Thursday, May 8, 2008

Support Group Meeting - Learning Styles

Our monthly homeschool support group meeting was Tuesday night. The topic was "Learning Styles", and I was asked to be one of the presenters - not because I have any special knowledge in this area but because I have 5 kids and have been homeschooling a long time. Presumably I have gleaned some information about the subject over the years!

I love Diana Waring's description of learning styles in her book, Beyond Survival: A Guide to Abundant-Life Homeschooling.

Instead of just describing the characteristics of various learning styles, she creates word pictures using colors, music, and objects, so I attempted to recreate this at the meeting. People responded well, so I think I was somewhat successful.

She uses the designations created by Myers-Briggs - Thinker, Feeler, Sensor, and Intuitor.

The Thinker is your organized, methodical, "give me the facts" kind of kid, who doesn't like surprises, wants to know exactly what he has to do each day, likes checklists, order and rules. The background music here is Haydn's "Surprise Symphony". The table is covered with black and white fabric, neatly arranged. Placed on top of the fabric are a computer programming manual, history textbook, vocabulary workbook, and research paper writing guide. A ruler, mechanical pencil, calculator, and alarm clock are neatly arranged next to the books, as is a daily planner and pack of multiplication flash cards. 

The Feeler is a "people person", who tends to be emotional and sensitive. This kid responds to pictures and stories, and wants to know the personal, human side of everything. The love theme from Tchaikovsky's "Romeo and Juliet" is playing in the background, and the table is draped with a lush maroon velvety fabric. Arranged artistically on the table are framed pictures of friends and family, a scented candle, a cuddly stuffed animal, and a vase of flowers. A pile of biographies, historical fiction, short stories, and poetry stand next to a sing-along tape of math facts and videos dramatizing events in history. 

Next is the Sensor, who is the kid who never stops moving and flies from one activity to the next in a blur of noise and activity. Short lessons are key here, with lots of hands-on projects. A piece of brightly patterned fabric is splayed across the table, and on it are a hammer and nails, paintbrush, gardening tools, a jump rope, model to build, hands-on science and history kits, sidewalk chalk, and books on tape. Adventure stories, nature field guides, and "Games for Math" lie in a jumble among the various tools. Hear the Hoe-down music from Aaron Copland's "Rodeo". 

Lastly is the Intuitor, the daydreamer, the idea person! This kid doesn't like to play by the rules, but comes up with his own way to do things ( much to the chagrin of his "thinker" brother!) Creative and unconventional, he isn't really a detail person and needs encouragement to complete the projects he starts. Deep blue fabric sprinkled with sparkly glitter lies underneath an old, comfy flannel shirt, sketchbook, paintbrush and palette, and a variety of music CDs. Resource books on various subjects are stacked next to a pile of notebooks and journals, along with a pair of binoculars The music is "Jupiter" from Gustav Holst's "The Planets Suite" 

Now, most people are a combination, but generally strongest in one area. Do you recognize any of your children in these descriptions? How about yourself?
I am definitely an Intuitor, with a healthy dose of Feeler - creative, the queen of unfinished projects, daydreamer, and idea person. I have never followed a lesson plan "as written", and I have a hard time following a rigid schedule. Of my kids, two are Thinker/ Intuitors, two are Feeler/Intuitors, and another is a Sensor/Feeler!

As a teachers, we can't just do what is comfortable for us and expect everyone else to follow along. It is incumbent upon us to understand the needs of our children and do our best to teach them so they can learn in the way that is best for them! That might mean that when you read aloud, your Feeler is snuggled up against your side while your Sensor is playing with Legos, Intuitor is doodling in a notebook, and Thinker is checking off "listen to read aloud" on his To Do List. 

Here is Diana Waring's suggestion for teaching a subject in a way that reaches ALL your kids' learning styles: "Grab, Teach, Apply, Release".
To "grab 'em", introduce the subject with a story, a biography, or explanation of why this subject is important to know. Then , move on to "teaching" by studying textbooks, resource books, charts, diagrams, etc. Now it's time to "apply" the learning to some hands-on projects - build, measure, create, cook, gather - employ as many of the senses as possible! And finally, "release" that newfound knowledge by presenting it in a new way ~ a play, a display, a song.... Each child will have a chance to shine and learn in their own special way, and also to experience things that are a bit out of their comfort zone. That's okay. The problem is when material is only presented ONE way, and that isn't the way a child learns best. Then they struggle, become frustrated, and learn to "hate school". 

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