Every learner is different. That’s an inconvenient fact for a modern educational system which employs a one-size-fits-all approach, standardizing more and more, and testing with multiple-choice exams. Rather than allow this to hinder your child, you can turn it into an advantage.
First, let’s review the three primary learning styles:
A. Visual. Visual learners are very visual in nature – they love sights, colors and scenes. They learn best by watching a teacher write an example on the board, seeing a demonstration, looking at images and diagrams, watching videos, or reading a book. When studying for a test, they read their notes or review pictures. They can typically study in a noisy place, such as a crowded café, without difficulty.
B. Auditory. Auditory learners rely on sounds and explanations. They prefer to listen to an explanation or recording than look at a visual diagram or read a book. When studying for a test, they prefer to read out loud, replay lectures, or have someone ask them questions while they answer out loud.
C. Kinesthetic. Kinesthetic learners prefer “hands-on” activities, projects and experiences. They like to act things out. A great strategy for them is to make study notes and write down the subject matter when preparing for a presentation or studying for a test.
Your child employs all three styles, but they probably have a dominant one. Here are four steps to turn this potential weakness into a strength:
1.IDENTIFY. First, determine their preferred style. There are many online tests for this but consider this simple question: When your child has trouble spelling a word, do they:
a) Write it down on paper to see what it looks like (visual learner)?
b) Spell it out loud to see how it sounds (auditory learner)?
c) Trace the letters in the air (kinesthetic learner)?
There are many other cues. For example, at the mall, do they prefer observing things, talking to people or running around? When your child was young, did they prefer picture books, books with words or books with exercises, such as crossword puzzles?
2. LEVERAGE. Next, use their dominant style to help them with difficult or conceptual topics, such as negative number computations or algebra. A great example is the use of “Hands-On Equations” to teach algebra to kinesthetic learners. This is a board game approach which uses game pieces to solve equations. The pieces are used on the two sides of equations to combine like terms, create inverses, balance the two sides and solve for unknowns.
3. PERFECT. Then, encourage your child to build healthy study habits that leverage their preferred learning method. For example, auditory learners prefer being asked questions verbally during study time while kinesthetic learners like to make study notes. It’s important to note that you should be flexible and try out different methods here. For example, my daughter is a kinesthetic learner but she enjoys being asked questions and verbally answering them when studying (auditory) and she prefers to write out words when she is checking her spelling (visual).
4. DIVERSIFY. Finally, you need to remember that public schools are moving towards more standardization so you shouldn’t be fixated on your child’s dominant learning method. They need to flexible and comfortable with all the methods. For example, once your kinesthetic learner has mastered algebra through Hands-On Equations, it’s time to learn and reinforce conventional algebra problem solving skills. Teach them to be ambidextrous, just as great right-handed basketball players practice their left hand dribbling.
In summary, recognize your child’s dominant learning method and use it as an advantage when needed, but stay flexible.
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Regardless of the situation, learning is ultimately the individual’s responsibility. Learning will not succeed unless the individual feels a strong sense of ownership and responsibility in the process itself. In all honesty, I have never put much thought into my particular learning style. However, since I decided to embark on a new challenge and opportunity by enrolling in graduate school, I have had to refocus my priorities amidst the everyday stresses of life and my hectic schedule. Before I began graduate school, I reassessed my particular abilities and really began to focus on what I do well and do not do well. Because of this assessment, I am now able to draw more intelligent conclusions about my particular learning style, strengths, opportunities for growth, and ways to improve upon my weaknesses.
During my undergraduate studies at Auburn University, I always studied in the morning. It was at that time of day I felt motivated, sharp, and mentally alert. When I woke up from a good night’s rest, I felt comfortable and refreshed, which enabled me to process more information. Each morning I would determine my priorities for the day and how I would effectively reduce and handle interruptions, in order to enhance my learning capacity and optimize my performance.
Finally, I tended to get more accomplished in the morning because there was a sense of peace and quiet. When I began employment and worked from 8am to 5pm, I always took any opportunity to learn new things in the morning. Now that I have begun graduate school I still try to focus most of my efforts, whether it is reading, writing, communicating, etc in the early morning hours before I begin my 8am to 5pm job. Of course, there are time constraints to consider which force me to perform some activities in the evening hours, but I still believe I process and retain more information in the morning.
