling over thinking, and perceiving over judging.
    8. ESFJMeaning that the individual typically prefers extroversion over introversion, sensing over intuition, feeling over thinking, and judging over perceiving.
    9. INFJMeaning that the individual typically prefers introversion over extroversion, intuition over sensing, feeling over thinking, and judging over perceiving.
    10. INFPMeaning that the individual typically prefers introversion over extroversion, intuition over sensing, feeling over thinking, and perceiving over judging.
    11. ENFPMeaning that the individual typically prefers extroversion over introversion, intuition over sensing, feeling over thinking, and perceiving over judging.
    12. ENFJMeaning that the individual typically prefers extroversion over introversion, intuition over sensing, feeling over thinking, and judging over perceiving.
    13. INTJMeaning that the individual typically prefers introversion over extroversion, intuition over sensing, thinking over feeling, and judging over perceiving.
    14. INTPMeaning that the individual typically prefers introversion over extroversion, intuition over sensing, thinking over feeling, and perceiving over judging.
    15. ENTPMeaning that the individual typically prefers extroversion over introversion, intuition over sensing, thinking over feeling, and perceiving over judging.
    16. ENTJMeaning that the individual typically prefers extroversion over introversion, intuition over sensing, thinking over feeling, and judging over perceiving.

    These designations for the different styles are very cumbersome and more clinical than user-friendly. In most cases, individuals who have taken the MBTI cannot remember how they scored. Even if they do, they have little collateral understanding of what the four letters represent. Typically, they do not have the ability to use the information in a way that enhances how they deal with their own life situations or their interactions with others. For this reason, several individuals have attempted to create instruments that followed the same principles in a way that is easier to use and which is more accessible to the general population. David Keirsey was one such individual. A behavioral psychologist, Keirsey simplified the MBTI process and developed the concept of personality temperaments. Each of his temperaments was originally identified by letters corresponding to the MBTI designations. It is interesting to note that in his research, Keirsey returned to four major temperaments that align rather well with those of the ancient Greeks. Keirsey's four temperaments are shown here:

    Keirsey's Temperaments
    1. NFMeaning that the individual typically uses intuition as his or her main information- or stimuli-gathering preference and uses feeling as the preferred method for processing information or other stimuli.
    2. NTMeaning that the individual typically uses intuition as his or her main information- or stimuli-gathering preference and uses thinking as the preferred method for processing information or other stimuli.
    3. SJMeaning that the individual typically uses sensing as his or her main information- or stimuli-gathering preference and uses judging as the preferred method for processing information or other stimuli.
    4. SPMeaning that the individual typically uses sensing as his or her main information- or stimuli-gathering preference and uses perceiving as the preferred method for processing information or other stimuli.

    From Keirsey's research, several instruments have been developed which use colors as the designators for the different temperaments. Clime International uses the colors Blue, Green, Gold, and Orange. Several other instruments use the same or different colors to identify the different styles. In the case of the Clime instrument, colors were chosen to delineate the preferences because (1) the color vernacular had already been established as common terminology in many educational circles, (2) colors have fewer negative connotations, as far as labels go, and (3) colors are more memorable than the four-letter MBTI codes.

    The MBTI, the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, colors instruments, and other such instruments that are based on the Jungian foundation are all attempting to measure the same elements that relate to individual preference. The Clime International instrument is designed to go beyond personality preferences of the other instruments and use these same principles to measure individual preferences as they relate to learning. Learning styles related to personality preferences have a deeper affinity to the values of individual learners, and therefore appear to be a more accurate measure. The next figure illustrates how these three approaches overlap with many of the most widely used Jungian-based instruments. This figure combines several of the identifiers used in the different instruments and approaches so that similarities are readily apparent.

    Another added benefit of the colors approach used by Clime International is that it allows for more flexibility in the scoring of preferences. As with most human endeavors, it is highly unlikely that the majority of individuals will have preferences that are on the outer limits of available choices. It is more typical for individuals to have preferences that fall into a normal bell curve, rather than ones at the extreme ends of the spectrum.

