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Good instruction caters to all learning styles

By Bonnie Coblentz

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Seeing, hearing and touching have their place in the learning process, and the best teachers know how to incorporate all of them in their lessons.

Some people like to handle something to learn about it, others want to hear information while still others prefer written instructions. Some people visualize abstract concepts well. The way a person likes to learn is often referred to as a learning style or a learning preference.

Linda Morse, a professor of educational psychology in Mississippi State University's College of Education, said she has never seen a study that suggests that teaching to a person's learning style makes any difference in what that person achieves.

"The problem comes when we confuse good instruction with the preferences people have, which may make them happier or more interested in learning," Morse said. "People tend to be happier if multiple sensory inputs are utilized in educational settings."

She said teachers should concentrate on putting instruction together properly, using a variety of sensory experiences. Students can adapt instruction to their own learning preference to make it more meaningful to themselves, giving them an advantage.

"What is important in learning is the quality of the instruction delivered," Morse said. "That is always the key in what is going to be achieved by the student. Well-designed instruction should be interesting, age-appropriate and engaging, whether it's 'your preference' or not."

Micki Smith, child and family development area agent with the MSU Extension Service, explained the different learning styles and how they dictate the way a person likes to process information.

"Learning styles can be visual, auditory or kinesthetic -- seeing, hearing or touching," Smith said. "Many people show a combination of the three."

Someone who has a visual learning style learns best by seeing and watching. This person pictures the way things look in their head.

Auditory learners tend to learn best by listening and remembering facts when they are presented in the form of a song, poem or melody. They tend to spell phonetically and may have trouble reading because they don't visualize well.

Kinesthetic or manipulative learners tend to learn best through movement and manipulation. These learners like to find out how things work.

"Knowing and understanding a child's preferred learning style can be important to that child's school success," Smith said.

Parents who find their child is a visual learner can use visual techniques when helping with homework. For example, when practicing spelling, the parent can print the words on paper as they are said aloud. A kinesthetic learner may remember words better by manipulating letter blocks, and an older child may create a crossword puzzle or word poem to aid their learning.

Smith also encouraged parents to consider the environment in which a child does homework. Make sure children are surrounded by the things that help them concentrate and learn rather than distract.

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Released: Aug. 11, 2005
Contact: Micki Smith, (662) 325-3089 or Dr. Linda Morse, (601) 859-2672

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