The three learning modalities are the ways we prefer to take information to the mind. We all learn in a variety of ways, but generally have a dominant method....
1. Kinesthetic... (aka Tactile) learn best by doing, touching, manipulating
2. Visual... learn best by seeing and making mental images
3. Auditory... learn best by listening
The way your child learns best is called their "dominant modality." Their "secondary modality" comes in second, and their "weakness" is his or her least favored method. If your child can learn equally well using two different modalities, they are considered to have "mixed modalities." "Some kids- about 30 percent- operate out of a blend of two or three strengths."(1:27)
Very young children learn almost entirely through doing (they are kinesthetic learners), so preschool, kindergarten and first grades should be taught accordingly. In about first or second grade, children begin to be able to learn visually (which is why reading often takes off at this age), and around fifth or sixth grade, they begin to learn through listening. Keep in mind every child is different, and these are approximate ranges. As adults, we can learn through any of the three modalities, but, it is when we take in information through our dominant modality that we learn best. We can learn with our other modalities, it just takes more work.
If you try to teach a child in a modality he is unable to learn through yet, you will frustrate both yourself and the child. Once your child is to the point that he is capable of learning in more then one modality, he should be able to switch between modalities to learn. But, the more you can teach to his dominate modality, the better he learns and remembers.
Most school teachers are a blend of visual/auditory, and most "traditional classrooms cater to auditory and visual learners. Children who are equally auditory and visual are generally labeled gifted. On the other hand, a kinesthetic and auditory child who learns through movement and sound may be incorrectly labeled hyperactive or ADHD."(2)
Determining your child's dominant modality
- "Does your child express emotion through body language, tone of voice, or facial expression?
- Do your child’s primary interests involve movement, sounds, or pictures?
- When encountering something new, does your child want to touch it, ask questions about it, or examine it?
- In a group setting, does your child touch others and encourage them to move, or talk to others, or watch others?
- If your child wandered off in a store, would he likely be twirling racks and touching merchandise, chatting or interacting with someone, or looking around at everything?
- How does your child communicate? What forms of communication does your child best understand?
- How does your child solve problems? What brings about success or frustration?"(2)
Determining your dominant modality (1:ch3)
- Consider your career, your interests, and talents. Do do they involve more moving around and doing, visual strengths, or talking?
- If you're kinesthetically oriented, you love activity and likely have projects lying around the house. You are quick to give hugs, pats on the back, and physical affection, and tend to show emotion through body language or action. You value involvement in sports and keeping fit, and don't like to sit for long meetings or lectures.
- If you're visually oriented, you appreciate a neat, organized, well-decorated, clutter-free house. You are a note taker and list maker. You enjoy reading, movies or television. You give "that look" in discipline, and when you're upset you don't say much but show facial expression.
- If you're more auditory, your focus is on communication and family relationships. You do a lot of explaining, encouraging, and praising to your children. You show emotion by words and tone of voice. You may be a good storyteller, and particularly enjoy music. You love to be hospitable and have others in your home.
Teaching Your Kinesthetic Learner
- Traits: This child is active, and may seem inattentive, always seeming to move some part of his body. "Being still requires so much mental energy that (he) can't concentrate on (his) work. He needs an active approach."(1:26) This child is the most at risk for school frustration, because schools focus on visual and auditory learning. He needs hands on, direct experience. He learns through trial and error, and wants to touch and try everything. He remembers what was done more than what was read or talked about. He "needs a lot of physical contact with parents, children, and teachers, and if he doesn't get the positive affection- hugs, pats, and so on- will nudge, push, and pinch other classmates or siblings."(1:27) He may struggle in reading.
- Responds well to: taking an active, part in lessons. He likes rhythmic movement, hands-on activities, building, taking apart, body movement, and manipulating objects. He needs as much direct experience as possible. Use manipulatives in math!!! Use clay to build models of science molecules, etc. Give him a pencil/crayon/marker when working with a written lesson. Encourage high-lighting. Take a break to play or run around every so often, especially after lessons that he wasn't kinesthetically involved in.
- Wearies of: long lessons, or being told to stand or sit still.
- Communication: When he needs to listen, let him hold something, stack blocks, squish clay, draw, or squeeze ball. Girls may like to wear a bracelet, so they have something to fidget with.
- Instructions: Give specific instructions like underline such and such. This child will prefer to jump right in, rather then waiting to hear the entire instruction. Take frequent breaks & alternate seated work with activity. Allow child to complete work in rocking chair or sitting on a Sit n' Gym Ball
- Review: Study by writing on chalk board & erasing as info is learned. Also allow the child to "teach" the information he's learned. He may also enjoy creative application, such as making a game or skit using what he's learned.
- Memorization: Associate facts with body movement (steps, jumps, etc). Allow child to be active- shoot a basket with each answer/ write on the whiteboard for spelling practice. Record information and let child listen to it while swinging or jogging.
- Writing: He may prefer writing in large scale, on a board rather than in little lines. You can write the word, then let him trace it with his fingers until it is erased. Also let him write in sand/ cornmeal/ shaving cream on a cookie sheet or write in the air or trace on the back rather than strictly on paper or verbal work.
