Learning Styles: Why They Matter

Have you ever been trying to remember something and found yourself pacing around the room?  Do you click your pen while trying to find the right words to close an email?  Do you tap your foot while watching an instructional video online?  If you relate to any of these items, you might be a kinesthetic learner.   This “fidgeting” is allowing you to better focus on the task at hand and retain the information you are trying to remember.  And while you may not have paid much attention to why you’re circling the table for the fifth time, that movement is helping you remember and retain the information you are learning.

For kinesthetic learners, walking around while reciting notes or using flashcards is a great way to help retain information.  Kinesthetic learners do best with frequent breaks and tend to focus better when they have something to fidget with.  Using a Tangle Jr. or stress ball can be a great way to help sustain focus and keep attention on the task at hand.

What Is Your Learning Style?

Are you someone who needs to “hear” new information in order to grasp it?  Do you prefer listening to audio tapes rather than reading new information?   If you find it best to listen to new information, you may be an auditory learner.  Auditory learners learn best by learning styleshearing.  They learn well in groups where they can talk about new information and hear it as well.  Auditory learners may want to record tapes to play back so they can hear the material they are studying.   Visual learners learn best by seeing.  Most visual learners prefer to study alone and do best in a quiet place.  Rewriting notes is a great tool for visual learners.  Using color to highlight main ideas, making smartcards, and previewing text by scanning the pictures and headings are great strategies for visual learners.

Why Are Learning Styles Important?

So what does it all mean and why is it important?  Most people have a preferred way to learn.  Some learn by listening, some have to observe every step, and others have to do it to learn it.  By finding out how you learn best you can better understand which tips and strategies will allow you to study more efficiently and effectively.  So how do you learn best?   How do your children learn best?  Have you noticed your child constantly fidgets or doodles while practicing spelling words?  Let him play with a stress ball when you’re working together and see if it helps.  Next time you’re trying to retain new information, try out some of these strategies and see if they help you better retain the information at hand.

Flummoxed by Failure — Or Focused?

I’ve always been fascinated by what motivates students.  As a teacher, my most challenging students weren’t those who had a hard time learning the concepts; they were the kids that gave up too easily.  And often times, when students give up they lose focus and motivation.  Many of these students think they’re simply not smart and that no matter what they do, they won’t be an A or B student.  They often have an “I don’t care” or “Why bother?” attitude.

As parents, seeing this struggle in our children is hard to take.  If you have a child who has a low frustration tolerance or is easy to give up, check out this article on learning, the brain, and intelligence.  I ran across it yesterday while reading the Wall Street Journal and immediately knew I wanted to share it with you!

But don’t stop there, share the article “You Can Grow Your Intelligence” with your child.  Psychologists at Stanford and Columbia found that when they used this article to teach a growth mind-set to 7th graders struggling in math, the students showed greater motivation in math class.  Have a comment?  Post it below or send an email.

Ann Dolin – [email protected]

Why won’t my child ask for help in class?

Tactics parents should avoid, and 3 powerful strategies to turn your child into a confident learner.

“My child won’t raise her hand in class! If she just asked her teacher for help, she wouldn’t be so frustrated with her homework.” If this sounds familiar, you are not alone. Asking for help is not easy for many bright, young students, especially in front of peers. The result can be long, disheartening homework sessions at night, or low test scores and a loss of self esteem down the road. The good news is, there are a few strategies which can make a huge difference:

  • Don’t Scold or Interrogate.

    • “Why didn’t you ask for help?” is a perfectly reasonable question, but it doesn’t teach your child the skills she needs to solve the problem.

    • The more uncomfortable or embarrassed a child feels, the less likely she is to have the confidence to ask for help from a parent or teacher when she has a problem.

Try these instead:

  • Role-play with your child to practice approaching a teacher for help.

    • Start by playing the role of the student, with your child playing the role of the teacher, and then switch.

    • Works especially well with young children.

    • Walking through what it’s like to ask for help shows your child that it’s nowhere near as stressful as they thought it would be, and they will start to realize that their teachers are happy to help.

  • Show them how to write an email to a teacher.

    • Model the email yourself first, but involve your child in the process.

    • Many older students already feel secure and familiar with the medium.

    • For hesitant students, avoids a lot of the stress and social pressures of a face-to-face interaction at school.

  • Location can make a big difference.