    As shown in the following figure, a young woman, for example, who prefers extroversion over introversion as her method of interaction is not likely to be so high in her preference that it precludes her from having the ability to function as an introvert:

    The same is true for all of the MBTI scales. In the Clime International instrument, there is room for individuals to have blended preferences. The following figure provides a more in-depth look at the color designators and how they relate directly with the 16 MBTI designators:

    According to David Keirsey, as he describes in his book Please Understand Me II, the general population breaks down as follows:

    These general population figures become very interesting when we compare them to the percentages of teachers in each preference. David Keirsey's numbers reveal that 52% of all teachers and administrators are Gold or SJ, 36% are Blue or NF, 4% are Orange or SP, and 8% are Green or NT. The numbers put out by the Center for Applications of Psychological Type (CAPT) in the CAPT Atlas of Type Tables are a little more conservative, but still reveal why dramatic learners (mostly Oranges and Greens) have such a hard time in school.

    When we further consider that younger students are often in a more Orange developmental phase, we can see how few teachers have the same learning style as dramatic learners. It should be obvious from these numbers that the Blue and Gold students are well represented by teachers, as far as the sharing of learning style is concerned. School is a good fit for these students because it is compatible with their social, structural, and personal values. The following figure illustrates how underrepresented dramatic learners are in the K–12 world of public education:

    To bring all this information together so the learning needs of each individual can be better understood, I will outline the learning preferences of each style by color. For the sake of the proper context, it is important to remember that the majority of dramatic learners are Orange and Green or they have Orange or Green as a strong secondary preference. I will include a narrative description and an outline of the learning and the teaching preferences by color. As you read these, it will be helpful to compare and contrast the different styles. It is also very revealing to look at your own teaching preference and compare it with the learning preferences of the other styles. Gold and Orange are opposite styles, as are Blue and Green. Typically, teachers have the hardest time reaching students who have the opposite style as their first or second preference.

    Blue Learning Styles

    Feelings are at the core of Blue learning. If these students feel individual support from their teacher and their fellow students, there is no limit to what they can accomplish. Person-to-person interaction is an essential part of their style; without it, learning is not something they typically value. When they can learn new things while working, interacting, and communicating with others students, they will fully engage.

    The best educational environment for Blue learners is one without conflict or an intense feeling of competition. Activities or assignments that allow them to collaborate and use their creative energy are highly favored. Blues typically like to please others, and they will go out of their way to help everyone fit in; therefore, harmony and peace in a classroom is very important to them. Often they will give up what they really want just to maintain a sense of harmony.

    Blues need to be made to feel part of the educational process. It is essential that their feelings are validated as they learn. They respond well to a more democratic classroom approach. When they are made part of the team, they will expend considerable personal energy to help keep things running smoothly. They need to receive a lot of emotional support and feedback. Personal, one-on-one interaction with the teacher is repaid many times over. Writing complementary comments on their papers or using other personal touches that connect you to them are highly appreciated and noticed by Blue learners. Compliments are much better tools for correcting behavior than criticism. In fact a good ratio to use with a Blue student would be about five compliments to one criticism. That's five compliments to cushion the blow before and/or after the constructive criticism. They must believe that your criticism is given out of a genuine concern for their well-being.

    Blues will usually do their schoolwork, if for no other reason than they don't want to disappoint their teacher. If, however, they are forced to choose between doing schoolwork and caring for the needs of a friend, the friend will usually come first. A good rule of thumb for understanding a Blue learner is that people and feelings come before any other considerations.

    Blues are usually very well behaved students. They can often get off base if they are sitting near their friends in class. This is because it is often more important for them to communicate with their peers than it is to listen to a lecture. If their feelings get hurt, however (and this can happen very easily), they can pull inside and shut themselves off from the very support they thrive on to feel good about themselves. They can usually be put back on track by having someone privately remind them that their behavior is hurting other people. Remember, their feelings and the feelings of others are their first consideration.

    They typically enjoy subjects that are people-oriented, such as English, history, humanities, psychology, creative writing, languages, drama, art, dance, music, and other social sciences. Sadly, they tend to shy away from the solitary and analytical subjects like math or science. When they are able to see the value that these subject areas could have in helping them assist others, they can quickly make a connection to a subject area which otherwise would have little or no interest to them.

    The opposite learning and teaching style of the Blue is the Green.

