Six Children and No Theories

Covering parenting and child development issues

More than One Way to Learn a Lesson

Written by Lisa Lawmaster Hess, Community Blogger | Feb 22, 2013 8:44 AM

"Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young." (Henry Ford)

A couple weeks ago, my daughter came home from school excited by a presentation the counselors had done in her classroom. The topic? Learning styles. The students had taken an inventory and identified their predominant learning style and the counselors had given them information that outlined the best ways to study, categorized by style. At home, our conversation was punctuated by phrases like "Look at this one!" and "I do this!" and "This is so me!"

Earlier this week, I blogged about finding inspiration at the gym when a walk on the treadmill triggered a flood of ideas that created enough work to keep me busy for the rest of the week. Around the same time, I read an article in my alumni magazine on The Death of the Lecture, which cited examples of hands-on learning in college classrooms, typically a bastion of the traditional lecture format.

Learning styles aren't a new concept, and as an educator, I'm a firm believer in the idea that we don't all learn in the same way. And if I want proof, I don't need to look farther than my own home. When my daughter spreads out all of her study materials in the living room, then proceeds to add music to the mix while I'm in the office a few feet away (a great idea when she was little and I wanted to monitor her television viewing a bit more closely - much less appealing now!), I find myself channeling my own mother as I tell my daughter to "turn that down!" My husband, too, has little difficulty reading against the backdrop of music or television, leaving me to stalk our house, feeling a lot like Oscar the Grouch, as I desperately try to find a quiet place to work.

As parents, we often assume our children will adopt learning styles similar to our own. We don't always make this assumption consciously, but by modeling and provision, we set things up in a way that sends our kids the message that we expect them to do things the way we do them. Sometimes they will. And sometimes, they need to do something dramatically different.

A kinesthetic learner, my daughter needs to pace when she studies - and music actually helps her. The visual learner may need an arsenal of highlighters, the auditory learner taped lectures and conversation to solidify concepts. Felder and Soloman talk about learning styles in terms like "intuitive" and "sequential." Howard Gardner prefers the term "multiple intelligences." 

But these theorists are just the tip of the iceberg. Information on learning styles abounds - the inventories, the descriptions, the strategies - all are available online. The simple combination of a little reading and a lot of at-home observation can help parents to quickly understand what comes most naturally to their child. Although we'd employed some off-beat techniques for homework in the past (playing hopscotch to learn tricky spelling words in first grade, for example) and encouraged our daughter to experiment with strategies to find the ones that work, I now realize that I dropped the ball on what arguably comes most easily to me - discussing it with her.

Why bother? Because helping our kids to understand themselves and the way they tick leads to self-acceptance, self-confidence and the ability to advocate for themselves as they go through both school and life thereafter. Understanding the ways they are smart helps our kids to combat self-doubt when they don't pick up a particular concept as quickly or in quite the same way as a classmate. And, from a practical perspective, learning how to study now while we're there to catch them if they fall, will help them to figure out what works best when they've outgrown our homework reminders and grade checks.

I started this post on my laptop at Starbucks, as I often do. I streamed music from my iPod, as I sometimes do. I took the occasional break on Facebook and email when the words ran dry. In the end, I needed to close the laptop, leave the public place and come home to finish this where it was quiet, and where I could get up and walk around if I got stuck. That's my learning style, and forcing myself to stay put and do what wasn't working would have meant taking much longer than necessary to accomplish the task at hand.

That's just how I roll. And we need to help our kids understand how they roll because school may end, but learning styles linger.


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Comments: 4

  • claudzilla5 img 2013-02-27 14:15

    Another great one, Liz. I know I'm going to see this playing out soon, because my first-grader seems to fit well into the traditional school-friendly learning style, with some added visual flair thrown in for good measure. (All her stories have illustrations, whether that's part of the assignment or not.) Her little brother, soon to head to kindergarten, seems to be more of a kinesthetic learner, which will require more flexibility on our part, and on the part of his teaachers.
    Thanks for the reminder to include THEM in the conversations about who they are and how they think and learn.

    • Lisa Lawmaster Hess img 2013-02-28 22:47

      It's not unusual to see that gender difference! And girls tend to be people/teacher pleasers much more than boys...which also contributes to their ability to meld themselves to the more traditional styles.

  • claudzilla5 img 2013-02-27 14:16

    And, of course, by Liz, I meant - Lisa! Sheesh.

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