Learning to Learn in Order to Teach

by Joanne Mikola

My first foray in to an organized field of education was when I was sixteen and looking for a great summer job. The only aptitude I had ever shown was my ability to swim and be beaten competitively by my little brother, consistently. So, out of the water and humiliation I swam; into courses that would lead to the entry requirements for lifeguarding and teaching swimming. My brother could keep the fame, I was aiming for a fortune, or at least minimum wage. Some of the methods of teaching we were expected to learn in Instructor’s training were very simplistic but effective: children learn one of two ways: traditionally (that is tell, demo, practice, test) or by ‘discovery’ (‘Oh, look. Johnny floats when I let go’).

Later in life, I took more courses in Adult Education. It thrilled me to learn that adults, unlike children, were self motivated and self directed and to underestimate those factors would surely doom any presentation to failure. One of the challenges that an instructor would face was to effectively use the individuals’ backgrounds and strengths as both starting points and building blocks to facilitate their quest for knowledge, both individually and as a group. Another was to ‘teach to the majority’ without isolating the minorities- the very bright or the too slow.

Another enlightened moment occurred while doing a distance ed course in Psychology. The assignment schedule started off with… a crossword puzzle? Surely this was an error. Not only was the task fun, but, it was stressed, it was open book! I wanted to sign up for every course that professor taught! This didn’t feel like effort at all. But was I learning? My marks said I was.

And then I had babies of my own, who dared grow up and start school. Before I could get over the awe of their achievements like rolling over, first steps, or talking back to their parental units, they were learning from someone else. Lots of someone else’s. Abandonment warred with relief for me, and the children’s’ biggest hurdle was to learn that hugs and kisses no longer reinforced and rewarded their efforts outside of the home.

What I have learned over all this time, through my own experience and that of my children, is the truth behind the adage ‘there are more ways to skin a cat than you can shake a stick at.’ But researchers and other well intentioned experts have gone on to quantify and qualify what some people have always known. The results are never simple but over time and reviews, they do tend to become more easily understood.

Today thereare three (and a half ) learning styles that some researchers and educators have focused their attention on: Auditory, Visual, and Kinesthetic, the half being Tactual (touchy, feely), closely related and derived from Kinesthetic.

Unfortunately, these learning styles tend to change with age. Most preschool and kindergarten students tend to fall into the Kinesthetic group, partially due to their natural development of gros motor skills. Fine tuning of those skills, e.g. holding a pencil rather than a marker, will emerge with age, exposure and practice. By Grade one, most Kinesthetic learners have ‘calmed’ themselves into a Tactual Learning style. Auditory skills develop about the second grade and Visual skills develop about the third grade. This could stem from true preference or, once again, the repeated exposure to teaching methods that favor a different style and adaptability of the child to those methods.

So which learning style most closely matches your own? Take this little quiz and you may be surprised at the results. What you may not be expecting is that the older (and wiser) we become, we tend to blend the styles into our own unique one. This is important to note especially when planning to assist others in learning.

Without formal education in teaching and learning skills, we, as parents, tend to use the methods that work for ourselves, and not necessarily the one(s) best for our child/student because it’s easiest and requires the least amount of effort. Now you can understand the potential for frustration and disaster when a highly auditory or visual adult tries to impress a (hyper) active, kinesthetic 3 year old with their version of a specific task. We won’t even try to tackle a whole skill set. “You must listen to me” or “Can’t you see what you’ve done” both will end in failure to the little mind in a body that just wants to M O V E .

Now carry on and test your diagnoses with the most appropriate article. Each include ‘clues’ to recognizing a person’s primary learning method as well as strategies that focus on that individual style:

Submitted by:  © Joanne Mikola
I am a retired/expired Trauma O.R. Nurse who still thrives on blood, guts and crises. Give me a book, and I will relish every page. Give me a pen, and I can only stare hopelessly at the implications.

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