Learning Styles

Different Learning Styles

Learning Styles: Allowing Children to “Unmold”

By Diane Bisson

When trying to instill values in children, “Kids are like modeling clay.” However, when attempting to analyse the way they learn, there is an urgency to allow kids to “unmold.” We, as caregivers, parents, teachers, and tutors, need to create an environment where the child is given the freedom to go past the set parameters that are oftentimes imposed on him. Opening the door to experimentation and creativity is one of the ways we can guide children to discover their strengths and abilities, and to recognize their weaknesses. I believe most curriculum, with planning, organising, and effort, can be adapted, modified, and implemented to suit the student’s preferred way of learning. However, may I add that making use of the MST method (Multi-Sensory Teaching) is one of the better ways for a student to understand and retain given information. MST incorporates three main learning styles: the auditory, which comprises the listening and the verbal learner; the visual, which includes the print as well as the picture learner; and the kinesthetic, which contains the tactile learner. Using MST, teachers can make learning fun and exciting by inviting, challenging, and allowing the student to choose his own way of working.

The Auditory Learner

The auditory learner learns best by listening or speaking. He is the most talkative of all the learning types. He loves to discuss, but can become easily distracted in the conversation. Because he has an ear for music, the auditory learner often enjoys listening to music while doing his work. If your student is an auditory learner, he should be encouraged to listen to information and repeat it back to you. He most likely will not enjoy extensive writing activities and long periods of silent reading. When studying, he should read out loud the instructions of what is to be done and the content of what is to be retained. His notes should be recorded on tape in order for him to listen to them later. The auditory learner would also benefit from listening to books on tape. Real-life situations should be used to teach new concepts.

Reading should be done out loud to make it more interesting. Presenting a book report orally or through audio or video would also be more inviting. In spelling, the auditory learner should be encouraged to spell words out loud. Oral spelling tests could help the auditory learner achieve higher grades. Mathematics may become more enjoyable if the student is encouraged to make up his own word problems using the concepts he needs to learn. Mathematical problem solving steps should always be verbalized. The auditory learner could learn multiplication and division facts by listening to them on a tape or in a tune.

There are two types of auditory learners: the listening learner and the verbal learner. The verbal learner is much more aggressive in his approach to the given information. He speaks words that represent exactly how he understands. For this reason, he needs opportunities to express verbally what he’s learning. He solves problems by talking about them. It is recommended that he be given the opportunity to work with someone else.

The Visual Learner

A person who thinks in pictures or in words is called a visual learner. It’s as if he has a movie camera in his mind – what he hears or reads is usually seen in images or in words. This style of learning includes the picture learner and the print learner.

The picture learner may often experience some difficulty with reading and spelling because to him, the letters represent sounds and not pictures. The picture learner should be encouraged to pay close attention to illustrations, graphs, maps, etc. This picture note taking will help him to organize and store the given information.

On the other hand, the print learner will think in words. Diagrams and illustrations may confuse him. He is more likely to ignore the pictures and concentrate on the written information. For this reason, it might be best if he reads and writes the information to be retained, and because he loves colours, he may need to underline or highlight the given information. The print learner should be given the opportunity to do his note taking with different coloured pens, pencils, and paper. He will retain the information in words, not in pictures.

Contrary to the auditory learner, whose results are better when he works with someone else, the visual learner prefers to be left alone to read and to study quietly. He most likely will not choose role-playing or listening activities. He is usually organized in his work. His writing is neat. His binders, his desk, and his bedroom are usually well kept. He also likes to be neat in his appearance.

Reading comprehension for the visual learner may improve for the picture learner if he is allowed to draw or make diagrams of the characters and events in a story. The print learner, on the other hand, will prefer to write down the names of the characters in a story and make notes of the events. In spelling, the picture learner could decorate the new words or make them look like a picture. Word configuration could also be helpful. For the print learner, the new spelling words could be written with different coloured pens, highlighters, pencils, and paper. Mathematics may become more interesting if number facts are written on coloured flash cards. Bright number lines may also be a good tool to learn math facts. The picture learner could be encouraged to draw each step in solving math problems while the print learner could highlight the operational signs.

The Kinesthetic Learner

Many individuals need to use a whole-body approach to learn. This more comfortable way of learning is called the kinesthetic style, which incorporates the tactile method. The kinesthetic learner will learn best by using a combination of learning styles. He may need to listen (auditory) and look at (visual) the given information. He may then need to repeat it (verbal) in his own words. He may also have to write, type, or even draw (tactile) the information to be retained. Because he needs to move a lot, the kinesthetic learner is likely to walk around while working. He performs better when working in short spurts rather than concentrated blocks of time. Because of his pent-up energy, he often gets restless and fidgety. Sitting for long periods is extremely demanding on this type of learner. A sense of time is difficult for him. Instead of seeing out into the future, he only sees the present moment (which explains why he struggles understanding the consequences of his actions). Sadly enough, he is labelled hyperactive. He often appears to be disorganized, but to the kinesthetic learner, everything is more like “organized confusion.”

The kinesthetic learner should be encouraged to productively use his need for movement. His research for information could be directed to videos, audio, or photographs. By representing what he has learned through an experiment (science) with a model or graph (math) or in a mime skit (drama), the kinesthetic learner could demonstrate what he has understood and retained. Acting out vocabulary words or role-playing characters in a story may improve his reading comprehension. He could practice spelling by writing words in the air, on the table, or on someone’s back. Another way for him to remember spelling is to clap each letter of a word or use one stair at a time while naming the letters. Writing words on sandpaper, wet sand, salt, pudding, coloured whipping cream, or even washed-out Jell-O are other fun ways for him to learn. Remember, movement and “being involved” are important for the kinesthetic learner. He should also be encouraged to act out mathematical word problems. Interactive computer programs that drill math facts may also be motivating for him.

The tactile way of learning is part of the kinesthetic style. Should your student be a tactile learner, you will notice that he best understands and retains information if he can touch it, play with it, and manipulate it. Hands-on activities are the best tools for him. The tactile learner enjoys computers and other handheld devices. An old typewriter can also be very good for this type of learner because he has to press harder on the letter and number keys. Drawing and writing with chalk or whiteboard is also enjoyable for him. He learns best through experimenting, trial and error, and going on trips and visits. Similar to the kinesthetic learning style, movement is important to the tactile learner. He does not enjoy long reading projects and listening activities, and he most likely will not like workbooks or worksheets because that entails sitting down to work.

Identifying, addressing, and respecting a person’s preferred way of learning is always gratifying. Most importantly, teachers and parents of children aged 5 through 11 may see great improvements in a child’s academic performance and self-esteem once the above has been accomplished. As the child matures, he will discern how he learns, and will build a solid foundation on his strengths and develop strategies to understand his weaknesses.

Having said all that, allow me to offer this suggestion to all who love and work with children and young people: assess your own learning style. It could serve as a tool you may or may not want to use when working with youngsters. Based on many years of working with children of different ages and backgrounds, I can attest to the fact that once a child’s preferred way of learning is discovered, his potential is unlimited. As caregivers, let’s break the mould and “Celebrate what the child is all about!”

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