    Keys for Teaching Blue Students
    • Make sure they know you care about them personally.
    • Focus on feeling, not just on facts.
    • Create a pleasant and inviting learning environment.
    • Create assignments that require students to use their creative abilities to complete.
    • Reward them with small personal interactions such as notes, smiles, approving looks, and so forth.
    • Teach principles, not facts.
    • Create learning teams.
    • Allow them to do open-book work.
    • Assess their knowledge in creative ways.
    • Be enthusiastic about the students and the subject matter.
    • Be happy and upbeat.
    • Smile and laugh a lot.
    • Don't give “assignments,” get them involved in “projects.”
    • Use their own values and interests to motivate their learning.
    • Be whimsical and allow them to do the same.
    • Show care for the individual learner.
    • Create a harmonious classroom environment.
    • Focus rules on helping each other excel.
    • Focus class discussions on subjects at the feeling level as well as the intellectual level.
    • Use multisensory and imaginative lessons.
    • Use open discussions.
    • Use cooperative learning techniques that avoid the creation of winners and losers.
    • Make sure people come before any other consideration.
    Gold Learning Styles

    Structure and order are at the core of Gold learning. These learners need to have the confidence that they are learning in an environment that is well organized and planned out. Confusion, chaos, and disorder are very unsettling and frustrating to a Gold learner. The person-to-person interaction they need to have with their teacher is one that is professional and traditional. Normal teacher/student roles are expected and preferred in the classroom.

    They are normally very obedient and respectful of teachers and administrators. Gold learners are traditionally hardworking and dedicated students who receive great personal satisfaction from doing their work well and on time. They fully appreciate detailed course outlines and syllabi and need firm direction and clearly defined details to feel completely comfortable with their coursework and assignments. Once they know precisely what is expected in an assignment, they will usually be diligent in getting their work done without a lot of outside coaxing or reminding. Often they will take detailed notes during class and remind the teacher of details or class requirements that might be skipped. In many ways, they are ideal students.

    The learning process for a Gold learner needs to be straightforward and systematic. Because they are sensory in the way they gather information, they can become overly concerned with achieving perfection. This drive to excel scholastically will internally motivate them to work hard to get A's in their coursework, but sometimes, in the process, they miss the real purpose of learning along the way. Gold students are pleasers, especially when it comes to people in authority. They will do the right thing because they know it's the way things are supposed to be done. Their strong sense of loyalty and duty often earns them the negative label of teacher's pet. They love to take positions of leadership or service, and they strive to help the teacher maintain the proper order and structure they believe should exist in a classroom.

    Gold learners are better assessed in more traditional paper-and-pencil tests. They prefer activities that are more fact and knowledge based, rather than ones that are more speculative or open to personal interpretation. They respond well to a more traditional teacher-centered classroom approach.

    They need things to be fair and believe that students should pull their own weight. However, they appreciate opportunities for extra credit to help make up for any oversights which might occur. They are motivated by tangible educational rewards such as certificates, medals, trophies, good grades, honor rolls, and so on. They respond well to verbal praise and acknowledgment of their good efforts. The more tangible the feedback, the more clear it is for them. Their desire for these kinds of rewards can be used to keep them on task and help them put forth the effort necessary to grow and develop through most of their personal challenges and difficulties.

    Gold learners will usually do their schoolwork because it is the right thing to do. Often they will be self-motivated to do their homework before they will do anything else. They are naturally motivated by duty and responsibility, and believe that work must come before play. A good rule of thumb for understanding a Gold learner is that real happiness is achieved by having everything in life in its proper order.

    Gold learners typically enjoy traditional subjects, but they will work to succeed in classes they don't naturally enjoy, simply because it is required. There is no particular subject that they shy away from except those that are highly theoretical, subjectively assessed, and/or lack hard black-and-white answers. Courses that are touchy-feely and have no clear criterion for assessment tend to make them uncomfortable.

    The opposite learning and teaching style of the Gold is the Orange.

