The idea of a difference in kinds of intelligence based on whether a person is a “left-brain” or a “right-brain” person isn’t new. The theory holds that if one side of your brain is stronger than the other, you are better at the things that side of the brain controls. For instance, because the left side of the brain is responsible for logical, sequential, rational, analytical, objective, a “left-brain” person excels at tasks that call for logical and analytic thinking. On the other hand, the right brain is in charge of work that is intuitive, holistic, and subjective.
Recent brain research suggests that the brain is so interconnected that we don’t have to be limited to one strong learning style. This means parents can play both sides against the middle. Help your child learn in the way that suits him best. But, also take opportunities to strengthen his use of other learning styles.
Based on the theory that everyone perceives and processes information differently due to heredity, upbringing, and environment, some educators believe that students learn best in one particular style of learning—each student has a “learning style”. The idea isn’t to pigeon-hole a person, and no one learning style is superior to any other. Use learning-styles as a tool, but provide opportunities for your child to learn in other ways, too.
There are several ways to categorize learning styles. One way to categorize learning styles is to divide learners into either concrete or abstract learners. Concrete perceivers learn best through hands-on activities that engage all their senses. Abstract perceivers, on the other hand, best learn through analysis, observation, and thinking.
Learning styles can also be categorized by which sense organ the student favors. All our sense organs operate in concert with the nervous system to send data to the brain where it is processed. The ear has nerve cells that convert stimuli to electrical energy and send it to the brain. But, and nerve cell in the ear is different than a nerve cell in the eye. They even look different. Some experts believe that sometimes the brain’s working relationship with one particular sense organ (ear, eye, smell) can become stronger than the working relationship with other sense organs. If that is the case, then a student who’s brain and ear have a strong relationship will learn best when they hear information as opposed to reading it or watching a demonstration.
You don’t have to administer a complicated test to determine your child’s learning style. Close observation will tell you what you need to know.
If you notice your child looks up toward the ceiling when asked a question, he may be a spatial learner. You’ll have to be patient and don’t assume they aren’t paying attention. They are working on a response; they are just doing it in their own way. Spatial learners try to construct a mental picture before answering questions. My husband is great at doing math problems in his head. When he does, his eyes move around as if he’s writing the numbers with his eyes. This tells me he is a spatial learner.
In a way, kinesthetic learners learn by osmosis. They use the long muscles in the arms and legs to take in information. They need freedom of movement. You may notice that before beginning a task, your kinesthetic child gets up to get a drink of water or a different pen or pencil. That is because by moving, he’s helping himself focus and think. Of course, I didn’t know that first year of home school. I was driven to despair by my son’s constant fidgeting and how he would move from chair to floor and back again, or curl up with the dog, or straighten all the paper clips in the paper-clip holder. If I’d only known the signs of a kinesthetic learning style, think of the grief I could have avoided.
It’s not just fidgety kids who learn kinesthetically. I worked with an attorney who did some serious pacing when preparing for a case. A hallway ran all the way around the entire floor. When he was about to begin a trial, I’d see him walking past my office over and over. Sometimes, if he was developing a particularly vigorous idea, his walking would show purpose—quick firm steps. At other times, he meandered around the floor, exploring ideas or letting a new fact sink in. One of his associates always accompanied him, reporting the latest research or summarizing a deposition or just discussing trial strategy. I thought at the time this lawyer was eccentric, perhaps a little disturbed. But, now I think he must be a kinesthetic learner.
Learning through our senses has two phases. First, we take in stimuli from the outside world through our sense organs—eyes, ears, skin, tounge. Categorizing learning styles by which sense organ a child prefers over others is a matter of sensation. The second phase of learning is the part where the nerve cells carry the information to the brain, which processes the information. This phase is a matter of perception. Sensation is bottom-up—taking information in from outside and sending to the brain. Perception is top-down—processing information in the brain and sending out orders to different parts of the body so that we can respond appropriately. Not every student processes information the same way. An active processor makes immediate use of new information in order to make sense of it. They want to try it out and see how it works. Reflective processors reflect and thinking about what they’ve learned in order to make sense of it.
Having a label for the way your child learns isn’t very helpful. It’s more important to observe how they deal with new information. Does he like to try something out to understand it, or prefers to think things through first. Does he focus on details, or does he better thing about the “big picture?” When learning something new, does he like to talk about it or think about it? Does he prefer facts or ideas? Does he gravitate toward books with pictures, diagrams, or maps or does he prefer reading text? Does he easily participate in group activities, or does he fade into the back and listen? Does he excel at recalling facts, or is his thinking more abstract. Does he work through math problems step-by-step or can he see an answer right off the bat but have a hard time finding the steps to get the answer? Answering these questions will help you understand why your child does well at some things and not so well at others. You will be able to help him translate school tasks into his language of learning. Bring out the blocks or Legos when he comes home with pages of math problems so that he can build the answers with his own two hands.