Share this page:

Get StartedCurriculum Organization You Can Do It! Resources Testing

Know Your Students

Identify Their Personal Learning Styles

By Inge P. Cannon

Adapted from the Education PLUS Training Syllabus and reprinted from the March/April 1989 issue of The Teaching Home.

Educators have many ways of defining and describing the way people process information including learning personalities, modalities, and styles. The simplest to understand and apply involves three categories: lookers, listeners, and movers.

  • Lookers (technically termed visual/spatial learners) process information best when they see it.
  • Listeners (called auditory learners) are most efficient when they can hear information.
  • Movers (kinesthetic or tactile learners) function best when they can physically interact with information in a hands-on way.

It is helpful for a teaching parent to know his own learning style as well as the preferred learning style of each child in the family for several reasons.

1. Teacher’s vs. student’s style

A teacher will tend to choose curriculum that appeals to his own best way to learn because that’s what makes the most sense to him. If the children’s styles are different, the materials may not make as much sense to them.

2. Students’ differing styles

It is common for curriculum (e.g., a phonics or math program) to work extremely well for one child, and therefore, the parent thinks that subsequent children should do even better since he now knows how to teach the material. Then comes the shock! Child No. 2 or No. 3 is wired completely differently and thus needs a different approach.

3. Enhanced communications

Effectiveness of communication (even between spouses) is enhanced when we present new or complicated information in the manner the receiver uses best. The entire population of the world is not divided into three learning groups, however. Thus, some children do very well with two of the three styles. Occasionally a child is equally adept at all three.

Sometimes people need to get certain kinds of information one way and other kinds of information in a different way. Furthermore, there is no such thing as one “right” kind of material for a given learning style.

However, there are more and less efficient ways to use what you have. If your child is not learning what you want him to learn one way, try another method. Feel free to adapt the materials you have to the methods that will help you travel past the roadblocks in your child’s mind.

The following checklist will help you identify the tendencies of learners in each group. Remember that one child will not demonstrate all the characteristics within a category. If you check off most of the characteristics in one category, you will, however, have confidence that your child probably does best in that area at this time.

Your goal as a teacher should be to make your children eventually comfortable with all three means of getting information. After you have presented a new idea through your child’s preferred style, review the material with some of the other methods to increase your child's flexibility.

Visual/Spatial Learners (Lookers):

  • Tend to be quiet and often need to be coaxed into answering questions.
  • Are excellent “copycats,” functioning best when they “see” what is expected of them.
  • Are especially observant of details and can frequently find items lost by others.
  • Will take copious notes, even when the teacher promises to provide handouts.
  • Are visually organized, easily remember where things are, and need to have everything in its place.
  • Can assemble most things without help from printed or pictured instructions.
  • Will catch your typographical errors and recognize if they have worked on or seen a page of material before.
  • Make it a priority to look neat and be color-coordinated.
  • Are very aware of spatial relationships and thus able to create well-spaced drawings, diagrams, and graphs.
  • Doodle on note paper when talking.
  • Tend to have a vivid imagination.
  • Will have a large reading vocabulary at an early age, especially sight words.
  • Given a choice, would most like to watch television or read a book in their spare time.
  • Are easily distracted by visual stimuli (e.g., a new bulletin board or a bird outside the window).
  • Respond favorably to visible rewards.

Visual/spatial learners flourish when:

  • Taught with books and pictures.
  • Allowed to work challenging puzzles.
  • The teacher demonstrates the skill to be learned (model it)—“Show me.”
  • Shown the word before hearing what it is.
  • Shown a picture of the actual object.
  • The position of tongue and lips is demonstrated when new words are presented. Note: If you can’t have the visual learner observe the concept or skill you are teaching, help him visualize it in his mind.
  • Taught with the following aids:
    • Flashcards
    • Matching games and puzzles (of every kind)
    • Dictionaries
    • Card files
    • “How-to” books with diagrams
    • Workbooks
    • Charts, maps, timelines, pictures, and graphs
    • Written directions
    • Wall strips and desk tapes
    • Well-defined assignments

Visual/spatial learners tend to struggle with:

  • Creative writing.
  • Reading beyond the literal meaning of a passage.
  • Applying arithmetic to word problems.
  • Thinking beyond the obvious.
  • Forming a hypothesis and testing it with experiments.
  • Adjusting to changes in curriculum.