- Spelling: use textured letters, abc magnets, or sign language
- Reading: runs finger along words while reading. May need something to do with his hands when you read to him, like drawing a picture of what you're reading about. He may enjoy doing something physically while he reads, such as a stationary bike or rocking chair.
- Reluctant Readers (older): find books with action, adventure, sports, and anything he's naturally interested in.
- Reluctant Readers (younger): try scratch-n-sniff, flip/tab/pop-up books, touch-textures, & books that initiate activity
- Distractions to concentration: activity around him.
- Challenges: he may seem disruptive when not engaged in hands-on activity or movement.
- Activities: projects, models, experiments, science labs, drama skit, field trips, sports, games & gadgets to take apart/put together.
Teaching Your Visual Learner
- Traits: Has a good visual memory, and is an observer. She remembers where to put things away, and keeps an organized desk. She may prefer to communicate more through facial expression or pictures then words. She has a great imagination and may appear to "daydream" during lectures. She may close her eyes or look at the ceiling when concentrating or memorizing. She notices changes and details before others (like a mom's new haircut, sister's new shirt, a new item in a room), and likes to see how things work. She probably "scores well on standardized, multiple-choice, and matching tests."(1:84) She watches other children rather than jumping in on the action, and may be described as quiet. (1:22-24)
- Responds well to: reading, writing, images like pictures, charts, diagrams, charts, lists, drawings, posters, maps, videos, and demonstrations. For better retention, use outlining, graphing, study cards, mind mapping, illustrated time lines, and note taking. These students are more comfortable with text books and workbooks. Especially encourage note-taking and color coated high-lighting. This child appreciates plenty of trips to the library. She may also appreciate if you take the extra effort to organize his school work/folders/etc by means of color-codes.
- Wearies of: oral drills and entirely phonics-based approaches to reading... both will be frustrating and difficult for him.
- Communication: This child may be especially sensitive to your facial expressions and body language, so be aware of what messages you're sending! Visually show your approval and excitement with his successes.
- Instructions: written! Whether in teaching, for a chore list, or grocery list, it should be written down. Let the child cross them off as he completes them. If you tell this child to pick up his toys, make her bed, sweep the floor, then brush her teeth, she'll probably only make it through one or two items- if any. She needs to see it in list form. If she's a pre-reader, you can make a chore chart or to do list using pictures or symbols.
- Review: Use flash cards and work sheets. Have her "change or translate a chapter into a diagram, chart, or drawing, it will help them understand and retain what they read."(1:86)
- Reading: Learns many words simply by sight, rather than having to sound them out. She will probably become a rapid reader with good comprehension and good spelling skills.
- Reluctant Readers: find books with good pictures; view movie before reading book.
- Distractions to concentration: visual images, untidiness, movement. For wandering thoughts, have colored sticky notes available to write the thought, question, or list down, so she knows she can tend to it later and let her mind get back on task.
- Challenges: She learns fast, but may forget fast too unless she's emulsed in the subject by writing and looking at the information. She may want to watch more TV then other kids, so be sure to moderate and provide books, projects, and hobbies to peak her interest instead. Also be sure to test her vision regularly or her learning will suffer.
- Activities: art, reading, puzzles, word finds, visual games, origami.
Teaching Your Auditory Learner
- Traits: He is a good listener and a big talker! He loves show and tell, creative writing, and discussions. "He remembers what you said long after you said it, and then reminds you."(1:24) He follows oral directions without needing them repeated. He is vocalizes her feelings, and tends to be on the dramatic side. He may move his lips or whisper when reading, memorizing, or spelling. He may have a hard time with spelling and reading silently.
- Responds well to: listening to lectures or lessons on CD/ mp3 (wearing head phones) or even lessons on video (although she learns from listening more than watching), being read to and reading aloud himself, interactive computer programs, verbalizing, story telling, and music.
- Wearies of: excessive quiet work.
- Communication: He is sensitive to your tone of voice and inflection. This child doesn't need to look at you to understand what you're saying. You may have to explain that making eye contact is a good social skill and teach him the habit. He "replays" what you've said, even after the lesson is over, so the more you repeat yourself... he hears nagging.
- Instructions: verbal, allowing discussion of instructions before beginning assignment. She needs "clear verbal instructions when given new or difficult material to learn, even if its in a textbook, on a work sheet, or on the board."(1:45)
- Review: discussion, oral drills, group study. Answer work book questions orally.
- Memorization: make poems & songs out of the material, set facts to music, or just record and let child play it back.
- Reading: may read aloud, in a whisper, mouth words, or subvocalize (say words in head). Enjoys books on CD. Benefits greatly from a phonics approach to reading.
- Reluctant Readers: use rhyming books, poetry, and audio-books.
- Writing: Brainstorm verbally, then write ideas in cluster form. For young children, let them tell you a story to write down. Encourage journalling.
- Distractions to concentration: sounds & noises.
- Challenges: test scores may not show him to be as bright as he is, and he may struggle with spelling.
- Activities: spelling bees, rhymes, speeches, music, activities with a recorder.
See Also: Learning Personalities
Work Cited:1. Cheri Fuller, Talkers, Watchers, and Doers: Unlocking Your Child's Unique Learning Style