You’ve probably heard the term “learning styles,” but have you really thought about what it means for your child? Is it something fixed in us innately, or is it something that changes over time? Do children with certain learning styles learn better than others? Are there ways we can use a child’s learning style to help him or her really excel?
Learning styles have been a heavily debated topic in the education world for a while now. In the past, they were a popular method to determine the ways a child learns best, but there has been some controversy in recent years about whether it makes sense to place children in certain “boxes” and limit them to specific ways of learning. We don’t think it needs to be so black and white.
In our learning center at La Jolla LearningWorks, we often talk about a specific student’s learning style because it gives us information about how we can adapt our teaching to get the best outcome. In our one-on-one setting, we have the luxury of being able to provide a child with a more tailored approach than a classroom teacher who has to appeal to many students during one lesson. In our center, many of our students are the ones who typically struggle in a classroom setting, and because we’ve had the ability to individually evaluate these students, we’ve seen the value and benefits that understanding learning styles can have. We see students improve and become successful learners after discovering what makes their learning approach different from other students and what study skills can help them succeed.
Recently, when working with a high school student who is still learning English, I quickly realized what types of words, sentences, and new information he was not grasping right away due to the language barrier. Without having the vocabulary to readily understand my spoken lessons, I shifted my approach to more visual strategies. I started drawing illustrations and Googling images online to demonstrate new vocabulary words and concepts, and watched the light bulb go off as the language started to click for him.
There are many ways to identify your learning style. Most methods involve some sort of written test with questions about specific learning situations. Some tests have responded to the controversy against the “one-size-fits-all” learning style approach by scoring in a way that highlights each of the student’s stronger styles, as well as their weaker ones. Instead of receiving one score that represents your only learning style, one receives a score in each of the four categories and higher numbers are closer to the person’s best learning styles. This way someone can see the areas they struggle with more than others and can cater their own learning to their strengths, while also working to improve their weaknesses. This scaled approach also works to avoid creating a fixed mindset, and instead allows one to maintain a growth mindset throughout a variety of learning environments.
The four main learning styles typically identified are as follows:
Visual: Visual learners process information best when it is conveyed through graphics, such as images, maps, and graphic organizers.
Auditory: Auditory learners process information best through lectures and group discussions, when listening and speaking are the main methods of teaching.
Read and Write: Some individuals learn best through written words – both in reading and writing. Students with this strength tend to take detailed notes and can express more abstract concepts well in writing.
Kinesthetic: Students who are kinesthetic learners are hands-on learners and learn best through more physical activity and real-life experiences (i.e. figuring out things work by taking them apart and putting them back together.)
There are a few other less common ones including Logical (mathematically oriented), Social (working well in groups), Solitary (working well by oneself), etc., but the idea is that students can show a strong preference for one particular learning style or fit into some combination of the main four.
You can probably take a good guess at which learning styles classroom teachers accommodate best. It can take a lot of time and creative effort for teachers to come up with innovative teaching materials, when instead they could just lecture on what they know and hope the students grasp some of it. This ends up creating a natural learning environment where auditory learners have the advantage in the classroom. Unfortunately for the non-dominant learning styles, it can be difficult to get the more creative and hands-on resources they might need to be successful in this environment.
Given the reality for students with different learning styles to experience the auditory dominant environment for a large portion of their education, it’s our job as parents and educators to personalize a student’s learning experiences as much as we can.
Here are some really great ways students can benefit from knowing their learning style preferences:
- Study smarter, not harder. You can go online and find tons of great generalized study tips, but if you can identify your learning style preferences, you can find specific ways that work best for how your brain processes information. You may be able to substitute re-reading the textbook a million times for listening to the lecture instead, or drawing your own visual aid instead of using the one the teacher handed out. This can make studying more effective and boost a child’s confidence in their abilities.
- This knowledge can give you a head start with new material and maximize your learning potential in and out of the classroom. Students with non-dominant learning preferences can preview classroom material with an approach that better suits them. For instance, looking up images or watching a movie about a particular event in history prior to the lecture on that topic.
- Feeling enabled to succeed in elementary school or middle school can set children up for success in high school, college, and post-graduation career searching.
- It allows you to approach standardized tests meant to rate everyone on the same scale, in a customized way, hopefully increasing overall scores.
- It shows you how you can overcome the limitations of poor instructors. Occasionally in life, we come across teachers that inspire less growth and creativity than we hope for, and knowing your own best methods can help work through some of these tough situations.
- It also reduces stress overall, and the frustration of being thrown into new learning environments with little support. It allows us to have a more positive relationship with new experiences and expand our comfortable learning zones.
Learning Style Benefits Outside the Classroom
At La Jolla LearningWorks, we’ve always believed in exploring more nontraditional learning methods, and summer is a great time to explore a more hands-on approach to learning about the world. Knowing your learning style can improve the ways in which you learn and process information in everyday activities.
Some of the ways your learning style can promote personal growth include:
- Increasing self-confidence and self-image
- Giving you insight into how your brain processes emotions and relationships with others
- Helping you understand your strengths, weaknesses, and habits
- Enabling you to enjoy the learning process by finding a personal connection to new information
- Inspiring greater curiosity and motivation for lifelong learning
- Improving chances of success in the professional world once you are in tune with your own strengths and weaknesses
Keeping these reasons in mind, getting to know your learning style is similar to any other form of self-discovery, in that it is most helpful when you find yourself struggling in certain areas. Similar to diagnosing a student with ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, or any other learning difference, understanding learning styles can also encourage a student to learn in a customized way, even amid a classroom of different learners.
