What WERE You Thinking?! by Mairead Leong

Learning Styles

We all learn the same way, right? Absolutely not. It’s okay — you can breathe a sigh of relief now. Understanding that everyone thinks a bit differently means that you may be one step closer to understanding a reluctant or struggling student in your household. Understanding that it is normal — completely normal — for everyone to think and process slightly differently can help you, your student, and your student’s teachers help your student succeed.

Before we dive in to the three big categories of learning types, read this aloud and bear it in mind as you peruse the learning types: WE ALL HAVE AND USE ALL THREE LEARNING TYPES. Got that? Your spouse may not be able to remember a single thing you say, but s/he is an Auditory learner to some extent. You’d swear your boss is borderline illiterate from the number of important diagrams s/he ignores, but your boss is a Visual learner to some extent. We all use all three styles to gain understanding and knowledge; we just tend to work better with some styles than others. However, we all need to use all three styles, so don’t use your dominant learning style as an excuse.

Visual Learners

Visual learners are the people who learn best by seeing something. This means that the readers, the artists, the mathematicians, the people who quiz themselves with index cards, and the people who prefer the “navigate” map to the “directions” list on their GPS devices are usually visually dominant learners. Visual learners graph things out, draw charts, draw diagrams, take notes, and want to see it written down. Do you want a written list, even if you only need to buy five things? You may be visual. Do you use outlines all the time? Visual. Does Post-It stay in business thanks to you, since you write everything down as a reminder? Visual.

Visual Learners in the Classroom

The good news is that the entire educational system is geared towards visual learners. Textbooks, blackboards, handouts, note-taking, research cards, and worksheets are all a visual learner’s friend. If your student is having trouble in class, encourage them to make charts and diagrams, make outlines, and take copious notes during the lesson.

Auditory Learners

Auditory learners need to hear something in order to get the most out of it. In lectures, auditory learners absorb the most information by listening more and taking only a few notes. (This is not to be confused with space cadet students who zone out and doodle instead of listening.) Auditory learners are often mocked for asking for clarification of “simple” written instructions — which often leads to a very bright child doing poorly or not asking questions.

Auditory Learners in the Classroom

Auditory learners often have trouble with written directions or assignments if the directions are not read aloud or talked through. If your child is having issues with directions or assignments, conference with the teacher and ask that they read the assignment aloud, rephrase it in a slightly different way, and ask if there are any questions before turning the students loose on the task.

An auditory learner will get a lot out of audio books read by a good actor and a good tutor to give oral explanations of the textbook sections. An auditory learner will benefit from flash cards, but will do even better if someone else quizzes the auditory learner so the student hears both the question and the answer.

Kinesthetic Learners

Kinesthetic learners learn by doing and experimenting. Kinesthetic learners assemble things without reading the instructions, re-doing and re-building as necessary until they get it right. They thrive on experimenting and hands-on activity. They often fall into the “leap before you look” crowd, taking a theory and “playing” with it before fully understanding how it works.

Kinesthetic Learners in the Classroom

Creative and open ended projects, science projects, and open ended questions are perfect for kinesthetic learners. Unfortunately, they may struggle in classes with set, non-negotiable tasks. For example, there is very little experimentation in arithmetic. There is one answer; playing with the problem results in a wrong answer.

This can be very frustrating to a kinesthetic learner. Try using hypothetical situations and manipulative learning tools (such as math tiles for fractions, or magnetic words for sentence structure) to allow a kinesthetic student to experiment until they fully grasp the theory behind a subject or topic.

Wrapping Up

It is immensely helpful to understand how you and your student learn, especially before entering college and the world of work. Professors and bosses expect students and employees to understand how to make information work without additional help. If your student can get used to adapting study techniques to her/his own needs, s/he will do far better in school and out in the real world.

In Part 2 of this blog, I will talk about how a student’s dominant learning style affects his/her reading.

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