Student Learning Styles – One size doesn’t fit all

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The idea that every student learns differently has gained widespread recognition in education theory and classroom management strategy over the past half a century. Learning is now viewed as a complex process, influenced by an individual’s own cognitive, emotional and environmental factors, as well as prior experience. Research shows that people have different preferences and strengths in how they take in and process information and these preferences are sometimes referred to as learning styles. We use learning styles to describe and help us understand the different ways in which children learn.

Although sometimes controversial, some studies have shown that accommodating a child's learning style can increase his or her performance at school. Here, I hope to share some of my insight and experience as a teacher, and to equip you with some practical knowledge on how you can asses and support your child’s learning style at home.

What are the different types of Learning Styles?

Based on observations and studies, researchers have formed three different categories of learning styles, called VAK for short:

 V is for VISUAL:

  • Visual learners receive new information best when it is presented in a visual format, like in a diagram, map or pictures/images

A is for AUDITORY:

  • Auditory learners understand new ideas and concepts best when they hear the information, like in a song or from a description read out loud

K is for KINESTHETIC (tactual, physical):

  • Kinesthetic learners discover best when they are using their hands or bodies. This is a common feature of most early learners, particularly in preschool and kindergarten

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What type of learner are you?

Below are a few key characteristics for each learning style and some strategies you can use at home with your child(ren):

Signs that your child might be a VISUAL LEARNER:

  • They like solving puzzles and enjoy leafing through books, especially ones with pictures
  • They are drawn to artwork, posters and other vibrant displays on the wall
  • They demonstrate keen powers of observation and don’t miss a trick!
  • STRATEGIES TO USE WITH VISUAL LEARNERS:
  • Incorporate diagrams, charts, graphs or pictures into their school work
  • For test revision, use flash cards and Mind Maps
  • Use coloured highlighters to emphasize key words or to underline main concepts
  • Using symbols instead of words may assist in memorization

Signs that your child might be an AUDITORY LEARNER:

  • They gravitate towards music, songs, instruments, etc. and can learn a song just by hearing it once
  • They can usually follow verbal instructions immediately after only hearing it once or twice
  • STRATEGIES TO USE WITH AUDITORY LEARNERS:
  • Play music or white noise in the background while completing a task
  • Allow them to “talk it out” – have them explain their newfound knowledge or describe a task
  • Use audio materials and have audio books readily available at home
  • Use stories, anecdotes, puns, jokes, songs from You Tube, rhymes or raps to aid with learning

Signs that your child might be a KINAESTHETIC LEARNER:

  • They constantly squirm while completing homework, fiddling with equipment
  • They best learn while completing “hands on” activities
  • They enjoy field trips and being able to “move around”
  • STRATEGIES TO USE WITH KINAESTHETIC LEARNERS:
  • Keep a healthy supply of art materials – scissors, construction paper and glue are great to make collages or mosaics
  • Use beads or other suitable objects like fingers when learning how to count
  • Role playing is a great way to get him or her out of their chair and engaged
  • Use materials like Lego for math activities (making a bar chart is fun!)
  • Using sticky notes to brainstorm ideas is a great kinesthetic activity

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Whatever you do, make sure the activities are developmentally appropriate for your child’s age and grade level. And don’t worry if your child doesn’t fall into any one specific category or if they demonstrate characteristics of more than one learning style. Learning styles are not permanently fixed. As a student grows, matures and develops both physically and intellectually, their preference of learning style may evolve as well. Re-evaluating a student's learning style on an annual basis is a good way to check-in with their academic development and be sure to discuss this with your child’s teacher.

There are various on-line tools you can use to discover your child’s preferred learning style, but I like Brainboxx's VAK questionnaire the best as it allows students to see their scores for all three of the learning styles for comparison.

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Author: Jill Campbell

A mother and lover of all things practical, Jill is a 30-something, former educator, world traveler and self-proclaimed pragmatist trying to navigate this journey called life. She currently works as a freelance writer, part-time teacher/tutor and full-time mom to two fabulous daughters. Her blog www.pragmamamma.net features simple and family-friendly recipes, original photography and hot parenting topics. Jill loves getting creative in the kitchen, reading, spending time with her family and snapping photos around her neighbourhood in Burlington, Ontario.

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