Sunday, March 20, 2011

Learning Styles 1

A few years ago I read Discover Your Child's Learning Style .  I thought it was a very interesting read and I was delighted to find, after doing the tests and checklists in the book, that I already had a pretty good grasp of my children's various styles of learning.  I believe that is one of the benefits of homeschooling.  We know our children from the start and we can, with maybe a little thought and research, find those teaching /learning methods that best suit him or her.

On the other hand, I want to quickly add that I'm not sure it's good to use only materials that are in line with a child's learning modality or style.  I believe children, and adults for that matter, need to be able to adapt their learning style.  It will be a rare occasion for a college professor to excuse a child from a written exam because he is an auditory learner!  So, before I jump into my children's learning styles and some of the curriculum that seems to work well for them, let me also say that I  am always on the lookout for ways to help these children develop those learning modalities that are the weakest.

Many people are familiar with the 3 general learning modalities - visual, auditory and kinesthetic.  I can safely say that among my 4 children for whom I've been able to determine which style of learner they are, there are no two that match!  No wonder my life is so crazy!  I have to admit I enjoy that though!  These are the things that keep me challenged.  (Well, these, and devising ways to keep the house clean, run the errands, keep the children well fed and in clean clothes .... you understand I'm sure!)  I think that life as a teaching mom might get a little boring if all my kids learned in the exact same way.  What then, would be the use of poring over those homeschool catalogs that come every spring ... for hours!  What would be the use of all those dog eared pages and pencil jottings in margins?  It would be so easy, and rather boring, to just make them all use the same program.  I really enjoy meeting my children where they are at, and I think most homeschool moms are that way.  If a child is an auditory learner, and he or she is struggling with a concept or entire subject, I can pull out the material designed for auditory learners and help her to understand better.  On the other hand, if said child is such a strong auditory learner that she can't seem to learn concepts without hearing them, I might pull out the materials for visual learners and give her some challenge to help build those areas she is weak in.

I mentioned the 3 general learning modalities ~ auditory, visual and kinesthetic, but  Discover Your Child's Learning Style takes it into further categories.  The author calls these "Learning Dispositions".  I found reading about these dispositions to be particularly interesting as this is the area in which I see my children overlap.  Beyond the information in this book, there is also lots of information on line and in books about other learning types and styles.  I found a brief explanation of the concept of   Linear vs. Global thinkers here .  It is a very short article which explains that a person receives information in either the auditory, visual or kinesthetic modalities, and then processes it in either a linear or global way.  I see that I have 2 linear learners and at least 1 global learner in my bunch.  And then there are  the VSL's (Visual Spatial Learners) we read so much about today.  Well, maybe you don't, but since one of my children is a VSL, I tend to seek out information that will help me help him to learn.   

I see that many of these labels mean the same thing, it's just a person's particular way of saying it that changes, which can create some confusion.  But as best as I can I will try to describe the various labels that fit my various kids and list some of the curriculum choices that work well for each.

So, first up, is Night Owl.  I don't teach Night Owl too much anymore.  He is a junior in high school and doing quite well.  This doesn't surprise me, based on his learning modalities and dispositions.  He can be classified as:
Disposition: "Producing"
Modality: Equally strong auditory and visual
Style:  Linear
Other:  Introverted, excellent memory, all around nice guy type!

So, this child learns information by either hearing or seeing it.  He likes his information to come to him following some sort of natural organized progression, like an outline,  a timeline, a chart or graph.  His "producing" disposition can be described as one that "likes plans and schedules, does well on tests, likes rules and routines, memorizes facts easily, efficiency oriented, focused, diligent ..."  Do you see why a child like this would do well in school?  What has helped Night Owl to stretch a bit outside his comfort zone?  Yearly involvement in the Science Olympiad.  Night Owl has always enjoyed all branches of science.  Give him an encyclopedia about a science topic and he will happily read for hours.  Give him a book like The Elements and he'll disappear for hours, reading and storing information in his very organized file system of a brain.  But!  Now, tell him to work with another student and build a robot for the robotics element of the Science Olympiad and you have a completely different child.  This was the struggle of struggles for him.  Thankfully, he is diligent, and kept at it despite the difficulties.  Science Olympiad has thrown him into the state of insecurity each year, and I'm glad for it!  It has helped him to see those areas in which he needs to work and that all learning isn't as easy as he might think.  Along these same lines are the Shakespeare plays he and a group of friends had to re-create and then video tape for the class.  Definitely outside of his comfort zone!  He had to go beyond just memorizing the play and now actually recite those lines, while acting, while being taped for all to see!  S-T-R-E-T-C-H!  I think it's great, he doesn't always agree!

So I cut my homeschooling teeth on a very easy student to teach.  What a breeze!  Then came child #2, with some similarities but a few differences that provide some challenge for mom.
Social Butterfly:

Disposition: "Producing" and "Relating/Inspiring"
Modality: Very strong Auditory Learner
Style: Linear
Other: Extroverted, excellent auditory memory, musically inclined

Like Night Owl, Social Butterfly is in the "producing" category.  She loves schedules, even more so than her brother, and is constantly organizing things on paper or in her room.  She has schedules posted on her walls and charts for the business she will someday own.  (Yes, at the ripe ol' age of 11, my daughter is determined to be an entrepreneur.)  Along with all this scheduling and organizing though, Social Butterfly has a strong "Relating/Inspiring" component. She thrives when she is in social situations and is happiest when there are lots of people around her, paying attention to her. 

