Everyone perceives the world through
the five senses. However, different people rely on each
of the senses to varying degrees. We usually have a preference
for one or more of the modalities, (mainly auditory, visual,
and tactual / kinesthetic) but can function using others
when necessary. Our preferred modes of perception compose
our learning styles. Traditional school activities, arranged
by grade, are based on the concept of a "normal" sequence
in the development of learning styles. Those whose styles
develop in this pattern usually succeed in school. Those
who follow a different pattern, or who have an extremely
strong preference for one modality at the expense of others,
usually have a more difficult time adjusting to traditional
Observing classroom behavior and listening
to the descriptive words students use in casual conversation
gives us insight into students' perceptual references.
There are several learning styles inventories (Rita and
Kenneth Dunn, Marie Carbo) that can help the teacher determine
learning preferences. This knowledge can empower teachers
and students to take control of learning.
A teacher who possesses an understanding
of his/her student's preferred learning styles can present
lessons in a variety of ways and offer each student the
opportunity to find the mode that works best for him or
her. (See How to Create
a Multisensory Classroom.) The goal is to initiate
learning through the strongest modality while strengthening
the weaker ones.
The primary perceptual learning modalities
Tactual / Kinesthetic
Age Range: Strongest in Primary
students, Pre K - 2.
Descriptions: Kinesthetic learners
think using both feelings and texture, pressure, temperature,
movement, shape, and intensity.
How they Learn: Students learn
through their senses. They want to touch, taste, smell,
hear and see. They learn by experiencing. Muscle memory
is important. They build and take apart. They can learn
while pacing or on a treadmill. Their muscles can remember
as well as their brains. These learners also respond
well to interpersonal relationships and remember stories
and metaphors. They learn to read using whole words
and context clues.
Classroom Implications: They often
need to get up and move during class, even to throw
a paper away. A frequent change of activity is essential.
Age Range: Begins in Grades 3-5
and lasts through adolescence.
Descriptions: The auditory processors
think in rhythm, volume, tone, and pitch.
How they Learn: These students
learn by listening and recall information by hearing
it. Like a cassette recorder, they often must go through
a tape from the beginning until they locate the information
they need. They learn to read phonetically. However,
comprehension skills may not be as strong as decoding
skills. They pick up languages and accents.
Classroom Implications: To review
information, it is useful for them to talk it out with
someone else or into a tape recorder. Students may
keep their heads down on the desk, appearing not to
listen, when, in fact, they are focusing their attention
on listening. When taking notes, they often miss chunks
of new information because they are concentrating on
what they are writing.
Age Range: Middle School and Beyond
Descriptions: For people who receive
information through visual pictures, factors such as
size, color, brightness, distance, and location are
How they Learn: Students learn
by graphic representation and symbolic abstractions.
They learn by taking notes and reading them back. They
can picture where information appeared in their texts
and go back to it. Successful learners can visualize
concepts in their heads.
Classroom Implications: Because
most traditional schooling uses the lecture and note-taking
method in the later grades, these students usually
have the highest grades.
Students who don't fit into the common
patterns are in danger of having school difficulties unless
the classroom environment is Multisensory. The goal is to
start from the strong skills with each student, and develop
the weak. If you'd like to learn more about running a multisensory
classroom, check out "How
to Create a Multisensory Classroom." You can also consult
Chapman, C. (1993) If the
Shoe Fits...How to Develop Multiple Intelligences in
the Classroom. Palatine, IL: IRI/Skylight
Dunn, Rita, and Dunn, Kenneth, Teaching
Students Through Their Individual Learning Styles:
A Practical Approach, Prentice Hall,
Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1978.
Gardner, H. and Hatch, T. (November,
1989) Multiple Intelligences Go To School:
Educational Implications of the Theory of Multiple Intelligences.
Educational Researcher. pp. 4-9