Monday, January 27, 2014

Learning Styles, Part 2

Part 2:
Teaching Styles... This term is used by many educators to refer to the structure of the teacher-student relationship. I am going to use this phrase differently. My own definition is how a teacher's learning style shapes his/her teaching. I find that I am prone to teach the way I best learn. When I began homeschooling, I gravitated to curriculum that appealed most to my husband and I. We liked the classical model and when I read The Well Trained Mind, it made sense to us. I am a reader and so is my husband. Kindergarten was hard for my oldest daughter and for me. I had super high expectations and I pushed her hard. I fell into the mindset that beset me when I was a public school classroom teacher. I was focused on achievement and the cultural idea that our children have to get ahead or they will be behind. I quickly discovered that homeschooling is very different than classroom teaching. It has strengths and weaknesses of its own.

In the middle of first grade with my oldest daughter, there were several days that both my daughter and I were in tears. I realized that the classical model didn't suit her. I could already see that she needed a curriculum that would give voice to her creativity—that would focus more on creativity than rote memorization and the trivium. I realized, too, that she was increasingly frustrated with the math we were using. She was in tears and so was I. She is very visual, geometry oriented, but not abstract and number oriented. So, I needed to switch gears. I looked and looked at math curriculum. I discovered that some teacher's guides made sense to me and others didn't. I wanted color, illustrations, and good formatting (I am a visual learner). I needed a book that didn't put too much on a page for my daughter, who also happens to be a visual learner. After a lot of looking, I found HSP math and it worked for us both. It is very visual, but also hands-on oriented. The wording is very clear and easy to understand.
Last year, I found myself in a different situation. I was using Considering God's Creation by Eagle's Wings. My girls loved it. The workbook was hands on—lots of cutting, pasting, and coloring. My middle, kinesthetic daughter was happy. But, the teacher book drove me crazy. I procrastinated and struggled to get through many of the lessons. It was all written in the same font and it was very wordy. I wanted to get to the point and know quickly what I needed to teach. I didn't have time to read a lot and plan before teaching a lesson. So, I switched this year to Christian Kids Explore Biology. I liked it. I liked the formatting. I liked the values of the author and how she explained ideas. But, after two months, my middle daughter requested a switch. She simply didn't understand it. My oldest daughter explained that she didn't either. This curriculum relied primarily on auditory read alouds and note-taking. Auditory learning is not the primary learning style for either of my girls. So, it wasn't working.

We had to switch mid-stream to something that would work for both of us. My oldest daughter, Autumn, requested a return to HSP Science (her science from third grade). I already had it in the basement and so we pulled it out. Autumn and Sami, my younger daughter, both set right to work. Autumn read the lessons on her own. She loves the easy labs and bright pictures. The formatting makes it easier for her to read. The text is written on her grade level. Sami likes the instant labs that are hands on in her book. She and I read her lessons together and then she records the answers to her reading comprehension worksheets afterwards. I hit all three learning modalities with her. It's a good fit—because it fits both them and me. I don't have time for prep. I need to be able to look at it and know what I need to teach quickly. I have realized that most public school curriculum is written to all modalities because every classroom is a mix.

If you've found yourself in any situations like any of the ones I've found myself in along the way with my children, you've probably gotten frustrated like me. You may have been puzzled. You may have tried something new like I did. You may be in this situation now and looking for new ideas about how to teach your child in ways that will be more effective and enjoyable for you and your children.

Part 3
So, where do you start?

  1. Observe and Survey: you and your child
      Complete learning surveys and then record your observations...
      make a list of which curriculum your child likes best and why
      make a list of when you remember them remembering and understanding best
      make a list of what frustrates them
  2. Assess your curriculum and how you teach each subject (many subjects you may teach the same way because that is how you are comfortable teaching)
ie. Hands-on, reading text and completing worksheets, oral discussion/presentation, visual, project-based

  1. Do they match?
    Sometimes the ideal isn't workable. As moms, we not only teach, but we take care of our homes and the needs of everyone in our family. We serve at church and need to feed our own minds as well. Which subjects match and which ones don't?

  1. Adapt and modify or switch curriculum in the future.
    The easiest way to meet learning styles is to choose a curriculum that works for both you and your child. But, if you're mid-stream in the year, then the best (and least expensive) option is to adapt and modify. From the list of learning tricks for your child's learning style, add in extra exercises that are doable for her and for you (in planning).
Last note...
I believe that there is a continuum between learning styles, differences, and disabilities. I had wanted to talk about learning differences and disabilities, but realized that I could only cover so much. Here's how I'd define them:

Learning styles are preferences. Children can learn from different modalities, but learn better from one than another.

Learning Differences are processing related. The greater the learning difference, the greater the inability of a child to process information presented in one or more modalities. It isn't just a preference, but an inability to understand and process visual or auditory information.

Learning Disabilities occur when a child's learning is significantly impaired because his or her brain is unable to process information. Typically learning disabilities are auditory and visual. An example of a visual processing disorder is dyslexia. Auditory Processing Disorder is called just that. A child's brain doesn't hear sounds the way they come in.

This is really a separate topic, but I do want to mention something that the Lord laid on my heart this summer as I was pondering my children and how they learn.

I was researching handwriting. You see, my children write many of their letters from down to up. All three have varying degrees of mixed dominance, though only my youngest is left handed. As I looked for resources online to help me learn more about how to teach handwriting, I realized that people spoke about learning disabilities and differences as if something was wrong with the children. I remember mentally being taken aback. I recoiled. Nothing is “wrong” with my child just because he writes his letters from top to bottom. That's how his brain is wired. Yes, it is quicker to write top to bottom. But, instead of trying to fit him into a mold his brain didn't like, I realized I should try and help his fine motor skills speed up instead—I needed to help him cope with his difference. I was talking with my friend the other day who's son is autistic. I expressed this idea to her and before I could finish—she finished it for me.

Links to My Teacher Pages and Student Pages:

The copyright for these pages remains with me.  Please do not print and resell any portion of what I've made here.  But, you are free to print them as many times as you need and share them with homeschooling friends and classroom teachers who are interested.

In the Learning and Teaching Profiles, there are a lot of forms included and I would never encourage someone to fill all of them out.  Instead, I'd encourage you to consider what you think would be most helpful in understanding your child.  Take a Friday one week and give them the survey as a break (perhaps the afternoon when everyone is ready to be done for the week?)  During the week, use the page that says "what's working/what's not" to observe your child and think about what works well for them and what doesn't.

I'm going to write a post soon about observing children and how to do that, but in the mean time.  The book, Heads Up Helping, is a wonderful story of a homeschool mom observing her children and what she learned about them.


Learning Styles Profile pages:
Great resource on Learning Disabilities:
Explains different types of processing disabilities and gives practical strategies of how to adapt lessons and teaching.
Dunn and Dunn Learning Styles Information:
Learning Styles Inventory Tests:
Multiple Intelligence Survey for Kids:
Brief Learning Styles Online Survey:
Interest Survey Collection:

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