Coordinate Your Child’s Study Habits with How They Learn Best
By Emily Parks
With the school year now in full swing, no doubt many parents are spending their evenings helping their children with homework. But, aside from patiently reading spelling words aloud, creating math flash cards, and proofreading book reports, is there anything else parents can do to help their children with studying and homework?
For starters, knowing a child’s basic learning style—be it visual, auditory, or tactile—can help a parent better understand how that child processes information and, thus, help him or her in creating effective study techniques for the child. (There are actually more than just these three learning styles, but, for the purposes of this article, we’ll stick to the basic three.)
Clare Kruft, an instructional coach at Norwood Elementary School in Baltimore, describes learning styles as “the different ways to get sensory input into your brain.”
“For years, educators have been thinking about their lessons and how students learn via each learning style to help them teach successfully,” she says. “Now, we’re seeing that it’s actually correlating with the brain research on how children learn.”
So, what are the differences among visual, auditory, and tactile learning styles?
Visual learners “learn really well, obviously, by sight,” explains Stephanie Martini, director of the Sylvan Learning Center, a tutoring and enrichment program in Towson. “They’re very good at reading directions, they love charts, maps, and drawing, and they enjoy doing their work on the chalkboard in school.”
According to Martini, visual learners also tend to possess strong reading comprehension skills. Since these learners process information visually, including by reading, they read more often which improves their comprehension.
Auditory learners, by contrast, she says, are students who learn best by using sounds and listening. These students do well in “lecture-type classes and are very conversational.”
Beth Ryan, a certified learning specialist in Lutherville, adds that auditory learners enjoy hearing directions being read to them. “They’re constantly talking to you and asking questions,” she notes. “When faced with a problem, they like to talk it out.”
Tactile learners, meanwhile, learn through doing, says Martini. In other words, they thrive with hands-on learning practices.
“They dive into [a project] and are able to take things apart and put them back together,” Martini says. “They’re typically better at the computer, because using it is very tactile. They think outside of the box, figuring things out frontwards and backwards, but don’t really do well when given straightforward directions.”
Ryan adds that these learners may have a hard time sitting still, a behavior, of course, that typically does not lend well to sitting at a desk and doing pencil and paper tasks in the classroom.
But how does a parent go about determining which learning style his or her child prefers?
Kruft suggests observing what the child likes to do, noting, for example, “If your child really likes listening to stories, that is more auditory.”
If he or she gravitates more toward drawing and creating art, she says, that is more visual.
Ryan likewise suggests that parents take note of the activities their child has enjoyed most since an early age. Does the child like to sit still and look at books? He or she might be a visual learner. Does he or she ask a ton of questions in the car and quickly jump from one activity to the next? He or she may be a tactile learner. And, what about the child who loves to sing songs? He or she could be an auditory learner.
Match Style to Technique
Once you’ve determined the learning style your child seems to prefer, what are the best study techniques to encourage for him or her?
For the visual learner, color-coding study items can be a big help. Kruft suggests using highlighters not only to highlight notes but to color-code different categories of work or subjects. “Checklists are always very good,” Martini adds. “They thrive with them—writing down lists and having them check agendas.”
Note cards also can be a helpful tool. Ryan suggests using them, for instance, to learn the state capitals, writing the name of the state on one side of the card and its capital on the other.
When it comes to auditory learners, Kruft says it can be helpful to talk about what a student is studying. Good auditory strategies include having your child record him or herself talking about key ideas he or she is trying to learn. Also, chanting or singing the information can be helpful, she says. In fact, there are study aids available that have students sing their multiplication tables—much like the concept behind the Schoolhouse Rock! television segments of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, which taught a variety of lessons through song.
Martini also suggests using a timer for auditory learners, telling them they have 10 minutes, for example, to do their math homework before the buzzer goes off.
“It gives them a little bit more focus, because they’re listening for the ticking,” she explains.
Martini also suggests encouraging these children to practice spelling words out loud, perhaps while riding in the car, instead of just writing them out on paper.
As for tactile learners, Kruft warns that they tend to “struggle the most in school since, as they get older, the lessons just naturally start focusing more on reading and listening to get information. There are fewer chances for moving around and learning in a kinetic way.”
However, she adds, once they connect key ideas with movement, tactile learners can thrive academically.
At her school, Kruft says, teachers will sometimes use a strategy for tactile learners called Support It, which requires the student to find or prove the answers he or she gives by searching them out in his or her textbook. She adds that tactile students might also benefit from creating a cheer or acting out each step of looking for an answer.
When teaching early math concepts to a tactile learner, such as counting, Martini suggests that parents have the child practice with pennies so they “have something there to put their hands on.”
She also encourages parents of tactile learners to “have checklists and time limits” for their child, tools that can help add more structure to their learning.
“They’re the ones who are more likely to need [these tools],” Martini says, noting that such structure often does not come naturally to these students.
Martini further suggests using learning games on the computer and giving these children items to hold while they’re learning. Even something as simple as playing with Silly Putty while doing homework can help a tactile learner focus.
Ryan concurs. “They’re not playing instead of learning,” says Ryan. “Using that Silly Putty is actually helping them concentrate.”
Finally, no matter what they may believe their child’s learning style is, Ryan urges parents to communicate their perception to their child’s teacher.
“Write a letter to the teacher saying, ‘This is what I’ve observed with my child, and here are some suggestions of things that have worked in the past,’” Ryan says. “As parents, we advocate for our children by letting the teacher know what we have seen so the teacher doesn’t spend the first few months of school trying to figure out how our child works.” BC
For More Information
Baltimore County Public Schools has put together a chart of learning styles online, at www.bcps.org/offices/lis/models/tips/styles.html. The chart illustrates the various aspects of visual, auditory, and tactile learning styles, among others.
© Baltimore’s Child Inc. October 2010