Based on my undergraduate experience I basically was a hands-on learner. I tended to learn more effectively by taking notes in class and rewriting them later. This is often referred to as “tactile” or “kinesthetic” learning (Kowalski 25: 20). Even in graduate school, I highlight passages in my readings and write them down on paper. I read over the notes repetitiously in order to grasp the information. In addition to being a tactile learner, I am a bottom-up learner. I am a very detail-oriented individual who prefers to have a rock solid foundation built before I proceed to new challenges. I want to learn the basics before seeing the big picture. For example, when I learned to process health insurance claims at my place of business I had a desire to know the concrete specifics of the system and how everything flowed and fit together before I actually wanted to process a claim. I had an inherent desire to fully master all concepts of the system before moving on to claims processing.
Kathiann M. Kowalski defines learning style as “the way each person absorbs, understands, and uses new information.” She goes on to say that “learning style may be inherited…and some aspects develop over your lifetime” (25: 20). I have always learned in a manner which I believe I inherited. I am a very detail oriented individual who likes everything planned and structured. I learn best when I have an outline in front of me with everything detailed in a logical and flowing order. Also, policies and procedures play an important role in my everyday life. For example, at my company, we have developed concise policies and procedures on how to process a claim. These procedures assist me and my fellow associates as we learn the various aspects of the system and claims processing. I could not imagine learning the system without detailed procedures. I recall always learning in this fashion.
I possess pieces of each of the seven multiple intelligences. However, introspective intelligence has manifested itself more so than the others. Dr. Thomas Armstrong defines this as “the ability to understand thoughts and feelings in yourself” (Cathcart 51: 20). I have an introverted personality and have a tendency to be quite shy in group settings. Many times I do not publicly participate, but work diligently behind the scenes. I am a self-motivated individual who always contributes to the overall group effort despite my shyness. I have an innate desire for advancement and achievement, firmly believe that “knowledge is power”, and the more you know and learn the better off you will be for it.
I possess many strengths and weaknesses with regard to my particular learning style. I tend to focus on my strengths while managing my weaknesses. The key to my success is that I have identified my strengths and pursued them with vigor. I believe that I am an achiever and have the willpower, perseverance, and desire to do well. I concentrate my efforts by assessing what I do well, and I do a lot of it. Practice makes perfect. Another strength I possess is listening to myself and acting on a hunch. I believe in receiving advice and input from others; however, no one knows my learning style better than I do, so I always try to listen to myself. I am also a very motivated individual who learns very quickly. I have learned to capitalize on my rapid learning skills by realizing that when I am good at something I should mold it into my everyday learning activities. My organizational skills and special attention to detail assists me in studying and learning more effectively. Finally, I always strive for excellence. My grandfather always told me “if you can’t do something right just don’t do it at all.” A sign of a good learner is someone who desires excellence and does what is necessary to achieve optimal results.
There are also many areas in my learning style that I can improve upon. Sometimes, if I do not feel that I am grasping something, I get frustrated, and tend to skip over that particular area. It may be that I try to capitalize and focus too much on what I do well that I give up on issues that do not come to me as easily. I also feel that my close attention to detail can lead to an obsessive type of learning style that can “muddy” the water at times. I begin to get minimal results despite my intense focus. There is also the issue of overconfidence. At times, I often think I have mastered a skill, and I get a little sloppy and lose focus. When learning new things, I consciously think through the steps of the process. However, I continuously, almost obsessively, think about the steps instead of mastering the skill quickly. I dwell on the smaller things instead of focusing on the bigger picture. Sometimes, learning drains all of my energy, thus making it more difficult for me to actively engage in additional learning right away. Finally, I feel that I need to become a little more of a mixture between an introvert and an extrovert. By being shy, I do not get to know other individual’s personalities, styles, habits, etc. Interacting on a more personal level with individuals will help my learning style, especially in group settings.
Formulating a strategy for improvement can be difficult, but must be done in order to achieve optimal learning results. Firstly, I will do most of my learning at my peak time, which is in the morning. Secondly, I will review the other learning styles more closely, and identify the aspects I can incorporate into my own personal style. Thirdly, I will avoid putting myself into situations where I am forced to do something I do not do well, which tends to stress and frustrate me. Fourthly, I will partner with someone that compliments my strengths. This way, we can combine our joint strengths and create a unique learning capability that could not be done with one person alone. Fifthly, I will make a conscious effort to interact more with my group members to ease my shyness. Finally, I am going to take a step back from all of the little nitpicky details that can consume me at times, take a deep breath, and look at the big picture. Also, I can possibly begin to think in pictures and draw my ideas for others, instead of talking about them.
In conclusion, I have discovered my particular learning style. I believe this is important in order to improve on areas that may inhibit my opportunities for growth. I will take it upon myself to learn the styles of other individuals as well. This will help me more effectively interact, while also increasing my learning potential because I can learn from other individuals. Knowledge truly is power, and the more I acquire, and the more I can learn from myself and other individuals, the better off I will be.
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