Years before research on the auditory, visual, and tactile learning styles was conducted and presented to the world at large, my mother, a 38-year veteran of the Los Angeles Unified School District, kept a dizzying array of tubs of things to count – such as beans, coins, and colored unifix cubes. She was always teaching the class a song or poem, and it seems as if they created a journal or picture book for every holiday or special occasion.
Hers was no Charlie Brown classroom, the trombone mimicking the droning on of the teacher. My mom’s classroom was alive with colors, photos, music, poetry and things to touch and experience. Simply, it was an immersion experience! A lesson about the fall season included memorizing and reciting fall poetry, adventuring outdoors to collect and categorize fall leaves by color and shape and writing essays about this autumn leaf research.
Her approach is the essence of learning style theory. By planning a diverse mix of lessons, activities and assessments, she offered students an assortment of ways to learn content and exhibit what they know.
Learning styles emphasize the different ways students think and feel as they learn content and share what they know. There are three primary learning styles: visual, auditory and tactile. Most learning-style advocates would agree that, though we often learn in one primary modality, all individuals develop and practice a mixture of styles as they live and learn.
Visual – These learners do best when they can see the information, whether written or pictorial. They learn well using charts, graphs, diagrams, highlighters and other pictorial representations of concepts.
Auditory – These learners do best when they hear information. They learn well using songs, poems and listening to lectures, and enjoy discussions. They can recall in great detail past conversations and often have a great love of music.
Tactile – These learners do best when they’re doing. They’re good with their hands, putting things together and remembering step-by-step how to do things. They enjoy subjects such as science experiments and P.E., and can become fidgety after sitting for long periods of time.
Interestingly, scientific research on learning styles hasn’t confirmed that teaching a child in a particular style increases their acquisition and retention of information. The best use of the research, then, is to teach children content and to allow them to express themselves in multiple modalities to increase their opportunity to learn.
A Few Tips For Parents On Learning Styles
As parents, you don’t have to turn your living room into the inside of an Egyptian pyramid (although that would be pretty cool!), nor do you have to create thematic units on the letter “r” or reenact the American Revolution in your backyard (again, cool!). Just by keeping it simple and mixing things up you will maximize your child’s opportunity to learn and retain information.
From the time they are very young, provide your children a variety of ways to acquire information. Learning math songs; using beans, coins, counters or other tangible objects; drawing pictures; reading math stories aloud and going to the grocery store to shop together are quite effective in combination with one another to reinforce number sense. If your children comprehend reading better when reading aloud to you, or if they grasp information better by making a story outline, by all means, make time for these activities in your nightly study routine. Keep your eyes open as your children progress through school, as their preferred learning styles will likely become more apparent.
Most importantly, realize that your child might not have the same learning style as you. This is often the biggest challenge for parents! It sometimes means that you have to acquire a few new study skills so that you can provide assistance to your child. Here are a few practical study tips to help you support your child’s journey in discovering how they learn best:
- Take notes
- Make visual representations of concepts
- Create and watch videos/clips
- Use flashcards
- Create charts and graphs
- Have them ask questions
- Participate in discussions
- Remain free from other auditory distractions
- Record themselves
- Learn through songs and poetry
- Use flashcards
- Play learning games
- Study for short blocks, allowing for a brief movement activity in between study sessions
- Act things out whenever possible
- Construct models of things they learn
- Use concrete objects for mathematic concepts whenever possible
As you move through the beginning of the school year, take time to observe and interact with your children so that you have a greater awareness of how to assist them in deepening their learning. Each child’s learning style is unique, and a combination of methods often works best. And remember, don’t overwhelm yourself trying too many new approaches at once. Start with a simple routine of flashcards every night for 10 minutes or learning a math poem together, and build up your routine from there. Small-but-consistent steps can make a huge difference in supporting your child’s learning style, and thereby helping them have a successful school year.
Angelina Arrington is an educational consultant and founder of Academic Savvy (www.academicsavvy.com).