The Way They Learn
By Cynthia Ulrich Tobias
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 1994 Cynthia Ulrich Tobias
All right reserved.
Chapter One What Is a Learning Style?
"Here comes the first one!"
The atmosphere in the delivery room was charged with excitement and anticipation. It was a planned C-section, so I was fully awake to witness the arrival of our two sons that April afternoon.
The doctor held up a tiny red baby and whispered, "He's beautiful!" Two minutes later, the doctor held up another baby.
"He looks just like the first one!" a nurse cried.
I recognized them both immediately. On arrival, each boy already seemed to exhibit many of the same behaviors he had demonstrated during the last several months in the womb. The boys and I had started the process of getting to know one another almost from conception, and now I was amazed to see how different these two "identical" babies were from each other. While it will take years to become familiar with each boy's complex nature, their differences were evident from the very beginning.
Friends and acquaintances, gazing at the redheads, often ask "How do you tell them apart?" My standard reply: "Just watch them for a minute-you'll know." If you listen to the way they speak to each other and to you, if you watch the way they interact with people and situations, you will have little doubt that these boys, who share the same birthday, are very much individuals.
When they were still very small, a favorite toy for the twins was a small workbench with hammer and pegs. Robert, our go-for-the-gusto son, took great pleasure in vigorously pounding the pegs. Michael, more analytic by nature, was fascinated by the fact that in the middle of the workbench was a hole just the right size for storing the hammer.
If you are a parent with more than one child, you've already discovered that even children growing up in very similar circumstances and environments can have dramatically dissimilar approaches to life. You begin to realize that people are fundamentally different. The individual bents that cause each person to be unique, often bring an overwhelming challenge to parents. It is not enough to simply decide how children should be reared and then apply the same techniques to each child. Parents need to get to know their children, and no two will be the same!
Often, with the very best of intentions, we set out to chart the course and plan the events of our children's lives according to what makes sense to us-the way we did it. After all, we are living proof of what works! But what seldom occurs to us is that other people, perhaps even those in our own family, may view the world in an entirely different way than we do. It therefore stands to reason that when we try to teach or communicate with our children and others, they are not all going to benefit from the same approach.
If you're like many busy parents, you may become frustrated when you try to help your child follow directions, do homework, or review for a test. You may be convinced that your child simply isn't trying hard enough. The fact is, each of our children perceives the world differently from the way we do. Each child is a unique individual with his or her own natural strengths and preferences. These individual gifts or bents are called learning styles.
Although we accept and even cherish each child's uniqueness, it's often difficult to work with the combined variations of all our children when we're also trying to juggle family schedules and the many demands of school and work.
Knowing I was to be the mother of twins, I did a lot of reading. One article had an excellent suggestion for every parent. The writer suggested taking at least 15 minutes a day to spend alone with each child. It recommended you choose a safe and fun play area and then let your child show you how he or she prefers to play and interact with you. Short of absolute necessity, you should make no corrections, suggestions, or negative comments. Simply enjoy being with your child. Give as many positive comments as possible, and make some mental notes as to how your child prefers doing things. If you do this consistently with your children, you will be amazed to see how easy it is to identify their different learning styles!
Getting to know each of our children as individuals is an exhausting but rewarding proposition. The busier and more complicated our lives become, the harder it is to remember that each person in our family has a unique and valuable contribution to make from his or her own perspective.
It is my intention to help you discover these different perspectives and to aid you in developing quick, practical ways of helping your child adapt his or her inborn strengths to the varied demands of learning, both in school and throughout the rest of life.
Parents rarely intentionally frustrate their children, but intentional or not, it happens. By reading The Way They Learn, you can learn to identify many areas of frustration and conflict that can be directly attributed to a mismatch of the child's learning style and the parent's. This is not a deliberate defiance of parental authority by the child. The challenge for parents is to find positive ways of building on their children's natural strengths without sacrificing desired bottom-line outcomes. Believe it or not, it can be done!
Another important task for parents is to help their children effectively work with a variety of teachers who will undoubtedly have a number of different teaching styles. After reading this book, you will have gathered some very positive information to share with your children's teachers. Having been a teacher myself, I can tell you that if you will approach both administrators and teachers from a positive perspective, you will be surprised at how open they are to learning about your children's individual styles.
When I first started teaching, I quickly realized that many of my students did not learn the way I did. However, I honestly thought it was just because they didn't know how. Surely, if I could teach them to learn my way, it would eventually make perfect sense to them.
As a new teacher, I was determined to keep my students excited about school. Since I assumed that they were a lot like me, I decided that boredom was their greatest enemy. I began a one-woman crusade to prevent boredom in my classroom.
The first day of school, after my students left, I rearranged the desks into a new, creative seating plan. I didn't post a formal seating chart, so I was not expecting some of the reactions I got the next day.
"Where do I sit?" several students asked.
"Sit anywhere!" I replied enthusiastically. "The desks make a butterfly today. See the wing tips?"
