Our Unique Learners

When it comes to learning how to read well there is no magic approach. Every child is unique and what works to improve the reading skills of one reader may not work with another. The good news is that the human brain is unique to each individual and this fact makes for a very interesting world. The bad news, however, involves the sometimes challenging task of determining what will work best for each individual.

At school, the differences among the students present a challenge to the teachers. It is not easy to meet the needs of a group of individuals within a given space of time. You can see how your role as a parent is very important here. You not only have information about your child that will be helpful to the teacher, but you also have an opportunity to work one on one with your child. The information that you exchange with your child’s teacher will provide you with a good place to start. Possibly you might learn that your child needs visual cues such as pictures, graphs, charts, etc. to help him with comprehension. You then set out to reinforce that in your work sessions, but may also find that you need to incorporate specific types of graphs and charts. Your search for what works best may not end there. There are many other things to consider. We will take a look at these things now.

Different Ways of Processing Information

It is a documented fact that the human brain processes different types of information simultaneously in very personal and unique ways. This is a huge fact when working with children! Just like they all seem to have a different shoe size, they all seem to take in information and use it differently. What a challenge this is in the classroom and at home.

I have three children, two step children and nine grand children. Guess what? Each one is very different and each one learns in different ways. I often have said that it is amazing that my three children all grew up in the same household! How could this be? Well, the how is out of my control but the what to do is not.

 Let me give you an example to further illustrate this point. Each one of us has a different level of being convinced about ideas and learning new skills and / or facts. The difference usually is found in three factors.

 #1 We all seem to differ in the number of times something needs to be repeated in order to accept it and thus learn it. 

 #2 We all have a different need for the duration between the intervals of the repetition and

 #3 We all seem to learn things best in different ways or styles (sometimes referred to as learning styles). 

For example, I may review the phonic rule that refers to the silent “e” sound. For one of my sons once may be enough, for the other maybe three or four times. For my daughter maybe once maybe five times. She seems to fluctuate in this area. The duration or time between the repetitions better be very brief for one of my boys but it can be somewhat longer for the other. My daughter, well it can take a very long time and that is fine. When it comes to learning styles, verbal instructions for one son, visual representations for the other and I better act it out with Megan! 

What do we mean by learning styles?

When we talk about learning styles we are referring to the best ways that individuals learn. We can repeat instructions and ideas a number of times and we can alter the length of time between each repetition, however, it is most important that we are aware of the best or dominant ways that our children actually learn or understand the instructions / ideas. 

For example, your child may need to see a picture or some type of visual representation of an idea. You may need to use gestures more frequently and convey feelings through visual expressions. Possibly you will need to rely on very well articulated speech and additional audio aids such as tape recordings. It is also possible that you may need to demonstrate ideas through movement as much as possible. So, in other words your child may learn best through…

1) The use of visual examples,            (Visual Learner)

2) The use of audio examples or         (Auditory Learner)

3) The use of physical movement.      (Kinesthetic Learner)

What is your child’s learning style?

Now that we have defined what is meant by learning styles, you may be wondering how to determine which one best describes the way your child learns best. Here are a couple of things that you can look for:  

1)      When you introduce a new word to your child does he do best by just looking at the word, sounding it out or writing it?

2)      When your child is learning a new skill like putting words in alphabetical order or outlining chapters does he do best when talking about it, viewing examples / pictures or just by simply doing it? 

So, if seeing the word works best for your child his dominant learning style would be vusual. If listening works best, your child is a auditory learner. If movement and activity work best he is most comfortable with kinesthetic activities. You may find that your child’s strengths are found in more than one learning style. If this is the case, then make the most out of the multiple strengths and use more variety in your approach to the learning situation.

There are also a number of different types of learning style inventories that you can give your child. Just go to the internet and do a search for learning styles inventories. You will find that, in addition to the categories of visual, auditory and kinesthetic; there are numerous terms describing learning styles such as concrete, abstract, global, spatial, multi-modal, etc. You can really get into this or just try to keep it simple for now. This makes me think of the cliché, “The more I know the more I know I don’t know.” 

I do know this; however, it is very important that we present information in the way it is best received and processed by our children. If that means presenting words and ideas visually instead of verbally then that is what we should do and vice versa. Let me give you an example: Let’s suppose you are reviewing the definitions of vocabulary words that relate to story character traits such as integrity, empathy, etc. and your child is not grasping the meanings. Instead of just listening to the words you might try to find pictures that demonstrate these traits. Maybe you and your child can draw a symbol or something else that may represent the character traits. You could also act out these character traits. Remember what we said earlier about repetition and the intervals between each repetition. It just may take a few times going back to the words and their definitions. Possibly coming back to the terms a couple of times a day or two later might work. Whatever it is, you have the opportunity to work with your child one on one and find out the best way to present the information.

More Ideas on Learning Styles

Would you like to help your visual learner with memorizing specific vocabulary words? Silly question… Of course, you would! Let me tell you an interesting story that references visualization and sight vocabulary. One of my special education teachers in another school district was frustrated with the progress her students were making with learning sight words (individual words that students should memorize on sight). She explained to me how she was giving the students extra practice using flash cards. I then told her that I remembered reading two studies on shape and color recognition and the human brain. One indicated that the brain recognizes the color yellow before other colors when presented simultaneously; it also recognizes circles before other geometric shapes. I asked, “What if you were to present your flash cards as yellow circles?” To make a long story short, the teacher did exactly that and told me later that it helped a great deal.

Now, this is certainly not a scientific experiment, but the exercise worked. Maybe it was the placebo affect kicking in, and if that’s the case, so be it. But again, we need to go with what works, and the best way we can be more successful at finding out what works is to learn as much as we can about how your child learns best.

What about your kinesthetic learner?  You know; the one who likes to move around a lot and be active. Add some movement to your work sessions and you may really solidify memories. Geoffrey Caine, an educational consultant, writes about a time he observed a fourth grade classroom. As he entered the room and sat down, he noticed a group of students reading books as they walked around. At times the students would stop and then jump and begin walking until they stopped again. Curious, Mr. Caine asked the teacher to explain what the children were doing. The teacher said they were practicing their punctuation. As they read they would walk, and when they came to the end of the sentence they would stop. Sentences begin with capital letters so the children would jump up once when they began reading the new sentence silently. The movement enhanced learning for these students.

You can also try the movement approach with a little bit of a new twist. When your child struggles with a specific word, have him touch something or move to another space when he is able to decode the word. When he touches the object or moves to the associated space, his recall of the appropriate pronunciation will be stronger. I’m not suggesting that you have your child touch things for every word, or constantly move about the room. But providing opportunities for movement and anchoring memories with physical objects may be just the thing that will work best for your child.

Celebrate Diversity

No two children have identical abilities, experiences, and needs. Learning styles can vary widely within a group of children and within your family. Do not become upset by this fact. Look at it as a gift. The world could be a very boring place, if everyone did things and learned things the same way. Celebrate the diversity in your family by planning fresh approaches to learning and helping your children become aware of how they learn best. 


 With all of that said; here is something else to consider…

Parent Traps:

The following provides some insights into situations that potentially could cause some problems for you as you set out to help your child boost reading skills.

Parent Trap:  “That’s My Style”

As you know, we all learn best in different ways. Your learning style may be the same or, more than likely, it will be different from your child’s learning style. Try not to get caught in the trap of instructing your child in your learning style because it is more comfortable to you. Do what works best for your child and then you will both benefit form the results.

Well, I hope that this makes sense and helps a bit. I will provide you with a few more tips within the next few weeks! 

Jim Gamble

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