While studying for my teaching degree in London, England, we were re-educated on how the “empty vessel model” of student knowledge acquisition was no longer valid or relevant. Historically, students were perceived as empty glasses or “vessels” and it was the job of teachers to “fill” them with “knowledge”. Lessons involved a scripted delivery of information whereby students were expected to “drink it all in” via listening and/or taking notes.
We know now that this is certainly not the case.
The idea that every student learns differently has gained widespread recognition in education theory and classroom management strategy. Learning is now viewed as a complex process, influenced by an individual’s own cognitive, emotional and environmental factors, as well as prior experience.
It is not my intent here to bore you with loads of research and data, but several studies have shown that accommodating a child’s learning style can significantly increase his or her performance at school. The aim of this post is to share some of my insight as a teacher, and to equip you with some practical knowledge on how you can figure out what type of learner your child is, along with some strategies to help support them at home.
What are the different types of Learning Styles?
The term “learning styles” speaks to the understanding that every student learns differently. Technically, an individual’s learning style refers to the preferential way in which the student absorbs, processes, comprehends and retains information.
Everyone knows that students are extremely diverse. No two students are alike, including their personality, ability, disability, gender, cultural background and beyond.
For example, when learning how to build something, some students understand the process by:
- Following verbal instructions read aloud by a teacher or instructor
- Experimenting with and manipulating the parts themselves, particularly with their hands
- Using visual guidance, like a map or set of instructions with pictures
Based on these observations, researchers have formed three different categories of learning styles, called VAK for short:
V is for VISUAL:
- Visual learners recieve 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
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 kinaesthetic activity
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.
Knowing how your child likes to learn and how they best process information is an invaluable tool that you can use to help him/her do better at school. It may also help to foster a lifelong love of learning. Teachers do their best to accommodate the variety of learning styles in their classroom, but starting to think about the way your child learns at home and using some strategies to aid them can help too.
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.
Spend a few minutes today with your budding scholar and find out what type of learner they are 🙂