Biology taught me how much learning styles can effect a student’s ability to memorize vocabulary. Not because I was studying biology, though. Because my son was.
My oldest son took Biology through a co-op class during his freshman year of high school. For the tests they were required to know at least twenty vocabulary definitions per unit, so I told him to study the words and I would quiz him. Unfortunately, when I quizzed him he didn’t remember very many. It was as if he hadn’t even seen the words before.
So we tried something else. This time I said the definition to him and he would repeat it back to me, back and forth, until he had them down. Why couldn’t he just read the definitions over and over instead of saying them over and over to learn them? My friend’s son was in the same class and could study the book, memorize the words quickly, and be ready for the test without saying them aloud. Why the difference?
Perhaps one of the biggest factors, besides interest in the subject, was a matter of learning styles. You see, my son is primarily an auditory learner. From the time he was a toddler he loved listening to audio books and wanted me to read aloud to him. Even as a college student today, he tends to forget to take notes in class because it distracts him from listening to the lecture.
There are many excellent books and resources on this topic (for example, The Way They Learn [affiliate link] by Cynthia Tobias) If you look up learning styles on the Internet, you’ll soon find there are multiple labels and theories about them. But my goal in this post is to give you a simple overview so you can consider what your own children’s learning styles are, and to help you in choosing resources and curriculum to meet their needs.
Learning styles are the ways, techniques, or manners in which we gain knowledge. One of the most common ways to categorize these styles is visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners.
Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines learning as “gaining knowledge by instruction or reading, by study, by experience or observation; acquiring skill by practice.” Each of these styles—visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners—can be clearly seen in Webster definition: Gaining knowledge by instruction (auditory) or reading (visual), by study, by experience (kinesthetic) or observation (visual); acquiring skill by practice (kinesthetic.)
- Learn best by seeing information
- Tend to remember things they read and write
- Sometimes close their eyes to “picture something” in their head
- May have trouble following verbal instructions
- Will often take notes when listening to a lecture
- Enjoy reading stories more than listening to them
- Like information presented in charts, diagrams, and other visual aids
- Watch demonstrations
- Use charts and graphs
- Create graphic organizers
- Memorize facts with flash cards
- Write down instructions
- Provide individual reading time each day
- Draw pictures
- Make notebook pages and lapbooks
- Write down narrations
- Learns best by hearing
- Enjoys listening to stories and music
- Remembers things that are said
- Needs verbal instructions
- Asks questions
- Participates in discussions
- Read aloud and take time for discussing the books
- Memorize math facts with music
- Listen to audio CDs and lectures
- Read instructions aloud
- Repeat vocabulary words and math facts back and forth to another person
- Narrate information and stories
- Learns best by moving or doing
- Enjoys playing sports or dancing
- Needs to be active
- Remembers things that they do
- Do experiments
- Take nature walks
- Memorize math facts by playing games
- Make up hand motions
- Build models
- Take things apart and put them back together
- Work jigsaw puzzles
- Play games to memorize math facts
- Create with clay
- Make lapbooks and notebook pages
- Act out a scene from a book for narration
Why Do Learning Styles Matter?
The most important thing to remember, though, isn’t a list of labels. Instead, realize each of your students is a unique individual. Because of this, they will have different interests, different ways in which they learn best, and specific preferences for how they learn—and one way isn’t any better than another. Does that sound overwhelming when you think about your family? Do you think, “How in the world can I teach them without running myself ragged?” Don’t worry! It can be done.
If a person prefers to learn by listening, that doesn’t mean he won’t learn anything by reading. If he loves hands-on activities, it doesn’t mean he can’t get anything out of an educational video. Actually, the more styles addressed with each learning experience will help any child to learn more effectively. People usually have more than one learning style, and certain ones may be more apparent during specific stages of life. For example, all young children will benefit from using concrete objects to learn math.
Though normally you’ll notice each of your children have a dominant learning style, they will still learn using the other styles. My son who learns so well with auditory methods is also a very good reader. Often, the most effective way to teach is to use a variety of styles in the same lesson. The more senses your students use, the better they will learn.
Just think of identifying students’ dominant learning styles as having insight into how they learn best. Consider it another tool in your educational tool box. You can use all the tools in the box, but sometimes you need that special one to help fix a specific problem—like when your student has to memorize a lot of biology words!
Choosing Resources and Curriculum Based on Learning Styles
So how does identifying your children’s learning style help you to choose which curriculum and resources to use? For one, if you have a student who is predominately a kinesthetic learner, you probably need to stay away from curriculums that don’t include any hands-on activities. If you have an auditory learner, a workbook-based curriculum might not be the best. If you have a visual learner, avoid learning a subject with only audio books.
The most effective curriculums use a variety of materials and methods and are adaptable to students with different learning styles.
So become a student of your students. Observe how they learn most effectively, then utilize that knowledge in how you teach them, and in what resources and curriculum you choose.