    Keys for Teaching Gold Students
    • Make sure you treat them professionally and with respect.
    • Focus on traditional approaches.
    • Make sure all learning expectations are clearly explained and outlined.
    • Reward them in tangible ways.
    • Teach in a step-by-step fashion.
    • Be highly organized and establish a predictable routine.
    • Follow your own rules and make sure the class does as well.
    • Be fair and just.
    • Clearly explain what behavior is acceptable and expect them to do the right thing.
    • Teachers must be professional.
    • The classroom must be orderly and traditional.
    • Class discussion must be kept on subject and not allowed to wander off in unrelated areas.
    • Lessons and assignments need to be clearly focused, direct, and organized with specific goals, objectives, and modes of assessment.
    • When assigning group projects, create clearly identifiable tasks and responsibilities.
    • Help them see there is more than one right answer to many questions.
    • Provide opportunities for makeup work.
    • Be prompt in grading and provide specific feedback on their tests and assignments.
    • Give them opportunities to take notes.
    • Give them enough time to do an assignment well.
    • Let them work in leadership or service positions.
    Green Learning Styles

    Green learners make up a large percentage of dramatic learners. The reason is that they have a natural desire to learn, but a nontraditional preference for how and what they want to learn. Thinking and analyzing are at the core of Green learning. If this style of learner believes his or her teacher is competent, then, and only then, can learning happen in the classroom. Green learners develop deep contempt for teachers they believe do not know more about a subject than do they.

    They love to learn in impersonal and theoretical ways. Group projects are not highly motivating unless they are able to work with a group of like-minded individuals. They often like to learn in solitude, and they prefer to use the teacher as a resource. When motivated, they are the most independent and dedicated of all students in the acquisition of knowledge. When they are not, they can be the most challenging to deal with. They will engage in learning only when they are personally interested in it.

    The best interactions with Green learners are often those that allow them to share something they have learned or that has increased their understanding in a particular area of interest. These learners are filled with endless why questions. Teachers who learn to channel and satisfy their real need to know why will gain the unique ability to reach them where it counts. This does not mean that teachers need to know all the answers; they just need to recognize that these learners are generally more inquisitive, and therefore need teachers who are competent in helping them find the answers they need.

    Green learners, like their Gold counterparts, need sufficient time to complete tasks. Often, if they feel they are not given enough time to complete an assignment to their personal satisfaction, they will not do it at all. Activities or assignments need to be meaningful. Assignments need to help these individuals actually increase their knowledge in a subject area or help them demonstrate, in a meaningful way, what they already know. Anything that is perceived as busywork will be devalued by these learners.

    Greens are more interested in pleasing themselves and expanding their own areas of knowledge and interest than they are in pleasing others. It is usually not important for them to feel like they fit in with the rest of the class. In fact, many relish the fact that they are different and do not follow the herd mentality of their conforming classmates. Often they will maintain a course of dialogue or action they believe to be the moral or intellectual high ground, even if it causes disharmony and disrupts the normal flow of the traditional learning process. They are usually not afraid of conflict or heated debates, as long as the discussion focuses on ideas and concepts and not feelings or emotions.

    Greens feel a need to challenge established procedures and methodologies. This is not out of any dark desire to establish a state of anarchy in the classroom; they just believe there is always a better way to do something. You could say their motto is, “If it isn't broken, it still has room for improvement.” They respond well to a more democratic classroom approach. Like their Blue and Orange peers, they like to take some ownership in the establishment of their learning environment. They have strong preferences when it comes to these issues. They do not need to receive a lot of personal emotional support, but they need real support for their ideas and their thinking skills. Teacher compliments must be truthful, sincere, and accurate or else these learners quickly lose respect for their teacher. Green learners are their own worst critics. They shine best when given creative opportunities to share with an appreciative audience the things they have learned.

    Greens will usually do their schoolwork if they can see it will get them where they want to go, or if they are personally interested in doing it. They will not do it simply to please others or to keep harmony. Often, if they think a job is too simple for them, they will not do it at all. A good rule of thumb for understanding a Green learner is that learning is a joy in and of itself. They don't need the motivation of a grade to spur them. In fact, many turn their backs on grades as arbitrary indicators of gained knowledge. For this reason, it is useful to help them learn how to play the educational game for their own benefit and not for the benefit of others.

