By Kay Chance
Last year my son took biology through a co-op class. For the tests they were required to know at least twenty vocabulary definitions for each unit, so I told him he needed to study the words and then I would quiz him. Unfortunately, when I quizzed him on the definitions he didn’t remember very many. It was as if he hadn’t even seen the words. So we tried something else. This time I said the definition to him and he would repeat it back to me, back and forth, until he had them down. Why couldn’t he just read the definitions over and over instead of saying them over and over to learn them? My friend’s son was in the same class and could take the book, memorize the words quickly, and be ready for the test without saying them aloud. Why the difference?
Perhaps one of the biggest factors, besides interest in the subject, was a matter of learning styles. There are many excellent books and resources on this topic, and if you look up learning styles on the Internet, you’ll soon find there are multiple labels and theories about them. Learning styles are the ways, techniques, or manners in which we gain knowledge. Webster’s 1828 defines learning as “gaining knowledge by instruction or reading, by study, by experience or observation; acquiring skill by practice.” One of the most common ways to categorize learning styles is visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners; and those categories can be clearly seen in Webster’s definition:
Gaining knowledge by instruction (auditory) or reading (visual), by study, by experience (kinesthetic) or observation (visual); acquiring skill by practice (kinesthetic.)
The following is a chart to help simplify the concept (especially for you visual learners) that includes a definition of each kind of learner, their characteristics, and a few learning strategies for each type:
|Learns best by seeing
|Learns best by hearing
|Learns best by moving or doing
|Characteristics of Students
|Enjoys drawing, likes colorful illustrations, charts, graphs, and maps; remembers things that are read
|Likes to listen to stories and music, enjoys discussions, remembers things that are said
|Enjoys playing sports or dancing, can’t sit still for long, remembers things that they do
|Watch demonstrations; use charts & graphs; have them memorize with flash cards; write down instructions; provide time to read each day; have them draw pictures; make notebook pages
|Incorporate time for discussions; listen to audio CDs & lectures; have them memorize with/by music; Read instructions out-loud or have them read instructions out loud to themselves; repeat vocabulary/math facts back & forth to each other to memorize; have them narrate
|Do experiments; have them make up hand motions, build models, take things apart & put them back together, work jigsaw puzzles; play games to memorize math facts; play with clay; make lap books and notebook pages; review material with games
The most important thing to remember, though, isn’t a list of labels. Instead, keep in mind that each of your students is a unique individual. Because of this, they will have different interests, different ways in which they learn best, and specific preferences for how they learn—and one way isn’t any better than another. Does that sound overwhelming when you think about your family? Do you think, “How in the world can I teach all these unique individuals without running myself ragged? How can I teach more than one child without buying a separate curriculum for each?” Don’t worry! It can be done.
For one thing, if a person prefers to learn by listening, that doesn’t mean he won’t learn anything by reading. If she loves hands-on activities, it doesn’t mean she can’t get anything out of an educational video. People usually have more than one learning style, especially during different stages of life. For example, all young children can benefit from using concrete objects to learn math. Most have a mixture of styles, though usually you’ll notice a dominant one. My son, who learns better with auditory methods, is also a very good reader. Just think of identifying a student’s dominant learning style as another tool in your educational tool box. You can use all the tools in the box, but sometimes you need that special tool to help fix a specific problem—like when your student has to memorize a lot of biology words! Sometimes you can use a different tool for a job (yes, I have hammered a nail with the end of a screwdriver), but another tool might be more effective.
So how does identifying your children’s learning style help you to choose a curriculum? For one, if you have a student who is predominately a kinesthetic learner, you probably need to stay away from curriculums that do not include any activities. If you have an auditory learner, a workbook-based curriculum might not be the best. If you have a visual learner, perhaps learning a foreign language from a CD isn’t the best.
I believe the most effective curriculums use a variety of materials and methods and are adaptable to multiple students.
Consider the following:
- When a family reads aloud and discusses what they are reading they are reaching the student who is an auditory learner.
- When a family does a science experiment they are reaching the kinesthetic learner.
- When a family watches an educational DVD, they are reaching the visual learner.
- When a family takes a nature walk they reach all three: the visual learner observes, the auditory learner hears the sounds of nature, the kinesthetic learner gets to move.
- When families create notebook pages, they reach all three provided they let the auditory learner tell someone about it (narration)!
I hope you will consider the Trail Guide to Learning Series as you search for the curriculum that fits your family’s needs the best. In it you will find a variety of methods and activities based on multiple learning styles. These are just a few examples:
For the Visual Learner: Reading (including visually appealing books like The Story of the Orchestra, Good Ol’ Cowboy Stories; and a variety of atlases); Making charts and graphs, DVD (in POS); Vocabulary cards; Copywork
For the Auditory Learner: Read-alouds; Narration; Discussion; Speeches; Music CDs; Dictation
For the Kinesthetic Learner: Drawing, water color painting, sculpting with clay; Games for review; Notebooking; Optional lap-books; Experiments; Activity books including Going West and Lewis and Clark Hands On.