Do You Know How Your Child Learns Best?
by Barbara Prashnig
All children, particularly young ones, are keen to discover the world and eager to learn. But when they go to school, something happens to their hunger for learning: some children excel at learning, most become good students but too many seem to be left behind. Some children – more often boys than girls – develop into underachievers, even turn into rebels and in the worst case become drop-outs. I’d like to describe the reasons but what’s more important, offer workable solutions.
Traditional beliefs about learning create school failure
Despite excellent schools and dedicated teachers too many students struggle more than once during their schooling years, mainly in academic, scientific subjects. One of the reasons is that most education institutions are too traditional and classroom teaching is still frontal with emphasis on listening and reading and not enough stimulation for all the senses. The underlying believe is that children can learn best sitting upright at a desk in brightly lit classrooms, looking at the teacher, listening to the lesson and taking notes. This ‘one-fits-all’ approach and the ‘teaching to the test’ strategy are supposed to bring school success. But for many students the opposite is a harsh reality: they become frustrated, lose motivation, fall behind and ultimately fail, or just make it, having lost the joy of learning in the process.
Small is beautiful
It might sound peculiar, but such small things like chairs or light levels play an important role. Scientific research tells us that sitting upright on a hard chair places too much strain on our whole body. Think about it: when you sit, approximately 75% of your body weight has to be supported by only 10 square centimetres of bone. No wonder children feel uncomfortable and wriggle on their chairs! Many would study a lot better if they were allowed to sit on beanbags, cushions or at home on a couch or lying on the bed! And bright light can be the cause of stress in a young child or teenager whose preference is to study in a low light area. As to the listening in class, that’s not everybody’s preference either, because listening to subject content in lecture-type situations goes against many children’s Learning Styles.
The importance of Learning Styles (LS)
Every person has a unique way of absorbing and understanding new and/or difficult information - called Learning Style. Children learn new things every day. When left to their own devices, they will instinctively learn the way that works best for them: in other words, they will learn using their own unique LS. But when they go to school, they are suddenly forced to learn in a way that’s accepted by the education system. Unfortunately, the officially endorsed, traditional methods are not always the optimal way for every student to learn best. This mismatch in Learning and Teaching Styles leads to children physically not being able to concentrate in the classroom, and as a result become ‘disruptive and difficult’, often ‘poor performers’ or long-term underachievers. The problem continues at home - children don't want to do homework and resent school. Therefore it’s important not only for teachers but also for parents to know about Learning Styles.
Is there a typical Learning Style of a typical child?
When it comes to Learning Styles, there is no such thing as typical. There are 49 elements in the LS Pyramid Model, and together they can form literally millions of combinations.
Besides, Learning Styles are not about labelling. Labelling is deceptive - it would be easy to label pupils as ‘Visual’, ‘Auditory’ or ‘Kinesthetic’ learners as many other LS models do and then teach them accordingly. But it doesn’t work like this, would certainly be misleading and inappropriate because styles are a complex combination of style features which interact. Many change during childhood, some remain stable over a life time, others change frequently and human beings also have flexibilities which is a strength in itself.
Here is an example of the Learning Style of a child
Let’s take Katie, who is eight. She loves reading and completing jigsaw puzzles. Her teacher says she has a lot of potential, but she simply doesn’t want to learn, although she likes to read. In class, she’d forever looking down, playing with her fingers or pens, folding the corners of her note books, or doodling on the margins. The teacher says this proves she’s not listening. In fact, Katie is listening. She’s trying to listen so hard, she has to keep her hands busy to stay concentrated. In LS terminology, we would say that Katie is a visual (word-based) and tactile learner, with a non-preference for auditory information intake. But of course that’s only a small portion of Tanya’s Learning Style: we don’t yet know whether she has analytic or holistic tendencies, what her environmental preferences are, whether she needs sound or quiet, bright or dim light, likes to learn alone or in a group, what motivates her, what her persistence is like, whether she needs guidance or routine in learning and so on. Only the results of an LS assessment can provide the appropriate answers.
What is the best way for a parent to analyse their child’s Learning Style?
By going to the LOGIN and letting the child answer the age-appropriate online questionnaire. After submitting the responses you can immediately download the Personal LSA Profile as a PDF document.
Any advice for readers who have teenagers?
Yes, after primary school years which are mostly enjoyable for students, many teenagers are experiencing high school as difficult and unpleasant. They struggle with academic learning, become frustrated, often begin to hate school and switch off from learning. This is a clear sign of mismatched Learning Styles and parents need to learn about LS to understand how they can help and give support. For these reasons we have created the LSA-Swift instrument for teenagers which is a great source of information not only for the youngsters themselves, but also for teachers and parents alike. It helps to understand the true natural learning needs of young people during puberty and provides practical advice about learning strategies to support them during these often difficult years of their school career. Accept that teenagers are not mini-adults, they are often confused young people going through profound changes but still want to do thing 'their way'.
Less stress around homework
In any case, no matter how old your children are, a knowledge of Learning Styles will help them understand themselves better and assist teachers to support their learning more effectively. But maybe most importantly, it will make home life easier because the stress around homework and test or exam preparation will be greatly reduced and communication between parents and children improved.
I know what I’m talking about – my daughter was a brilliant underachiever as a teenager and I wish I would have known about Learning Styles back then!
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About Barbara Prashnig
Professor Barbara Prashnig, a pioneer und visionary in the field of style diversity in leaning and working as well as professional development. Her passion is to help people in difficult situations succeeding through better self knowledge. She is the Founding Director and CEO of Creative Learning Systems in Auckland, New Zealand.