    Introverted Greens are usually very well behaved students. Their quiet nature concerns their teachers and parents who don't understand introversion. Extroverted Greens can appear to be Orange unless you really know the difference. Their outward nature is what makes them look and act Orange, but inwardly they are motivated by the Green preferences that have been previously listed. Both the extrovert and the introvert can often get off base when they begin to go down a channel of personal interest. They are typically very good at beginning projects and research, but they are not as good at completing them. It is so easy for their vast natural interests to lead them from one topic of interest to another. Therefore, it is essential to help them learn to focus their energies and complete their tasks and assignments. Remember, their thinking and analytical skills are most important to them. When you respect them in those areas, you are opening the door to their souls.

    Greens can enjoy and excel in any subject. Many are drawn to the science and math fields because these subjects readily reward their thought-based learning preferences and analytical nature. They often tend to gravitate to fields that allow for the exploration of new ideas and concepts and ones that they believe will not relegate them to the task of memorizing things that are only seen as black-and-white. When educationally motivated, they can be found in any field of pursuit or subject area that challenges their minds and expands their understanding.

    The opposite learning and teaching style of the Green is the Blue.

    Keys for Teaching Green Students
    • Be competent as a teacher.
    • Avoid approaches that are black-and-white or that seem to rely on feelings or baseless conjecture.
    • Make learning as individual as possible.
    • Create a stimulating and research-oriented classroom environment.
    • Create assignments that are thought provoking, meaningful, and require students to use their analytical and creative abilities.
    • Recognize them for their ability to think and work with new ideas.
    • Teach theories, not just facts.
    • Create meaningful, compatible research teams.
    • Allow them to focus their learning in a field related to their own interest.
    • Assess their knowledge in as many alternative ways as possible.
    • Provide multiple and continuous access to learning resources.
    • Serve as a learning resource to your students.
    • Be willing to use quiz-type formats for teaching.
    • Help them to understand the real-life whys of an assignment.
    • Provide opportunities for them to assist others in learning what they know.
    • Provide opportunities for them to develop alternative approaches and assessments.
    • Put them in the role of a researcher or scientist.
    • Be personally inquisitive, and reward their inquisitive nature.
    • Let them experiment.
    • Rules must be flexible and reasonable.
    • Class discussion must focus on facts, theories, and proper analysis of data, information, and knowledge.
    • Lessons need to engage the mind of the learner.
    • Students need to be free to follow their own educational agenda, as far as academically possible.
    • Cooperative learning is best when like-minded people are allowed to work together.
    • Individual knowledge acquisition needs to come before any other consideration.
    • Assignments need to be thought provoking and meaningful.
    Orange Learning Styles

    Orange learners make up the largest percentage of dramatic learners. This is because fun and excitement are at the core of Orange learning, and these elements are usually seen as the antithesis of most traditional educational approaches. These learners need to gain an understanding that learning can be the greatest rush of all. When they do, they can gain a voracious appetite for learning and knowledge acquisition. Traditional lessons, lectures, worksheets, structure, and repetition are very unsettling and frustrating to Orange learners.

    They need teachers who are willing to laugh and learn with them. They often see normal teacher/student roles as stifling to the learning process. Teachers of Orange students would do well to see themselves more in terms of coaches than traditional classroom teachers.

    Orange learners are often seen as the troublemakers and jokers in class. They do not naturally show respect for teachers and administrators. In their eyes, people in positions of authority deserve no special honor or treatment for the sake of their age or position alone. Respect is something that has to be earned. Often, to the chagrin of parents, teachers, administrators, and others in authority these learners will treat adults as equals.

    They are not traditionally hardworking or dedicated students. This does not mean that they aren't hardworking by nature. On the contrary, they have tireless ability and stamina that can boggle the mind when they are involved in pursuits that are valuable to them. Many Oranges have come to believe that school is their last choice when it comes to the spending of their time. They often attend school only because they are forced to, and, therefore, they seek every opportunity to be somewhere else. Many will stay in school for the social or extracurricular activities, but those who are not drawn by either of these factors often drop out if they do not have the proper parental or peer support.

    They are typically unorganized and unprepared for class. They are not usually impressed by a detailed course outline or syllabus; rather, they see it as evidence of the traditional classroom structure they dislike. They do, however, need clear direction to be successful. Once they know what is expected and what it means to them personally, they will usually do their work. It isn't always on time or up to the standards of the teacher, but it is often done. They typically do not take class notes, learn, or memorize in traditional ways.

