Just like personalities, people have different learning styles. It might benefit parents to understand how their child learns best by observing their strengths and preferences.
While different models for learning styles exist, the most common theory suggests that there are four distinct ways in which a child learns and consultant psychologist Ian Wallace describes them as:
1. Visual learner – These children enjoy drawing, colouring, puzzles and creative art. They need to “see” information to learn best.
2. Verbal learner – These children love listening to stories and may learn to talk at an earlier age. They follow verbal instructions easily and love to talk.
3. Tactile learner – These children enjoy getting “a feel” of different materials. They like to be shown how to do things.
4. Kinaesthetic learner – These children, like tactile learners enjoy learning through touch, but they also learn by “movement and sensory interaction”. They may learn better if movement is incorporated into the lesson.
There are several tools available for parents to determine what their child’s learning style is:
1. Websites like LDPride.net. Involves taking a 2 minute test to find out their preferred learning style.
2. Courses such as “The ways our children learn and how we as parents can help them”.
3. Services like the Learning Links organization’s assessment programs.
4. Wallace suggests observing children through their everyday play and conversation styles. For example, a visual learner might like to explain events by using words such as “did you see what happened” or “I saw that she was upset”. A verbal learner might choose to describe circumstances using the tone of voice or words used. A tactile learner would bring into focus the feelings associated with events, such as “I could feel that she was upset.” Finally, a kinaesthetic learner might like to role play or demonstrate.
There are several advantages in finding your child’s learning style:
- Improved performance at school
- Reduced truancy rates
- Reduced school dropout rates
- Can help foster an interest in lifelong learning
Wallace recommends the following ways in which to support particular learning styles:
1. Visual learners – Invest in some charts, models and resources such as coloured pens and highlighters.
2. Verbal learners – Encourage them to participate in activities that require them to exercise their verbal skills e.g. drama or debating. For older children, maybe a recorder in the classroom will help by replaying what was learnt.
3. Tactile learners – Teach using techniques that encourage children to have a feel of the concept. E.g. differentiate a square as having “sharp edges” versus a circle as being “smooth” and “round”. Promote activities such as tracing and finger painting.
4. Kinaesthetic learners – Role playing and acting it out will help these children immensely. Provide toys such as Lego to encourage “hands on learning” and opportunities for “active learning” like pacing while learning or using sensory toys like a squish ball or exercise ball while studying.
Schools in Australia are also embracing teaching philosophies such as Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences or De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats – frameworks that cater for different learning styles. Teachers are encouraged to apply these models and plan activities to teach children with a wide range of learning styles.
Most state governments’ departments of education encourage teaching to a variety of learning styles and provide guidelines on how this can be achieved. Individual schools then use them and develop curriculum to cater for the various learning needs of students. For example, Bellevue Park State School principal Janelle Gordon says that teachers at the school “use a variety of strategies to teach one concept”. At the lower grades, teachers may play recordings of sounds for verbal learners and get them to use headphones when learning new words. For the kinaesthetic learner, teachers may get the students to trace the words on paper, sand or on the whiteboard. In higher grades, Gordon says they use the strategy of “Look, Say, Cover, Write”, which accommodates the four learning styles by asking visual learners to look at how it is written, verbal learners to practise saying it and tactile and kinaesthetic learners to practise writing it.
Learning styles in children are being considered as very important in the Australian National Curriculum, which is coming into effect in schools in some parts of the country from this year. The curriculum writers are specifically being instructed to factor in the different learning styles of children. Sample portfolios are being developed with examples on how to provide a wide range of opportunities to enable children with different learning styles to grasp the concept. For example, a Foundation year English work sample task asked students to write a letter. Different learning styles were catered for by allowing children to either choose their words from a words chart (suggesting a visual learning style), a word dictionary or through discussion with other students (verbal and active learning style).
At home, resources such as computer software, tutors and learning materials can also provide immense benefit to children with different learning styles. The National Tuition Survey conducted by the Australian Tutoring Association found that 95 percent of parents said that private tuition supported the individual needs of their child. If this tuition is conducted on a one-to-one basis, the individual learning style of the child can be specifically catered for to ensure the best possible learning outcome.
Furthermore, several learning resources are now on the market developed specifically for particular learning styles. Yet others cater for a variety of learning styles in the one program using multisensory methodology.
A visual learner might like to explain events by using words such as “did you see what happened” or “I saw that she was upset”.
Further information on how to recognize and provide resources for children of particular learning styles can be found at Casa Canada’s Multiple Intelligences page.