Learning Styles: Why There’s More Than One Way to Learn English (and Why It Matters) Pedagogic article for Helen Doron English website
Cast your mind back to your school days. Chances are, you sat in a classroom, facing forward, for hours at a time. Perhaps your teacher talked a lot, wrote things on the board, and handed out notes. But what about you? Was it easy to absorb and understand the information? Did you spend your time daydreaming, doodling or making copious notes using various highlighters?
Just as we don’t all look the same, we don’t all learn the same way. We have different learning styles. These learning styles can have a major impact on our ability to comprehend and remember new information, or acquire a new language.
A child’s behaviour in the classroom can reveal much about his (or her) learning styles. A commonly used model is VAK — which stands for Visual, Auditory and Kinaesthetic learning styles.
Visual learners learn by seeing and reading, auditory learners learn by listening and speaking, and kinaesthetic learners learn by touching, moving and doing. So visual learners like to learn through written language (reading and writing tasks), auditory learners often talk to themselves, moving their lips and reading out loud, while kinaesthetic learners are their best while touching and moving.
Interestingly, while most children will operate in all three styles, they will usually show a preference for one or two. The VAK model provides a quick and easy reference by which to assess children’s learning styles, and more importantly, to design learning methods and experiences that match their preferences.
What are some common indicators of learning styles? When teaching someone something, you would give the visual learner written instructions, an auditory learner verbal instructions, and the kinaesthetic learner a demonstration before letting them have a go. You would say: “Show me”, “Tell me” and “Let me try”.
How can teachers use their understanding of learning styles in the classroom? By providing a variety of activities catering to the children’s different needs. The visual learner likes to see and observe — looking at pictures, props and displays. Typical activities would include showing a set of flashcards while the children name what they see, games in which children identify cards that have been removed (What’s missing?) and memory games.
The auditory learner likes to listen and speak — listening to the spoken word, songs, sounds or noises. Typical activities would include games using instructions. For example, Chinese whispers involve giving an instruction to one child who passes it on. The last child to receive the instruction must perform an action based on the instruction. Another activity, brain jogs, involves the children performing midline crossing movements while chanting sentences. (This is also a kinaesthetic exercise.)
The kinaesthetic learner likes practical hands-on experience (touching, feeling, holding) which helps them acquire new information easily. It’s here that songs set to movements play an important role. The children perform appropriate movements while singing, while also associating the lyrics with the meaning. In pantomime, children take turns picking cards from a pile and miming them, while the others try to guess the words. Enjoyable games such as Relay Races and Blind Man’s Bluff involve challenging the children to identify an object from its description or from how it feels (tactile stimulation).
If you want your child to acquire English as a second language with ease, look for a learning methodology which incorporates all three learning styles. Lessons should be well paced with a skillful blend of visual, auditory and kinaesthetic activities, so children sit, stand, dance, sing, move around and play games throughout the lesson. It’s all about keeping children active, engaged and having fun while they acquire new language skills. There’s more than one way to learn English — quickly, easily and naturally.