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How To: Adjust Your Teaching Style to Your Students' Learning Style
How to Home
How To: Adjust Your Teaching Styles to Students' Learning Styles
How To: Develop as a Professional
How To: Implement Standards, Curriculum, and Assessment

Recognizing Learning Styles
Benna Golubtchik

Everyone perceives the world through the five senses. However, different people rely on each of the senses to varying degrees. We usually have a preference for one or more of the modalities, (mainly auditory, visual, and tactual / kinesthetic) but can function using others when necessary. Our preferred modes of perception compose our learning styles. Traditional school activities, arranged by grade, are based on the concept of a "normal" sequence in the development of learning styles. Those whose styles develop in this pattern usually succeed in school. Those who follow a different pattern, or who have an extremely strong preference for one modality at the expense of others, usually have a more difficult time adjusting to traditional education.

Observing classroom behavior and listening to the descriptive words students use in casual conversation gives us insight into students' perceptual references. There are several learning styles inventories (Rita and Kenneth Dunn, Marie Carbo) that can help the teacher determine learning preferences. This knowledge can empower teachers and students to take control of learning. 

A teacher who possesses an understanding of his/her student's preferred learning styles can present lessons in a variety of ways and offer each student the opportunity to find the mode that works best for him or her. (See How to Create a Multisensory Classroom.) The goal is to initiate learning through the strongest modality while strengthening the weaker ones.

The primary perceptual learning modalities are:

Tactual / Kinesthetic

  • Age Range: Strongest in Primary students, Pre K - 2.
  • Descriptions: Kinesthetic learners think using both feelings and texture, pressure, temperature, movement, shape, and intensity.
  • How they Learn: Students learn through their senses. They want to touch, taste, smell, hear and see. They learn by experiencing. Muscle memory is important. They build and take apart. They can learn while pacing or on a treadmill. Their muscles can remember as well as their brains. These learners also respond well to interpersonal relationships and remember stories and metaphors. They learn to read using whole words and context clues.
  • Classroom Implications: They often need to get up and move during class, even to throw a paper away. A frequent change of activity is essential.
  • Age Range: Begins in Grades 3-5 and lasts through adolescence.
  • Descriptions: The auditory processors think in rhythm, volume, tone, and pitch.
  • How they Learn: These students learn by listening and recall information by hearing it. Like a cassette recorder, they often must go through a tape from the beginning until they locate the information they need. They learn to read phonetically. However, comprehension skills may not be as strong as decoding skills. They pick up languages and accents.
  • Classroom Implications: To review information, it is useful for them to talk it out with someone else or into a tape recorder. Students may keep their heads down on the desk, appearing not to listen, when, in fact, they are focusing their attention on listening. When taking notes, they often miss chunks of new information because they are concentrating on what they are writing.
  • Age Range: Middle School and Beyond
  • Descriptions: For people who receive information through visual pictures, factors such as size, color, brightness, distance, and location are important.
  • How they Learn: Students learn by graphic representation and symbolic abstractions. They learn by taking notes and reading them back. They can picture where information appeared in their texts and go back to it. Successful learners can visualize concepts in their heads.
  • Classroom Implications: Because most traditional schooling uses the lecture and note-taking method in the later grades, these students usually have the highest grades.

Students who don't fit into the common patterns are in danger of having school difficulties unless the classroom environment is Multisensory. The goal is to start from the strong skills with each student, and develop the weak. If you'd like to learn more about running a multisensory classroom, check out "How to Create a Multisensory Classroom." You can also consult these books:

Chapman, C. (1993) If the Shoe Fits...How to Develop Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom. Palatine, IL: IRI/Skylight Publishing, Inc.

Dunn, Rita, and Dunn, Kenneth, Teaching Students Through Their Individual Learning Styles: A Practical Approach, Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1978.

Gardner, H. and Hatch, T. (November, 1989) Multiple Intelligences Go To School: Educational Implications of the Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Educational Researcher. pp. 4-9

Grinder, Michael, Righting the Educational Conveyor Belt, Metamorphous Press, Portland, Oregon, 1991.

Lazear, D. (1991) Seven Ways of Teaching: The Artistry of Teaching with Multiple Intelligences. Palatine, IL: IRI/Skylight Publishing, Inc.


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