Originally Published: March 2003
Much is now available about learning styles. Some of us learn more easily by reading and taking notes or looking at illustrations (visual learner). Others learn more quickly by listening and discussing (auditory). Still others find information more understandable if they can manipulate objects, build a model, or act out an idea (kinesthetic). If you teach more than one child, it may seem impossible to meet everyone’s needs. But there are a couple more bits of information that should set your mind at ease.
First, no matter what our learning styles, we all learn a new concept more quickly and retain it longer if the teacher either relates it to a previous experience we can recall or creates a new experience for us—giving a demonstration, for instance. No matter how many kids with various learning styles we teach, they will all benefit from the same type of introduction. Then, we can assign follow up practice to suit learning style: worksheets, software, games, discussions, presentations, etc.
Secondly, it is by varying our experiences that we become able to draw on information and apply it to all sorts of situations. Otherwise, we tend to keep what we’ve learned in a mental box, only pulling it out when we are experiencing something similar to our method of practice. This is why parents frequently find that their kinesthetic learners know more than a standardized test suggests. The tests require reading and marking correct answers—a format regularly practiced by the visual learner, but not the child needing to manipulate objects. Because visual learners tend to test well, parents may not always realize that these students may be unable to explain a concept or actually use the skills they can so easily recall.
So, once the kids have successfully practiced in accordance with their learning styles, we need to give them a different kind of practice. All kids, then, will ultimately benefit from discussions, projects, software, games, videos, and written work—worksheets, charts, compositions, making booklets, etc. That means we can plan group activities where kids with different learning styles work together. They can use their strengths to help someone else’s weaknesses. For example, the visual learner might record results of an experiment, while the kinesthetic learner dissects what no one else wants to touch.
The bottom line? Consider each child’s learning style, but be sure to add variety to his experiences. This approach not only keeps kids interested in learning, but will also increase their understanding, retention, and ability to actually use what they’ve learned.