Marcy stared at the worksheet on her desk and sighed. She just couldn’t figure out her homework instructions. Her mom told her to read the instructions again, although this never helped. Eventually, as usual, her mom ended up explaining what needed to be done. Every day Marcy struggled with her homework, and every day she ended up fighting with her mom about it.
When I checked Marcy’s learning styles, I discovered that one of her Modality strengths is Verbal. Because of this I suspected that she needed to hear her own voice in order to understand what is written. I encouraged her to read written instructions out loud – more than once if needed – and it worked! She began to understand the instructions well enough to complete most of her homework without any help. This in turn made her much more confident about approaching all of her work.
Jim could not memorize the math facts. His parents had tried flash cards, timed drills, offered rewards and taken away privileges. Nothing worked. Jim was miserable. Every Friday, the day of the math test, he developed a horrible headache and was sick to his stomach. His grades were beginning to slip in other classes as well as math.
Jim’s learning styles assessment revealed that he has a Spontaneous Disposition and is talented in areas involving Body Coordination. I suggested that he practice reciting the facts while bouncing a ball or jumping on a trampoline. This met Jim’s need for learning through movement; he began remembering more and more of the math facts and slowly his scores improved!
Lydia was having great difficulty with the concept of fractions. In our first tutoring session we sat on the floor – Lydia, mom, and I – and I brought out a set of foam fraction circles. These are cut into different numbers of slices, like you would slice a pie or pizza.
I asked Lydia to make circles out of the different parts. Each time she formed a circle she positioned it over another one she had already formed. Now she could see that they all made a whole circle – 3 slices of 3, 5 slices of 5, 2 slices of 2, etc. – and I could see the delighted look on her face!
All of a sudden Lydia burst out saying: “How come math is fun here?” Her mom was surprised to see such a change in just a few minutes of “playing” with the foam pieces.
Each person, child and adult, learns in a unique way. The idea that people are different in fundamental ways is not new. The ancient Greeks developed a system for classifying people into four types or personalities based on body chemistry, which was thought to determine temperaments, mental qualities, and abilities. Since ancient times people have been interested in finding out more about how these differences affect us. Over the years, it has become more apparent that fundamental differences, or styles, not only influence our behaviors, but greatly affect how we learn.
The work of researchers and educators has raised awareness of the importance of individual styles for learning. As a result, the terms temperament, modality, multi-sensory, emotional intelligence, and multiple intelligences have become familiar to parents and teachers as well as the crucial role of learning styles in educating our young people.
The examples above demonstrate that often it doesn’t take much to shift a student from non-success to success for a particular area of learning.
Small changes can make a big difference. Stay tuned for more examples!