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How Individual Learning Styles Affect School Success

Can you see it?
Can you hear it?
Can you feel it?
Do you get it?

   In second grade, your child made a topical map of the U.S. and could name every state capital without pause. In fifth grade, the history teacher wrote a poem featuring all the major European cities — and suddenly your budding genius can't remember that Paris is in France.

   What we're seeing here is not an early onset of dementia, but merely the natural difficulty a kinesthetic (hands-on) learner has with information that is only presented in an oral mode.

   Each of us has our own preferred way to store information. When presented with a new phone number, do you say it over and over to yourself (an oral learner), picture it written in your address book (visual), or actually pantomime punching it into the phone pad (kinesthetic)?

   Your child has a preferred way of learning, too. And if he or she is suddenly having difficulty in school, it could be that your child's learning style and the general teaching style no longer match. Conversely, if your struggling student suddenly comes to life, it could be that the learning and teaching styles are finally in sync.

   Most teaching in the early grades is skewed toward a hands-on approach. Remember learning about the letter R by coloring in red, bringing in a red rose and running around the classroom?

   Somewhere around the third and fourth grades, the hands-on tapers off and teaching shifts to a more auditory approach. Teachers lecture more and students are often called on to make oral presentations as well.

   After a few years of becoming good listeners, the rules change again, and by the eighth or ninth grades, teaching becomes more visual. Concepts are more abstract and symbolic. Students are more independent, copying notes off the board and relating them to other material they have read.

   Any one of these stages can present sudden difficulties — or triumphs — depending on your child's learning style. The important thing to do is identify that style and understand its impact.

What's Your Child's Learning Style?
Select the answer that best applies to your child.

When it's time to play, my child most likely likes to...
a. do a project or play sports
b. listen to music and/or read
c. watch TV or go to the movies

When describing someone new, my child most often...
a. pantomimes how they move
b. mimics how they sound
c. comments on their look or the way they dress

finding the way around a new neighborhood, my child...
a. goes by instinct
b. frequently asks for directions
c. consults a map

When speaking with someone, my child...
a. gets right in close to really "see" what's being said
b. listens closely, sometimes with eyes closed, to focus on what's being said
c. looks intently at the speaker for visual cues

Now add up the As, Bs, and Cs. This highest number reflects your child's strongest learning style.
a.    ___ (kinesthetic)
b.    ___ (auditory)
c.    ___ (visual)

   Now that you've identified your child's preferred learning style, helping him may be as simple as explaining that it exists. Though your hands-on learner may never receive maximum enjoyment from lecture-based calls, understanding why it takes extra effort ("I'm not really stupid, this just isn't my favorite way to learn") takes some of the pressure off, which always allows more of the learning to come through.

RAYMOND J. HUNTINGTON and EILEEN HUNTINGTON are co-founders of Huntington Learning Center. Ray Huntington is a doctoral statistician who has served as a business analyst with a Fortune 500 company and an instructor of college-level mathematics and statistics. His wife, Eileen, is a former junior and senior high school teacher with a Master's degree from Rutgers University. For more information about Huntington Learning Center, call 1 800 CAN LEARN or visit


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Raymond J. Huntington, Ph.D.


Raymond J. Huntington, Ph.D., serves as the Huntington Learning Center’s chairman of the board of directors. Before co-founding the company with Eileen Huntington, Raymond served as a senior business analyst for a Fortune 100 company, a computer programmer for a major bank, and as a college-level instructor in math and statistics. Raymond holds a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics from Manhattan College and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Statistics from Rutgers University.

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