Auditory learners (Listeners):

  • Love to communicate and can generally “talk your ear off.”
  • Remember jingles, poems, and television commercials effortlessly.
  • Continually keep a rhythmic pattern going by tapping or making sounds.
  • Usually sing beautifully and have excellent pitch memory.
  • Generally remember names of people they’ve met or heard about.
  • Find it easy to express themselves verbally.
  • Tend to read out loud or subvocalize while reading.
  • Often sound older than their chronological age (as a result of their ability to process language patterns with “tape-recorder accuracy”).
  • Tend to sort out their problems by talking about them.
  • Sound out words and are, therefore, usually phonetic spellers.
  • Tend to be poor test takers because they can't sort out visual material fast enough.
  • Enjoy listening to a radio, tapes, or CDs in their spare time.
  • Respond well to phonetic reading programs, usually demonstrating excellent word attack skills.
  • Find it easy to follow oral directions.
  • Are easily distracted by background noises.
  • Respond favorably to verbal praise.

Auditory learners flourish when:

  • Told every step of the skill to be learned.
  • Allowed to move their lips or subvocalize to increase reading comprehension.
  • Neurological impressions are combined in reading: read orally to student while he points to the word being read.
  • Memorizing rules, plays, poetry, etc.
  • Taught with the following aids:
    • Audiocassettes and CDs
    • Music
    • Rhymes
    • Rhythm instruments
    • Clapping, keeping a beat
    • Echo games (singing and rhythm)
    • Creating conversation for puppets
    • Field trips with interview focus
    • Integrated content (interdisciplinary)

Auditory learners tend to struggle with:

  • Reading technical or non-fiction writing.
  • Rewriting and editing written work.
  • Properly researching footnotes.
  • Paying attention to detail for accuracy in math, science, and history.
  • Developing perseverance.

Kinesthetic/tactile learners (Movers):

  • Relate to others more comfortably in action and body than in words.
  • Tend to live in perpetual motion, rarely sit still; often labeled hyperactive.
  • Try to touch everything they see or walk past.
  • Use lots of gestures and facial expressions when talking.
  • Tend to show anger physically (e.g., by stomping feet and slamming doors).
  • Prefer to try things out by touching and feeling, even as they get older.
  • Often make paper airplanes and fans out of their papers.
  • Prefer to be playing, jumping, running, or wrestling in their spare time.
  • Have excellent muscle coordination in sports which require skills in balancing.
  • Can successfully maintain balance while blindfolded.
  • Are most distracted when they must be still or things get “too quiet.”
  • Tend to dislike long-range goal setting and complicated projects.
  • Are excellent at taking gadgets apart and can put them back together again.
  • Find listening a difficult challenge.
  • Respond more favorably to a “pat on the back” than to “stars” or a favorable comment.

Kinesthetic/tactile learners flourish when:

  • Their learning experiences allow as many opportunities as possible to do or feel (touch).
  • They can demonstrate or model a task for other students.
  • Taught through role playing or pantomime. They love short, dynamic presentations.
  • Pointing with fingers to follow or anchor words in early reading.
  • They are kept moving with appropriate activities. They love construction.
  • Taught with the following aids:
    • Finger plays and puppet theater
    • Tracing motions (in the air, on paper, on the wall or floor)
    • Tactile experiences with sandpaper, sand, clay, water, etc.
    • Travel and field trips
    • Felt pens (texture)
    • Math manipulatives (blocks, rods, chips, play money)
    • Plays and dramatic interpretations
    • Conducting motions in music
    • Timelines and maps that he makes himself
    • The key is variety in methods, with lots of hands-on activities.

Kinesthetic/tactile learners tend to struggle with:

  • Concentrating on phonics, grammar, and math rules.
  • Reading for information.
  • Doing analytical work.
  • Proofreading their work.
  • Doing research-related writing.
  • Completing long-term projects in science and history.
  • Understanding the relevance of their work to other academic goals.

For More Information

Dr. Ronald and Inge Cannon operate Education PLUS, a speaking and publishing ministry for homeschool families. Inge’s workshop, “Learning Styles,” is available for purchase on audiocassette (select “Shop for Audiocassette Workshops”).

The Cannons’ primary focus is training parents to implement the many benefits of a discipleship lifestyle in home education. They offer many training tools to inspire and empower parents—particularly in the area of crafting apprenticeship programs, choosing high school curriculum, and presenting academic credentials for home school graduates (transcripts, resumes, portfolios, etc.)

© 2005 Education PLUS. Used with permission.

Comments/Suggestions | Disclaimer | Advertising