Thursday, January 14, 2010

Learning Styles: Ways We Learn

Here at the CBC, we constantly strive for children to be proud and recognize that they are capable of problem solving and self reliance. As they work to fix bikes and participate in shop programs, it’s important to remember your role as a volunteer. Don’t do the work for them – instead, encourage them to get their hands dirty and try something new.

We have noticed that caring adults will often problem solve and perform repairs for kids for several reasons: 1) they are learning the skills themselves, 2) sometimes we don’t have the words or teaching skills to explain a task, 3) the task can be physically too challenging for a child, or 4) the task is too challenging for the child at his/her current skill level.

The aforementioned fourth reason will be discussed in a future blog post through the concepts described in the book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, 1991). Csikszentmihalyi describes that optimum learning occurs when we have the right balance between the level of challenge for a task and our level of skill at performing the task. Basically this means that sometimes we give kids a task that is too challenging given their individual skill level so we need to figure out a way to lower the level of challenge. Sometimes need to perform part of the task for them until they develop the necessary cognitive, developmental, and physical skills to complete the defined repair challenge.

So getting back to learning styles, we must match teaching style with each child’s preferred learning style. There are several learning styles models that can be found in the literature. One of the most basic describes the differences between auditory, visual and kinesthetic learners (
  1. Auditory learners remember by talking out loud, like to have things explained orally and may have trouble with written instructions. Auditory learners may talk to themselves when learning something new.
  2. Visual learners easily remember visual details and prefer to see what they are learning. They prefer to write down instructions and may have trouble following lectures.
  3. Kinesthetic or tactile learners prefer activities that allow them to do what they are learning about. Tactile learners like to touch things in order to learn about them and like to move around when talking or listening.
Here at the CBC, we want kids to learn how they learn best. Don’t let their displays of frustration or desire to “get the bike finished” before the end of the day pull you into completing the task for them. Let your own anxiety of dealing with their disappointment pass – it’s always ok to take a break!

Here are some more specific ways people learn, and some ideas and questions you may ask kids to help them get to know their personal learning styles better:
  1. Watching a demonstration (a.k.a show-n-tell)
  2. Experimenting without instruction (a.k.a. trial-n-error)
  3. Hearing the instructions verbally: step-by-step
  4. Seeing the instructions written: step-by-step
  5. Viewing the instructions through drawings or pictures
  6. Viewing and hearing the instructions through video clips
  7. Some people want to know “why” these steps
  8. Some people don’t care to learn the “why” for these steps
  9. Does the learner need to see how all the parts inter-connect?
  10. Is process and outcome feedback needed along the way: encouragement and what’s wrong?
  11. Does playing learning games help?
  12. Does learning alongside a partner help or does one person take over?
  13. Does changing the learning environment help – quiet space, music?

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