The Learning Curve
Strategies To Help Your Child Study Better
By Michelle Bourg
You check in on your kids, and it’s a typical scene: Your oldest is buried in a book and oblivious to “Sesame Street” blasting from the TV as your middle child recites along. Meanwhile, your youngest has taken the game controller apart. All children have their own ways of processing information, or what educational theorists commonly call learning styles. By getting a sense of how your child learns best—his or her learning style—you can help them study and learn more effectively to achieve and build on success at school.
Over the past 30 years, extensive research has been conducted on learning styles: a 2004 study found more than 70 different learning style systems quantified in literature. These systems typically recognize as few as three and as many as eight different styles, but usually at their heart are three core modalities: visual (associating images with information), auditory (listening to and repeating information) and kinesthetic (typically processing information through touch and manipulation, but also using gestures or movement while learning). Many systems, such as the VARK model (Visual, Auditory, Reading/Writing, Kinesthetic), include reading and writing as a separate style. Some also make distinctions between solitary and group learners.
You can likely determine much about your child’s style through observation and from asking a teacher for his or hers; this can be particularly helpful in getting an idea how your child learns in a group. Several of the leading learning-style systems have online questionnaires, or you can ask a teacher or guidance counselor about more involved testing.
Once you have an idea how your child learns best you can incorporate some simple study strategies to work with his or her tendencies:
Visual learners are observant, detail-oriented and often gifted mimics. They absorb info readily from diagrams, charts and pictures and enjoy puzzles, flash cards and workbooks. They tend to struggle with creative writing and figurative thinking.
With your visual learner, incorporate educational videos, draw pictures together or use objects to illustrate concepts like addition and subtraction. Encourage writing down the steps in a math problem to see the processes. Help them develop visual memorization cues, like the old “knuckle trick” for the days in the months of the year. Help them practice converting these images to words quickly by making it a game with a timer.
Auditory learners are the ones who “talk your ear off.” They like to “talk problems out” and frequently sound words out when reading. As a result, they’re often phonetic spellers. Writing is a struggle for them at times, and they need practice sorting visual material for better performance on tests.
Encourage your auditory child to read aloud. Review material by playing “question and answer,” and encourage him to explain or restate what he’s learned after a study session. Books on tape or other audio or video recordings are also useful. Auditory learners often learn well in group situations and enjoy having a study partner or homework coach available.
These are the kids who are always being told, “Don’t touch that.” They’re often physically active and frequently need practice sitting still and listening.
For this type, stock up on supplies like clay, blocks, models and globes. Break study sessions into short blocks of time, and let your child move around as he studies. Since this type of learner’s need for movement can be distracting to others, help him develop ways to “fidget quietly”—doodling in the margins of his notebook or squeezing a rubber ball or marble in his pocket.
Reading and Writing (Verbal) Learners: These are the most “typical” learners; the ones with the class notes everyone wants to borrow. They frequently prefer learning alone at their own pace.
Encourage a verbal learner to write out notes, paraphrasing concepts into her own words and using bullet points. Even writing out the steps in a math problem can help cement the concepts mentally. When working with charts or graphs, have them write the data being conveyed.
Closely related to the idea of learning styles is the concept of metacognition, or thinking about one’s own thought process. Studies have shown that having students think about and discuss their study strategies improves their study on future exams. After an exam or project, talk with your child about what study methods helped and which didn’t, and build future study sessions on the successful methods.
It’s important to note that preferred learning modes can change over time, and don’t determine ability in a given subject: a reading and writing learner may in fact be more adept at math and science than creative writing. Also, an individual child will likely exhibit a mix of styles and benefit from adopting a variety of study techniques, depending on the subject and how he or she feels at the time. But knowing your child’s learning style can be a useful tool in helping him or her achieve academic success.
For more information on learning styles and tests and questionnaires to help determine your child’s style, visit: