Halstrom Blog Post

Understanding your child’s learning preferences

​By:​ Lisa Bournoutian Sandoval M.A., M.Ed.
​Halstrom Academy​

Understanding your child’s learning preferences

A LOVE of learning has a lot to do with learning that we are loved.

Children, by nature, love to learn. They are eager to understand the world around them and to give it meaning.  In addition, parents, by nature, are the first teachers children interact with, teachers who challenge and encourage them to learn.  Parents and educators alike are dedicated to instilling a love of learning in children, but cultivating a love of learning is not as simple as teaching a lesson; it’s in both how the lesson is taught and how it is received. How do we spark an interest in their minds and keep the fire burning in their souls?

Edutopia recently published an article written by Elena Aguilar titled, “Cultivating a Love of Learning,” and in the article she shares a story of her twelve year old son trying to start a fire with a magnifying glass in her driveway. Through this example, she illustrated how a science curriculum could be designed around projects and activities that would excite sixth graders, and how ultimately, as educators, our goal is to ignite that curiosity and nurture it, because that spark is what fuels a love of learning.

In order for children to feel inspired and excited about learning, learning needs to be inspirational and exciting. Oddly enough, as a student gets further along in their academic journey, it becomes harder to ask a lot of questions, or to deviate from the lesson plan for the day and explore a tangent that has piqued their interest.  Ideally, middle school and high school students would be allowed to explore their academic interests in an environment that fostered their curiosity rather than forced them to conform to the confines of a traditional school day.  As Aguilar states in her article mentioned above: “In order to become lifelong learners, our students need opportunities to pursue their curiosities and interests. Some schools and districts encourage teachers to design units of study that align to standards and are responsive to student interests; in other schools and districts, curriculum is more tightly defined and teachers have less voice about the choices they can offer students.”

We all learn differently.  Whether we had someone point out our learning preferences or whether we figured it out on our own, once we had that information it allowed us to feel more comfortable with our strengths and weaknesses.  As a working adult, I have shared on multiple occasions, (sometimes even in the middle of an important meeting), that I am a visual learner, and followed that pronouncement by drawing a diagram of what I believed was being communicated in order to check for understanding.  As a teacher in the classroom for just under ten years, it was clear that not only did every student learn differently, but also that it was my responsibility to help him or her understand how he or she learned best.  By providing my students with an environment that encouraged awareness and acceptance of their learning preferences, they were able to feel more confident about their learning process and about themselves as a learner.

Do you know what your learning preference is, or rather; do you know how you learn best?

Are you an auditory learner? Do you learn best when someone is lecturing or facilitating a discussion? Do you prefer to listen to books on tape?  Do you find yourself reading aloud to yourself or talking things out to better understand the situation?

Or are you a visual learner? Do you prefer to have things presented in diagrams or illustrations? Do you prefer to have the notes in your hand to follow along while some is lecturing? Do you write detailed notes in the margins to help you remember important information?

Or are you a tactile/kinesthetic learner? Do you prefer to physically move and be active when learning? Do you prefer to be hands-on with your projects and manipulate them from various angles until you can understand its greater function?

The learning preferences mentioned above are the three most commonly identified learning preferences in students.  What do you think it would be like for a student who is clearly a visual learner to be sitting in a lecture hall for two hours with a teacher who is not providing any visual support? Or a student who needs to move around who is being asked to sit still for two hours while a teacher flips through a detailed PowerPoint?  How is that student expected to keep their spark for learning alive when they are feeling less and less confident in their ability to absorb the material?

Let’s consider Max. Max is a student who came to me his sophomore year of high school after failing Spanish. Max insisted he was not good at Spanish and was quite vocal in sharing how much he hated it.  I asked him what he hated about it and he said, “It just doesn’t make sense.” I asked Max how his previous teacher conducted the class and he shared that she lectured the whole time, or played audiotapes for the class to listen to prior to quizzing them.  I asked Max how he liked to learn, and not surprisingly, he wasn’t sure. I set some time aside that first day before jumping into the lesson to give Max a learning preference indicator test, and as it turns out, Max was a visual learner. Together, Max and I created flashcards with photos of the vocabulary words, as well as a template for conjugating verbs that allowed him to remember the structure of which verb conjugation aligned with which subject pronoun, and to say that a light bulb went on is an understatement.  Max had endured an entire year of Spanish without this critical information about himself; it was as though Max had taken Spanish blindfolded for an entire year!  Once the lesson was aligned with his learning preference, Spanish became far less daunting to Max, and he passed Spanish with flying colors.

I have known a number of Max’s in my life-- some were students in my classroom, some lived in my neighborhood, some are children of my closest friends. However, the Max I can relate to the most is the fourteen-year old kinesthetic learner that lives in my home.

Many parents and educators today understand that if a child does not feel embraced in the classroom, they can feel rejected, and this rejection can permanently affect their confidence, their motivation, and at times, their desire to learn. How can we foster lifelong learners if we cannot support the way students learn? It is our responsibility to provide our children with the tools they need to embrace their love of learning, and instill in them the confidence and desire to continue to learn for years to come.  As the old adage goes, it takes a village, and at Halstrom Academy, we provide children like Max with that small village they need to receive the academic support they need to flourish and succeed.