"Well, where do you want us to sit?" they asked uncertainly.
Now I was becoming a bit frustrated. "I don't care," I insisted, "just choose a part of the butterfly and enjoy a new seat!"
Now they were walking around the room, peering under the desks.
"Where's the seat I had yesterday?" one student muttered.
That day many of my students notched their desks so they could find the same one the next day. I soon realized that one person's boredom is another person's security. Although I was well-loved and respected for my concern and creativity as a teacher those first years, many students seemed to really struggle with some of my methods. When I later discovered learning styles, I began to accommodate the students many different ways of learning. It was a great relief to know that those students whose styles were so different from my own weren't deliberately trying to annoy me!
This book is just the tip of the iceberg about learning styles. In it, I have highlighted the most practical aspects of five leading research models on the subject. An annotated bibliography is included so that you can continue more in-depth reading or studying. I think you will find it fascinating. For far too long we have had writers and researchers putting people into tight little boxes. But because each person is so complex and unique, no one learning styles model can fully describe what a person is. As enlightening as each new chapter of information in this book may be, please remember: Each is only a piece of the puzzle. We can recognize and identify patterns of behavior and communication that will become keys for understanding and appreciating style differences. What we dare not do is insist that each person fit neatly into a category.
Even though you will find some potentially invaluable checklists and assessments throughout this book, you will also discover that identifying and understanding individual learning styles is an ongoing journey of observations and impressions. As you read through and begin to use these concepts, keep in mind the following general guidelines:
Observe patterns of behavior. When you or Observe your child experiences success, what are the circumstances that brought about that success?
Listen to the way a person communicates. If you only talk to others the way you want Listen them to talk to you, you may discover you're speaking a language that is foreign to them. Listening carefully can teach you how you need to talk to them.
Experiment with what works and what doesn't. Keep an open mind and remember that even if an approach to learning Experiment does not make sense to you, it may work for your children. We do not all learn in the same way. Focus on natural strengths, not weaknesses. Unfortunately, it's so much easier Focus to pinpoint areas of weakness that need improvement than to bolster sources of strength. But you can't build much on weaknesses-strengths provide a much better foundation!
Learn more about learning styles in Learn general. Pay close attention to your children's and your own learning styles in particular.
Everything you discover in this book is only part of the larger picture. There is much more to learn, and that is why I have included an extensive bibliography. While you are reading this book, look for additional pieces of your children's learning style puzzle. Resist the temptation to put labels on your children or anyone else. Don't box them into any one learning style.
Once you begin discovering your natural strengths as well as those of your children, you will probably be relieved to learn that much of their struggle and behavior has more to do with inherent style than with something you failed to do as a parent.
After receiving some learning styles training, one harried home-school mother seemed particularly relieved to find out her young son was "normal." She admitted it had been very difficult to work with him, especially when it came to teaching him music. "Now I understand why," she said. "When I tell him the stems on the notes must be straight, he makes them diagonal, and when I ask him to name the notes, he gives them names like 'Larry.'" This child was not being deliberately difficult. He did not have learning disabilities. He simply applied his own unique perspective to the learning task.
Chapter Two The Difference Between Learning Style and Learning Disability
Karen was a lively, mischievous first grader when her teacher and principal began to suggest that her parents have her screened for possible hyperactivity or Attention Deficit Disorder (A.D.D.). Even though Karen was bright and creative, they explained, she simply didn't follow directions. She was often restless and had difficulty staying at a task for more than five minutes at a time. She rarely completed written assignments, and her social interactions with her classmates were frequently immature and moody.
Karen's parents took her to a pediatrician. Subsequently, she went through an intensive screening process to determine whether or not she had a learning disability. The results of the testing led the doctor to conclude that Karen, indeed, had a marginal case of A.D.D. It was recommended that Karen begin a mild dose of medication to control her behavior.
Karen's parents and grandparents were troubled at the prospect of putting their bright, cheerful, six year old on serious and regular medication. They began to explore other alternatives, and in the process, they heard about learning styles and how they affect study habits and behavior. As they began to understand Karen's natural learning style, they realized the way in which Karen learned was often not compatible with classroom demands.
For example, Karen is a very kinesthetic learner who thrives on movement combined with listening. The teacher wanted her to sit still. But her parents decided to try another approach. Instead of forcing Karen to be still and look at them when they were giving her directions, they decided to let her fidget, squirm, and look around. Then they checked to see if she had been listening and were amazed to find she could repeat what they had said almost word for word.
Karen's global nature made it possible for her to continually scan the environment, listening and paying attention to multiple voices and stimuli. Her dominantly random mind was constantly searching for alternatives and seeing possibilities not obvious to most people. Her CR characteristics made her very impatient when learning anything that didn't immediately interest her.
Her parents also discovered some emotional problems that seemed to explain Karen's sometimes immature behavior with her friends and classmates. These were addressed.
Excerpted from The Way They Learn by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias Copyright © 1994 by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias. Excerpted by permission.
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