You can’t figure it out. The child just doesn’t seem to know how to study! When he is interested, he can concentrate for hours… but if the topic does not strike a chord with him, woe to his teacher (and parents)!
Is he learning-disabled? Does he have hyperactivity problems? Is he just slow? Or is it laziness? What on earth is his problem?
Many parents struggle with frustration over children who seem to be unable to study the conventional way: listening quietly, working on his seatwork and finishing homework on time. They find themselves with a child who does not seem able to sit still, finish his work within a reasonable time frame and concentrate on what is at hand. What seems to work for others don’t work for them. Is there a missing link?
Yes, in fact there is. It lies in your child’s learning style. Not everyone learns the same way. Gone are the days the prototype student: the obedient, quiet child who sat with his hands folded on his desk, as his teacher poured out facts in 2-hour long lectures. With modern research and a deeper understanding of cognitive development and learning, educational researchers have been able to equip us with a vast store of enlightening information.
One of those aspects is the existence of differences in learning styles. Children learn differently, using their different strengths to their advantage. Some learn best by relying upon what they see. These children have fantastic visual memories and vivid imaginations. They are observant and well-organized, usually preferring to figure something out in their minds rather than listen to a thorough explanation of it.
Others learn best by doing. They are active and excel in physical activities such as performing arts. Many of these learners are able to think three-dimensionally, make connections between ideas and work creatively. They thrive in an environment of hands-on learning.
Still others learn best by talking and listening. Children with this learning style can generally remember spoken instructions very well. They often repeat instructions or facts out loud to cement them in their memories. These children handle phonetic tasks excellently and enjoy music, drama and role-playing.
Understanding these different styles of learning in children is key to understanding your child’s strengths and weaknesses in learning. In later articles, I will expand on some of these learning styles and introduce you to various strategies that can enhance your child’s learning.
For now, I think we have time for a little story. I once had a student who had the worst time ever with spelling. You’ll hear more about visual learners next time, so just hang in there. Then, I (like most of you right now) did not have any idea what the deal was with learning differences. To me, it was simply a matter of getting the information into the child’s head, and that’s it. Always, he was making below average grades on his spelling tests. He was written off as slow and very easily distracted. But I couldn’t just slap a label on him and walk off; he was my student, and it was my duty to help him! Moreover, I had seen bright stuff come out from this child. I knew he was intelligent. I just didn’t know how to access that intelligence and help him use it to learn successfully.
In a bid to help him, I began researching ways to help children with spelling, and tried many of the “tested and tried” strategies… with minimal success! Then one day, I found spelling pictures. One wonderful teacher wrote about how she got her students to write their difficult spelling words many times over, tracing a picture with the words. I began to use that with my student.
On the left, you see an example (his first picture). The picture was made by placing a blank sheet of paper over a duck template, and writing the troublesome words three, four or five times each, tracing the picture as he went around. Guess what? This activity capitalized on his learning style and helped him pick up fast. By the end of that year, he was consistently making A’s and B’s in spelling. Why? Because I was a fantastic teacher? No. Because I learned what his strength was, and capitalized on it to help him learn his way.
So take heart, your child is not “learning-disabled.” If you (and his teacher) can identify his strengths based on his learning style, you too can capitalize on them to make his learning experience a fruitful journey.
Coming up next: Visual Learners: Show Me, and I Will Know!