Discovering students’ classroom learning styles is key when it comes to a child’s academic development, but with summer around the corner, we wanted to share a list of activities students can engage in over the summer to continue addressing those weaknesses and enhancing strengths. Summer is an awesome time for students to take a break from the classroom, and really encourage creative learning. Students don’t have much control over what they learn during the school year, so taking advantage of this unscheduled time to learn about things that interest them can have a significant effect on their future classroom success.
For Visual Learners, try these summer activities:
- Go to plays and art exhibits/museums. These activities are visually stimulating, and hopefully inspire students to ask creative questions, and embrace their artistic side.
- Go on Photo Adventures. Encourage your child to try out different photography ideas exploring your local area and looking for interesting subjects. Put together a collage at the end of the summer showing the adventures you took together.
- Schedule reading time, or create a summer reading challenge. Students can practice note-taking and summary-writing to improve reading comprehension skills.
- Encourage your child to write an alternate ending, or a script for a sequel to a book. Some local libraries have fun summer reading challenges, or you can create your own with a board game template and prizes!
For Auditory Learners, try these summer activities:
- Audiobooks! Download the Audible app, or Learning Ally, and start putting together books of interest (goodreads.com is helpful for making reading lists). Your child can scan texts for new vocabulary in order to strengthen comprehension when listening and reading. Engage with your child by discussing comprehension questions together; discuss summaries and predictions for each chapter. You can even create projects around books like drawings, acting out scenes, collages, and 3-D presentations.
- Explore music history. Create playlists of specific genres or artists. Try going low-tech and using a CD or record player to collect and listen to albums. It can be fun and eye-opening to explore the art of the album arrangement without the distractions of a phone or computer.
- Listen to TED Talks. Use interesting TED Talks to develop note-taking skills and discuss deeper topics. Here are a few TED Talks you can share with your child to get them started:
For Read and Write Learners, try these summer activities:
- Start or join a book club. Get your child involved in a local book club where they can learn to take notes and discuss important themes of their favorite books, and find new ones to explore.
- Practice creative writing exercises. Have your child write short stories, or silly fiction to keep their creative minds working in a fun way during the summer.
- Research a new topic to write about. Ask if your child has been eager to learn about anything new, like an interesting animal, news article, or hobby they’d like to try.
- Have them write down some questions they’d like to know, then do the research and put together a written and/or visual report to share with their friends and family!
For Kinesthetic Learners, try these summer activities:
- Research recipes to try cooking together. Practice finding recipes, reading, discussing, planning ingredients and timing, measuring, and executing recipes to create something new and delicious.
- Go to museums with interactive exhibits. Check out your local science museums, children’s museums, and other hands-on museums to explore exhibits your child can have interactive learning connections with.
- Travel and visit historical sites. Collect brochures, take lots of pictures, interact with experts of the places you visit. Your child can take their photos and new knowledge to create their own version of a brochure to share with friends and family.
- Go hiking, nature walking, tide-pooling, snorkeling, etc. Collect rocks, seashells, and other specimens (check what is allowed to be taken first) to examine and experience nature first hand.
For each of these activities, it’s a great idea to encourage discussion beforehand, make predictions for what might happen or what you might see, as well as reflections afterwards. What did you like/dislike? What was surprising to you? What things would you want to do again and why? Asking and answering lots of questions builds further interest and develops lasting memories!
There is undeniable value in encouraging children to engage in all kinds of stimulating activities throughout the summer. Although the idea of learning styles is not one that is fully accepted by everyone, we also believe in the importance of balance. Most students will fall into more than one learning style category, so it’s always a good idea to explore options in the different areas. A child might enjoy occasionally trying an activity from one of their weaker areas to work on strengthening it, while still being allowed to choose activities that express their strengths. It can be beneficial to recognize and explore all different methods of receiving and processing information to make the best of your child’s abilities and learning potential.
To find out your personal learning style, you can take one of these popular tests:
It’s also useful to remember that many children benefit from some sort of academic stimulation over the summer in addition to fun activities. If you are noticing gaps in any of your child’s fundamental academic skills, we offer some great educational therapy programs that can help fill in those gaps in fun, engaging ways outside of the structured school environment. Call our office for a free consultation to discuss your child’s individual needs and possibilities!
About the Authors
Megan Trezza, M.Ed. is the founder and CEO of La Jolla LearningWorks, a private learning center based in La Jolla, California, that focuses on individualized 1:1 educational coaching to bring each student to his or her full achievement potential. As an educational therapist, she believes that all students can learn with the right approach. In 2009, Megan created La Jolla LearningWorks as a space where different learners can receive the personal attention they need to discover their capability to become successful learners. Please reply here to connect with Megan or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/LaJollaLearningWorks.
Olivia Demers is an educational coach at La Jolla LearningWorks. She received her MS in Applied Mathematics from the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. During college she was a Resident Advisor working students to improve their academic, job, and social skills for success in post-graduation life. After graduating, she taught English, math, and science to second-language third graders in Thailand. Olivia loves working one-on-one at La Jolla LearningWorks, getting to know her students’ individual strengths and needs and guiding them to love learning as much as she does.