    The learning process for Orange learners, as with the Gold learners, needs to be straightforward and systematic. Because Oranges are sensory in the way they gather information, they need to be able to deal with things in a very practical way. If they can't see the immediate reason for learning something, they will often dismiss it as stupid or boring. Orange students are more interested in how they feel about things than how others feel. They often let their gut response to an issue or a situation determine what they will do, and they often act without thought of the consequences to themselves or others. For this reason, they often get in trouble even before they know what they did wrong. Teachers who can learn to ignore these outbursts can often gain the respect of these learners very easily. That isn't to say that the students should be allowed to get away with bad behavior. It is to say that the teacher who learns to ignore some of the first impulses of these students will often avoid many unnecessary confrontations.

    Oranges love to perform in front of the class and take positions of leadership. This kind of attention is a great reward for them. Though they may not deserve these kinds of privileges, they will grab the spotlight one way or another. It is best, then, when this attention seeking happens with the teacher's blessing. This show of support, from a teacher, can often win much-needed buy-in by the student and his or her peers. Oranges' natural physical propensity usually means that they are better assessed when a variety of methods are employed. The more ways that can be used to test what they have learned, the more accurately they can demonstrate their knowledge and skill acquisition. Traditional paper-and-pencil tests are often the least accurate way to assess what they know. For this reason, they often do not see themselves as being good test takers.

    Because they do not pay close attention to deadlines, extra-credit work offers them a much-needed second chance to make up for their oversights and procrastination. They thrive in learning environments that give them several options rather than environments that are totally rigid and spelled out. They are not always motivated by good grades or other tangible academic rewards; therefore, teachers often need to find alternative methods for rewarding their work and behavior. Providing immediate tangible rewards that are deemed important seems to work really well. Free time or extra privileges for completed assignments are examples of these kinds of tangible rewards. They respond well to verbal praise, but something they can see, feel, and use is more valuable.

    Homework is not the strength of an Orange learner. Play will typically have a higher priority than will work. Therefore, if homework or other assignments are seen as something that is fun to do, those assignments will move up quickly on their priority list. Because these learners are not usually self-motivated when it comes to schoolwork, it is good for a teacher to provide constant reminders of upcoming due dates and tests. A good rule of thumb for understanding Orange learners is, when they think learning is fun, they will go to great lengths to participate.

    The opposite learning and teaching style of the Orange is the Gold.

    Keys for Teaching Orange Students
    • Teachers must be engaging and fun.
    • The classroom must be stimulating and active.
    • Focus on nontraditional approaches.
    • Make sure all learning expectations are clearly explained and presented in a step-by-step process.
    • Create a learning environment that is engaging and full of variety.
    • Create assignments that have specific goals, objectives, and modes of assessment, but don't share these with the students.
    • Teach them to enjoy doing Gold things.
    • Be flexible.
    • Allow them to be involved in the discipline and rule-making process.
    • Be willing to negotiate.
    • Be willing to overlook certain behaviors.
    • Make sure to remind them continually concerning due dates and assignments.
    • Use humor.
    • Establish an unobtrusive routine.
    • Class discussion must be lively and entertaining.
    • Lessons need to be fun, flexible, and hands-on.
    • When working together in a group, each person needs to have a clearly delineated responsibility.
    • Help them learn to keep on task.
    • Provide opportunities for makeup work.
    • Provide opportunities for alternative assignments.
    • Use learning games and activities.
    • Let them work in leadership or service positions.
    • Lessons need to be high energy, multisensory, and physical.
    • People need to learn by doing.
    • Cooperative learning must create a sense of healthy competition.
    • The reward for learning needs to be as immediate and tangible as possible.
    • Assignments need to be creative and fulfilling.

    As you consider the way each learner prefers to be taught, it may be interesting to compare these learning styles with the teaching styles listed below. It should become immediately apparent why you are able to easily reach those learners whose style matches the way you teach. It should also help to see why you may have problems meeting the learning needs of those with opposite educational preferences. How much power would you gain as a teacher if you could learn to enhance your teaching abilities by using the teaching preferences of other educators?

