What is a learning style?
All of us use a mix of learning styles to study and to gain knowledge from the world around us, but one approach is likely to dominate with each of us. Whilst some psychologists now argue that the learning style approach in education has no merit, it is still a popular teaching aid. Working one to one with students often makes it clear that different students have different learning preferences. One method of teaching may not be working well with a student, but change it up and try a different approach and suddenly they are racing ahead.
I have seen this only this week. Working with an older International Baccalaureate student, discussing themes in literature using auditory and visual media, I could see he was bored. It was clear to me that the information he needed for his exam just wasn’t sticking in his memory. Next lesson I changed it up and gave him an exercise on a virtual whiteboard, where he had to create a Venn diagram using the literary themes and the books he was studying. The idea was to find which themes applied to both books, and which themes were only relevant to one or other of the books, so he could write comparative essays. Suddenly, the lesson took off. He was focused, engaged, and whizzing around the whiteboard so fast I almost couldn’t keep up. Half way through the lesson we had a beautiful, multi-coloured Venn diagram with a wide range of themes that could be used in essays. More to the point, it was clear he had also learned what he had to do in the essays. If we were to attribute a learning style to him, we would say he is a Kinaesthetic learner – he learns by doing!
How do we use learning styles in tutoring?
It is the beauty of the one-to-one tutoring method that we are able to change our teaching method to fit the student and design something bespoke for them. This is one of the reasons that one-to-one private tutoring returns such good results for students. Yet this approach can easily be carried over into your child’s homework, and any study they do at home. If you can discover which learning style (or mix of learning styles) your child prefers, you can help them to stay engaged and to absorb the information they need.
A popular model for determining leaning styles is VARK
These four key types of learners in the VARK system are:
- Visual learners (prefer to learn by watching videos, demonstrations etc)
- Auditory learners (prefer to listen to a lecture, an explanation etc)
- Read/write learners (prefer the written word and will read to understand)
- Kinaesthetic learners (learn by practical application)
You can ask your child to complete a questionnaire to determine if they have a clear preference for a way of learning. It may show up something that surprises you!
Once you know how they prefer to learn you can help them to adapt their approach to learning.
If they lean towards visual learning, encourage them to watch relevant films and videos, find them diagrams, pictures, colour, images, presentations. They need visual stimuli to learn.
In a tutorial, visual learners work well both online and in person, as long as they are given plenty of bright, interesting visual stimuli. They like watching the tutor demonstrate and they like resources such as powerpoint. This can be supplemented with short video illustrating a point, colourful worksheets, and diagrams.
An auditory learner learns best by listening. Give them podcasts, encourage them to read aloud to themselves, especially when they are finding it difficult to understand something. Discuss and debate with them. They are often good at understanding poetry and the impact of sound in prose, so definitely encourage them to read their English texts aloud.
In a tutorial auditory learners will respond well to a tutor using a lecture style, especially if it is followed by a question and answer session or a discussion. Mini lectures supported by pictures and where they can take notes will be perfect for them. Bear in mind that an auditory learner needs a quiet atmosphere in order to hear and focus properly, so an online one-to-one tutorial where they use headphones is perfect. For this reason, online tutorials often work best for these learners.
Read/Write Learners like the written word. They will absorb significant information from reading about a subject in lecture notes, text books etc. They also like to write essays, so do well in English and humanities subjects. They are happy to read instructions and manuals, and they like presentations – as long as they have words in them.
They work well in either an online or in-person tutorial, as long as the tutor sets and marks essays, and gives them plenty of reading between turotials. They may also like to discuss their reading with the tutor at the beginning of tutorials.
If they are like my student mentioned above, a Kinaesthetic learner, encourage them to do activities, to annotate documents, to draw diagrams and mind maps, to work out calculations by hand, to make models. They will learn best by doing something. They prefer concrete application to abstract concepts.
In a tutorial, kinaesthetic learners suit interactive online lessons, where they can work on a virtual whiteboard, annotate documents, write for themselves and create resources with the tutor in the lesson.
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