    • After school study halls aren’t the best environments for learning. With a mob of students asking for help, the child’s needs may not be addressed properly.

    • Try to arrange a teacher meet-up away from peers in a more relaxed environment. Comfort is an enormous factor in learning and problem solving.

Ultimately, one-on-one instruction is ideal. Whether it is with a teacher, a parent, or a tutor, one-on-one education is the best possible learning situation. It provides more opportunity for positive reinforcement and personalized, specific instruction in a relaxed environment. One-on-one instruction is the best, most comfortable way to learn for many students and generally leads to an academic career of confident problem solving and strong report cards. If you can make the time, the benefits can be academically life-changing for a child.

Ann K. Dolin, M.Ed., is the founder of Educational Connections Tutoring in Fairfax and Bethesda. Her award-winning book, Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools and Solutions for Stress-Free Homework, she offers proven solutions to help make homework less of a chore for the whole family. Learn more at ectutoring.com.

Why Is Reading So Hard for Some Kids?

Picture two students, side by side, reading a fairytale from a storybook.  One student easily reads with expression and enthusiasm, “Once Upon a Time”.  The other student slowly reads “On up a tim.”  Both students live in the same neighborhood, have educated parents that read to them at night, and were exposed to literature at a young age.  So why can the one read and the other cannot?  Is it a fairytale story to think that reading is a natural process?  The answer is “yes”.

How Prevelant Is the Problem?

Almost 20% of children have a reading problem that impacts their ability to learn to read through traditional teaching methods. Most reading instruction in American classrooms is taught through the whole language approach where students are expected to learn to read naturally through exposure to literature.  While this methodology works with many students, it doesn’t work for all.  Critics of the whole language approach state that students also need phonics-based instruction.

Reid Lyon, the former head of National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, makes a valid point by questioning why there are so many illiterate adults and children if reading were a natural process.  According to a recent article in TIME magazine, there are almost 3 million students in special education classes specifically because they cannot read.

Most have a reading disorder, such as dyslexia.   In many instances, the student demonstrates strong reading comprehension, but there is a specific glitch in sounding words out (decoding). Because reading is a combination of decoding and comprehension, a student’s decoding skills are vital to the reading process. To learn to decode a student needs to be able to understand that individual sounds make up words.  Thus, a reading disability that is not based in comprehension is occurring at the basic letter/sound level.  Students aren’t able to quickly pull apart sounds and blend them together.  And interestingly, because reading and spelling are related, a red flag for dyslexia is poor spelling.

What’s Causing Such Difficulty?

Scientific data points to specific neurobiological differences between normal readers and those with dyslexia.  Brain scans show that those with a reading disorder process information from the frontal lobe, while normally-functioning readers process information from the posterior region, the part of the brain that makes reading automatic.  When this occurs, students compensate by relying heavily on memorizing words because they can’t sound them out fast enough.  While this compensatory strategy helps get kids through a school year, without proper treatment, these children flounder as they encounter new, more challenging text.  As students age, they will continue to struggle to decode, however, this does improve with time.  The most significant residual effect of their untreated reading problem is very slow reading.

What Can Be Done?

Twenty years of research demonstrates that we can remediate almost all reading disabilities.  Assessment of a student’s letter/sound knowledge as early as the kindergarten and first grade is key.

Too often the excuse of a developmental lag is given and that eventually Johnny will “catch up”.  Statistics state that 76% of students with an untreated reading problem never do catch up.  Waiting to seek help is not the answer.  When help is given in 4th grade rather than in kindergarten when weaknesses were first spotted, it takes four times as long to improve the same skills by the same amount.  Although it may take longer to remediate a reading problem in a middle or high school student, we do know it can be done.

One-to-one reading instruction or small group instruction is considered the best approach. Explicit instruction is the most powerful way to improve reading. The focus should be on decoding, fluency, and ultimately, comprehension.

In the 1930s, Dr. Samuel Orton and Anna Gillingham developed an approach to reading, a ‘course of action’ if you will, to provide reading instruction.  Their method is still the gold standard used today.  The Orton-Gillingham approach is multisensory (instruction taps into the visual, auditory and kinesthetic domains) because this approach aids the processing, retention and application of information.

Although scientific evidence proves that reading is not a natural process for many, obstacles can be overcome.  With the right instruction, these students will be able to open up their books and be whisked away to magical lands.