    Blue Teaching Preferences
    • Seek to nurture students.
    • Focus on feelings and educating the whole student.
    • Provide positive feedback for students.
    • Seek to build the student first.
    • Foster one-on-one interaction.
    • Create multisensory learning activities.
    • Create a safe, peaceful, and harmonious learning environment.
    • Seek to create a democratic learning environment and disciplinary structure.
    • Want to be well-liked by the students.
    • Encourage cooperative learning situations.
    • Often create their own lesson handouts and other educational material.
    • Use creative and unconventional instructional approaches.
    • Find ways to grade effort as well as achievement.
    • Avoid confrontation and do not enjoy dealing with disciplinary issues.
    Green Teaching Preferences
    • Seek to create an analytical learning environment.
    • Expect students to be naturally interested in learning.
    • Create logical and theoretical approaches to subject matter.
    • Seek to inspire the intellect of their students.
    • Rely on lecture/Socratic method for presenting information.
    • Are flexible in their approach to lesson planning.
    • Create research-based learning projects.
    • Seek to create an independent learning environment.
    • Strive to maintain a high level of content knowledge and/or subject competency.
    • Encourage divergent thinking.
    • Expect students to be self-disciplined.
    • Use creative and unconventional instructional approaches.
    • Use scientific exploration as a means to foster greater learning.
    • Focus more on the intellectual needs of the students, not on their emotional needs.
    Gold Teaching Preferences
    • Create highly structured learning environments.
    • Focus on the standards and assigned curricular issues as the basis for their work in the classroom.
    • Follow very traditional teaching practices.
    • Create and follow detailed lesson plans.
    • Use concrete and no-nonsense learning activities.
    • Establish firm disciplinary guidelines.
    • Create and maintain a neat and orderly classroom.
    • Rely highly on lecture as their main instructional tool.
    • Want to be seen as a professional in the eyes of their students and other educators.
    • Encourage school-based learning projects and activities.
    • Rely on the educational material that is made available through the district.
    • Expect students to be responsible.
    • Rely on standard and traditional grading approaches.
    • Assess through standard pencil-and-paper testing.
    Orange Teaching Preferences
    • Create highly interactive and engaging learning environments.
    • Seek to bring fun and humor to the classroom.
    • Use very spontaneous teaching practices.
    • Loosely follow open-ended and unstructured lesson plans.
    • Use hands-on, kinesthetic learning activities.
    • Use unstructured and varying disciplinary approaches.
    • Enjoy an active, busy, and even noisy classroom.
    • Rely on entertaining presentations and learning activities as their main instructional tools.
    • Want to be seen as an entertaining teacher in the eyes of their students.
    • Encourage hands-on learning projects and activities.
    • Create their own approach to required course content.
    • Expect students to engage in the learning process.
    • Rely on creative grading approaches.
    • Assess student knowledge in as many ways as possible.


    Aristotle. (1987). The poetics of Aristotle (S.Halliwell, Trans.). Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
    Ball, W. (1984). A sense of direction. New York: Drama.
    Darling-Hammond, L. (1997). Education, equity, and the right to learn. In J. I.Goodlad & T. J.McMannon (Eds.), The public purpose of education and schooling (pp. 41–54). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
    Gardiner, H. (1991). The unschooled mind: How children think and how schools should teach. New York: Basic Books.
    Gilkey, L. (1966). Shantung compound. San Francisco: Harper Press.
    Keirsey, D. (1998). Please understand me II. Del Mar, CA: Prometheus Nemesis.
    Keirsey, D., & Bates, M. (1978). Please understand me. Del Mar, CA: Prometheus Nemesis.
    Macdaid, G., McCaulley, M., & Kainz, R. (1991). CAPT atlas of type tables. Gainesville, FL: CAPT.

    Corwin Press

    The Corwin Press logo—a raven striding across an open book—represents the union of courage and learning. Corwin Press is committed to improving education for all learners by publishing books and other professional development resources for those serving the field of PreK-12 education. By providing practical, hands-on materials, Corwin Press continues to carry out the promise of its motto: “Helping Educators Do Their Work Better”.

    • Loading...
Back to Top

Copy and paste the following HTML into your website