This need for constant socialization, for the only daughter of this family, does create some challenges for me.  I have to make sure she is seeing her friends on a regular basis and I'm always encouraging her brothers to include her in their games.  I try to meet this need in several ways.  She is involved in a dance class where she has met friends, she has a friend down the street that I allow her to see regularly, and when it is necessary to drive her to a friend's house or bring a friend here I try to make that a priority.  One not so great thing that happened this year is that the moms in our homeschool group are all so busy we weren't able to have any formal weekly "get together" for the kids.  In years past my daughter has been involved in Little Flowers groups and last year we had both a Catholic Mosaic group and a Tea and Cake With the Saints group.  This year, we are missing these organized socializing opportunities.  But, in an effort to help her enjoy her least favorite subject - science, she is meeting once a week with a friend to do science labs together.  This has  turned out to be an excellent idea.  The girls have worked through the TOPS  Magnetism Unit and are now working on the Electricity Unit together.  These are definitely not subjects Social Butterfly would enjoy on her own, but add a friend and Science has become her favorite subject!

Here is the curriculum line up for Social Butterfly and a few notes on how / why they work:

~Religion - Besides the Baltimore Catechism, Social B. is doing a study of the gospels of Mark and Luke.  She really enjoys this because we get to talk about it together.  Anything that involves discussion is a subject that ranks high on Social B.'s "Like" list.  For the discussion we are using the questions in Laura Berquist's Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum.
~Math - Saxon 7/6.  Social B. is good at Math, but she doesn't like it all that much.  I believe it is one of those subjects that makes her stretch.  It is not a social subject here at the Academy.  I encourage the kids to read the lessons and work the sample problems to try to figure it out on their own.  I do step in when necessary, but I encourage independent learning here.  I've added the D.I.V.E. CD to Social B.'s curriculum this year and she finds that helpful when she doesn't understand a concept.  Hearing the instructor on the DVD as he explains the concept helps her to grasp it.
~English Grammar- Easy Grammar.  Here again, is a relatively independent subject for Social B.  She says she likes it more than Math but I think she would really like it if I sat next to her and discussed it with her the whole time.  Being a mom of six children, I can't do that though.  She does come to me with questions and I do explain new concepts, but for the most part it is a subject she works on independently.
~Latin - For Latin, I am happy to say that I found a way to make it a bit more social for Social B.  This year, I finally broke down and bought the DVD's that go with Latina Christiana.  What a difference it makes.  In the first place, there is a lady teaching Latin that knows her stuff.   Being an auditory learner, the DVD's are also very helpful in that Social B. can hear the teacher as she goes through the drills and lessons.  I've also added Lingua Angelica this year and Social B. just loves it.  It really appeals to the auditory learner and her love of music.
~Poetry - This year we are all enjoying Linguistic Development Through Poetry Memorization   .  All of the kids, especially Social B. are finding the memorization of poetry much easier and more enjoyable.  I keep the set of DVD's in the car and we listen to them as we travel here and there.  Each morning, after prayer, each of the kids takes a turn reciting the poem they are currently memorizing.  Social B. has two sets of poems she is working on.  She also memorizes those poems as prescribed by Mother of Divine Grace for 6th grade.  She really seems to enjoy poetry in all forms and memorizes it easily.  She enjoys performing for us when she is asked to recite for the family as well.
~Spelling - For an auditory learner that struggles with spelling I haven't found a better program than Phonetic Zoo, created by the same company that gives us the Poetry mentioned above.  Once again, Social B. does this mostly independently.  We go over each new lesson together, and then she uses the CD to work through daily quizzes.  Once she has gotten a 100% the required number of times, we go on to a new lesson.  Hearing the words spelled out loud on the CD really helps them to stick with Social B.  The little jingles and songs that she learns for each spelling rule also help.
~Science - As I mentioned above the TOPS Science units have been a big hit since Social B. is working on them with a friend.  It's a big help to the friend's mother and I too.  For Magnetism the girls met here weekly to do the experiments while I oversaw things.  I taught a little, but most of it is what I would call discovery type learning.  This semester, the girls are working on the Electricity unit at the friend's house.  It's a nice break for me and I know the girls are still getting a quality science lesson.
~History - Social B. is really enjoying history this year.  She is learning about Ancient Civilizations and most of that learning is through reading great historical fiction books.  She did have some text book work early on as a spine, but from there it's just been reading and now writing a paper.  She loves to talk to me about the books she is reading.  She provides voluntary oral narrations on a regular basis and we both enjoy the conversation that follows.  The list of books used in the history program for Mother of Divine Grace is just one of the many reasons why that program has been a big hit for both Social B. and Night Owl.

As usual, in posts like this I tend to get a bit wordy so I'll stop here and continue with my other two learners, different as night and day (except for their high activity level!) in a new post.


Kate said...

Thanks for these posts. I just put the book about learning styles on hold at our library.

Grace&Chaos said...

Thanks Becky, Just reading these posts and I'm planning on reading the book (add to summer reading list: check).