How to respond to diverse learning styles

Parents are perhaps the people above all others who need to understand the concept of individual learning styles. Those with more than one child quickly learn that each child’s personality is unique. That unique personality is directly related to style differences. Additionally, each child’s genetic engenderment and psycho-physiological sexual differentiation predisposes that child to certain possibilities. Because a child’s self-esteem is tied to parental approval, an understanding of differences enables parents to foster positive attitudes in their children toward school relationships and tasks.

Upon our acceptance that children learn in different ways, we face daily decisions regarding our belief that all students can be successful learners. Belief in learning style differences enables parents and teachers to accommodate children’s special needs. Awareness impacts understanding, decisions, and expectations for learning outcomes.

A case may serve as the best example. A second-grade class teacher decided that the time had come for her to contact a child’s parents for insight into their son’s inattentiveness in class. She said the boy daydreamed too much, but never exhibited behavior problems. Did the student have an attention deficit disorder? Did he understand directions? Was he completing assignments? Was he bored? The parents asked numerous questions.

The teacher learned from the parents that they often had to interrupt some of their son’s creative endeavors long enough for him to eat supper or finish his homework. The parents recognized that their son, the younger of their two children, was introverted, focused, and preferred quiet time to play and read. They allowed plenty of opportunities for their son to experiment with a chemistry set, to select and read books of his choice, and to explore in the woods behind their home.

Despite inattentiveness in class, the boy consistently made high grades. His teacher was initially puzzled. She learned of the boy’s interest in science and wisely provided opportunities for him to explore areas of interest when he had successfully completed school assignments that frequently had to be compacted.

When standardized test results became available, the boy’s superior scores in all areas of achievement and ability confirmed his parents’ suspicions. The boy, like his older sister, was identified as gifted. Both parents worked and were able to provide enrichment through karate lessons, music lessons, routine trips to the public library, museum visits, scouting activities, attendance at concerts, and family vacations. Like his order sister, the boy thrived on challenges. Having attempted to learn to play the piano, he eventually played trumpet and sousaphone in the secondary school band until he decided to quit to play center his senior year on the high school football team. Always active, he thrived by participating in a variety of activities.

Having participated in honors and advanced placement classes throughout secondary school, the boy graduated among the top students although he was nearly a year younger than most of his classmates. He had tutored other students in math throughout his high school years thinking that math would be his major in college. As it turned out, he actually switched from math to double major in philosophy and psychology. At the small, selective liberal arts college he attended, he met and married an anthropologist whose work entailed a move to another region of the country. Once settled, he attained a degree in environmental chemistry and took a job with an environmental research firm.

A volunteer in the local elementary school’s reading tutorial program, this young man also enjoys hiking and sailing as well as solitary hobbies like woodworking, photography, and gardening. Currently in triathlon training, he has recently raced competitively. Only three months ago, he became a father.

This child’s success required the combined understanding and efforts of parents and teachers willing to respond to an eclectic array of learning styles. The consistent development of potential enables individuals like my son to discover relationships, explore abilities, connect concepts, and attain learning goals. Not every child is fortunate enough to be born into a family able to provide enrichment. Not every child has parents willing or even able to advocate for him. Not every child is assigned to a classroom in which the teacher understands diverse learning styles.

Realizing that there are many ways to learn, wise parents and teachers employ a variety of methods to empower children. Teachers require theoretical and practical training. Parents require patience and understanding. Differentiated instruction to address learning style differences enables students to take advantage of their style strengths. Sensitive responses from parents and teachers to differences in learning styles honor diversity and promote learning success.