By: Brenda Robinson
A child’s learning style affects the way he/she approaches every task. One of our challenges is to recognize and respond to individual learning styles. The style of learning which feels most comfortable for a child is also a part of his/her uniqueness. Most children follow a favorite approach when processing new information. It is challenging to recognize the child who is a visual learner (learns best by observing and seeing), and the child who is an auditory learner (learns best by listening or having information repeated), and also the child who is a kinesthetic learner (learns best by hands on experience or by making things work). However, in order to teach effectively we must be fully tuned in to different learning styles.
Most children add to the challenge by not showing a complete preference or by showing more then one style in different settings. This is actually good news. It means the child is able to adapt to some different demands in the learning process. The research points, however, to most children having one or perhaps two styles at which they are more adept and one style which is more of a struggle for them.
One teacher saw an interesting “playing out” of learning styles in her classroom. She spoke to the class with directions for their homework assignment. As she said, “please complete questions 4,6,7,9 and 11”, she wrote the assignment on the board. One student (probably an auditory learner) asked her to repeat the assigned questions again and then said (aloud to himself) “okay, 4,6,7,9 and 11”.
She noticed that several students (probably visual learners) wrote the assignment in their notebooks. The next morning she checked to see how many students followed the directions. The results helped her understand the make up of learning styles in her classroom. Three students were actually able to verbally repeat the directions the next day and had completed the questions as required. Seven students showed her their notebooks with the directions written down and the questions completed. Two students said they couldn’t remember the exact question numbers, so they completed all the questions on the page. Three students said they did the questions with even numbers on the page. They thought they remembered even numbers. One student completed the questions with odd numbers. Two students indicated they thought they had already completed that page in class. They didn’t want to do it over again.
How could a teacher give such clear instructions to everyone in the class and get such different results? How could a teacher ensure a better outcome from giving direction? It may be because the needs of the auditory and visual learners were met. They were able to hear and have repeated, see and write it down for later reference. How about the kinesthetic learner? The teacher may have been more successful if he/she had asked them to highlight the questions in their book, or write the questions on a sticky yellow and mark the page with the note. Perhaps he/she could ask the children to open their daily notebook and record the questions at the top of the page. At any rate, the kinesthetic children would need to do something with the directions, or they would not be able to accurately complete the assignment.
Some teachers create buddy systems and pair children up who have different strengths. Others create diverse ways to help children remember rhymes, stories, raps often appeal to all three learning styles. They listen, visualize and become involved. Children often give us verbal and non-verbal cues as to their preferences and comfort, with the teaching style or the learning setting.
Verbal cues can often be detected by listening to the words and phrases chosen. Auditory learners often say things like:
“What was that again?”
“Could you repeat that?”
“Would you run that by me again?”
Indeed it sometimes seems that the auditory learner will say “What?” before the direction or instruction is even finished. This is probably true because an auditory learner will know they will have to hear it again and is anxious to re-start the process.
Visual learners are more likely to say:
“I don’t see that!”
“Where does it say that?”
“Is this written down somewhere?”
“Could you go over that again so I can write it down?”
Indeed, visual learners insist that they don’t have the information until they can see it. Then they often say:
“Oh I see!”
“There it is I see it now!”
The kinesthetic learner is more focused on verbalization about how things work or how to put them together. They may ask more questions related to outcomes or results, such as:
“How does this work?”
“Why do we have to do…?”
“Does everyone have to do this?”
“What if we don’t do?”
“Maybe we can do – instead”
Listening carefully for the verbal cues will help measure understanding of and ability to follow directions.
Non-verbal cues are equally expressive. Auditory learners may cup their ear or turn their heads to hear you better. Visual learners may squint their eyes and look around for observable information. Kinesthetic learners often have difficulty sitting still. They may be playing with pens, erasers, paper clips and even paper as they strive to stay focused. Indeed paper clips are not safe in the hands of the kinesthetic learner, they are quickly bent and twisted. “Busy hands are happy hands” is the true motto of the kinesthetic learner.
Some teachers support the kinesthetic learner with foam Lego blocks on their desks. They maintain that their listening and observing skills are actually enhanced by the use of such a tool to appeal to the kinesthetic learner. If as teachers, the goal becomes to build on strengths, develop and improve skills in the other styles of learning. The learners will have enhanced flexibility and adaptability in their learning journey.
As awareness of styles becomes recognized, we then want to improve each child’s ability to achieve the best and the most. This calls for huge diversity in teaching methods and approaches. Let’s consider first of all the preferences of each learning style and then consider ways to develop and extend adaptability to styles which are not preferred.
Preferences of visual learners:
- may want to watch others play before joining the game
- may insist on seeing the pages of the book being read to them
- may remember faces but forget the name attached
- may be a good proofreader
- may want to see an example before starting a task
- may take notes and even ask a teacher to slow down to allow them to take more accurate notes
- may see mistakes or details more quickly
- may draw more detailed or colorful pictures
- may have better or more careful handwriting
- may want to write things over again to ensure accuracy
Preferences of kinesthetic learners:
- may be adept at taking things apart and putting them back together(sometimes the latter has less appeal)
- wants to get rite into the action and learn while they play
- may fidget or move around in the chair or desk
- may touch you to get your attention
- may want to turn the pages as they are being read to
- may become quickly bored with reading
- may be best at multi-tasking (Yes they can watch T.V., talk on the phone, chat on the computer and do their homework)
- may physically respond to music by snapping fingers, keeping time, nodding head and dancing
- may excel more quickly with physical skills and activities
Preferences of auditory learners:
- may love discussion activities
- may require repetition or directions
- may prefer phone instructions
- may prefer to listen with headsets
- may often talk to themselves while working – may calculate out loud
- may be easily distracted by noise or interruptions
- may become frustrated when several people talk at once
- may have strong vocabularies and articulate words clearly
Once we recognize learning styles, we are able to adjust teaching to ensure that students receive key or core information in a style suited to clear understanding and processing. Our other challenge is to encourage learners to improve and enhance their other learning styles to help to be more versatile learners. Here are some hints to help learners diversify their strengths.
To improve visual learning skills:
- practice with flash cards
- play visual memory games
- ask children to copy information and directions in writing
- use fill in the blanks learning tools
- match pictures with words
- send notes and ask for responses
- play with written responses to verbal inquiries
- use colors to support memorizing
To improve kinesthetic learning skills:
- work on math problems with marbles, beads, buttons and sticks
- work with the learner to complete physical tasks
- create stories, poems, songs, and raps to enhance memory
- play sorting games to organize ideas
- practice outlining ideas to create focus
- combine physical and intellectual activities (counting steps, add meaning to words with physical signs)
- put words into sentences to clarify meaning
To improve auditory learning skills:
- practice writing from dictation
- read aloud
- discuss descriptions or directions and provide repetition
- encourage the asking of specific questions
- say words out loud and use the “say after me” technique
- play “Simon says” games
- provide information or audio tapes
Accommodating different learning styles is an important part of effective teaching. Challenging learners to diversify their capacity to learn is the greatest challenge the teacher and learner face together.