Learning: It may be a matter of style

January 28, 2016 | Posted in: Early Learners, Elementary, High School, Middle Years

“This is … Ancient Greece Jeopardy!” my son announced from the back seat, kicking off an unexpected but entertaining 6th grade social studies lesson.

We were returning home from a weekend visit with family in Connecticut, and the three-hour car ride provided ample time for him to complete the study packet for an upcoming test.

He used the gameshow format to quiz his imaginary guests on geography, culture and achievements of the ancient civilization. Ultimately, he settled on the correct answer, which he then filled in the blanks in his study packet. Talking and listening is how he learns best, and his creative twist likely made it easier for him to remember information.

My son might be considered an auditory or verbal learner – he retains information more easily when he hears or speaks it. Like other auditory learners, he typically uses some sort of word-association approach to studying, such as by creating a song. (Fact raps are one of his favorites – check out this Mesopotamia Song by Mr. Nicky.)

What kind of learner is your child?

Visual learners best remember information that is written down – such as in graphs, charts, diagrams or text with lots of pictures – or presented in a video. Visual learners do well with flash cards.

Kinesthetic learners are hands-on learners. They learn best through projects, such as writing down information, drawing and making models.

Understanding what kind of learner a child is can ease learning and homework struggles.

“Understanding a child’s learning style is just as important as knowing everything else about a child, such as their emotional and social needs, academic abilities, reading level,” said Lisa Dennison, a 6th grade teacher in Duanesburg Central School District. “All of the pieces fit together to create an image of the whole child. Knowing their interests and learning styles increases engagement, because if students are interested then they are more likely to respond positively to tasks and lessons.”

Maripat Barlow-Layne, a K-1 teacher at Sanfordville Elementary School in Warwick, said tapping into learning styles is particularly helpful when information is new or difficult.

“Students intuitively have tools they use when they really need to learn information and maybe they’re a little frustrated or it might be a difficult,” said Barlow-Layne.

She said it’s important to keep an open mind, because sometimes a child can lean toward a different learning style. “Sometimes a child just wants to be read to rather than read to herself,” Barlow-Layne said. “Children tend to gravitate to what they need. They’ll stay away from what doesn’t work for them.”

Educators say there are telltale signs that a child is a particular type of learner. Dennison said she watches for those signs over the first few weeks of school.

“The kids with doodles all over their notebooks are likely visual learners. The kids who are very particular about writing things down, and who thrive on step-by-step directions and checklists are likely learners who enjoy clear expectations or rubrics and directions on paper,” said Dennison. “As a teacher, you also notice the students who eagerly work with others (and often ask to) compared to others who would prefer to learn independently. These informal observations are key and incredibly helpful.”

Barlow-Layne said she offers students in her class different options for lessons that can tap into their learning style. “For the students who are more kinesthetic learners, I have clay out. If we’re doing a lesson on letter names, they can form letters with clay,” she said.

Parents can take the same approach to learning at home.

“A key thing is to find out if a child is frustrated,” she said. “If they are frustrated, look at the way they’re trying to study something. If that modality isn’t working, try something new.” Perhaps they prefer listening to a book on tape, or maybe they would benefit from hands-on activities, she added.

Dennison suggests parents observe how their children think through things and which tasks they seem to find the most challenging. A teacher or online search can turn up ways to support that learning style.

“The Internet has really revolutionized teaching and learning,” said Dennison. “You can go online and find tutorial videos, educational songs, games, apps and more that all allow children to practice skills in a variety of ways.”

Dennison acknowledged it can be a challenge when children in a family have different learning styles.

“When parents support their child’s learning style and they then see progress or their child much happier, that really helps parents understand the value in it,” she said.

Barlow-Layne said it’s also important to be flexible in applying homework rules. For example, as a teacher of young children, she realizes they don’t necessarily like to sit all the time.

“Some kids like standing at the counter to do homework, much like being at a standing desk. Others might need to nibble on a little popcorn or snack while they doing homework, or maybe listen to music,” she said. “Figuring out what works could be just looking at things a little bit differently.”

Educators offered the following tips for parents:

Visual learners can:

  • Sketch and diagram anything that is confusing or new.
  • Compare these with sketches or diagrams in a textbook or online for accuracy.
  • Enjoy videos, available online.
  • Enjoy drawing the meanings of new vocabulary words.
  • Benefit from using highlighters and color-coding sticky notes. “Those give them a ‘pop’ of color, which contrasts the typical black and white type on a page,” said Dennison.

Auditory learners:

  • Benefit from videos or audiobooks where they can follow along in the print version of the book.
  • Benefit from hearing a parent read the directions or walk through their thought process of approaching a problem or task.

Verbal learners can:

  • Play “teacher” to their parents or caregivers.
  • Explain what they think; parents can help guide them through any errors or misconceptions.
  • Work well with groups of children where they can share ideas.
  • Make up chants, rhymes or mnemonic devices when studying.

Karen Nerney, a communications specialist with Capital Region BOCES since 2011, has three children. Her college-age daughter still makes flashcards when studying new material because she knows they work for her. Her son is considering a career as “Jeopardy!” host.

Copyright ©2016 by Parent Today and Capital Region BOCES; Used with permission

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