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Friday, November 12, 2010

Do You Have ***"Style"***?

When I ask whether you have "style," I'm referring to your learning style. Everyone has a favorite style in which to process new information. We might be visual, aural, or kinesthetic.

Visual folks rely more strongly on their eyes. Aural folks rely on their ears. Kinesthetic folks rely on their sense of touch. You may know which style you are, but if you don't, think about the language you use. Often our word choices reflect our learning style preference. Visual folks say things like, "I see" or "it's crystal clear." Aural folks say things like, "I hear you" or "it sounds alright to me." Kinesthetic folks say things like "I get it" or "I have a gut feeling." Me? I actually practice changing my word choices on purpose. Sometimes I use visual language, sometimes I use aural or kinesthetic. I want to be a well rounded teacher, so I work on all of my possible learning styles.

Why does it matter what learning style you are? By understanding your own personal learning style, you can also structure your learning or practicing environment to learn new things quicker or to learn previous material more thoroughly. As a teacher or parent, it is helpful to understand what learning style your student is as well as your own style in order to communicate more effectively between you.

Visual learners need to see what they are learning. They need to look at the music on the page or the way the fingers should be placed on the fingerboard. They have a tendency to mistrust verbal instructions and an even stronger need to look at the music rather than play something by ear. They can memorize music, but they may have a hard time performing from memory because any visual distraction might disturb the performance. In a classroom situation, I can pinpoint the visual learners the first time I give out bowing instructions. They immediately ask me or their neighbor to repeat the instructions, or they turn around or lean over to look at what their neighbor has written. I help visual learners practice repeating instructions or verbal cues under their breath in order to learn how to "hear" them. It really works!

Aural learners need to hear what they are learning. They don't need to look at something. In fact, if you demonstrate something to them, they may not even "see" what you are doing. Instead they will describe what they hear you are doing. For example, I had a young boy who used way too much bow and sounded very sloppy and messy. I tried to demonstrate this for him. I played a passage with two different styles: (1) I played with concentrated bowing and very clean, then (2) I played with huge messy bows. The student heard that I was louder and scratchier with the second example. I realized that he was describing sound and not the visual cues I had given him (I was pretty obvious about it too, using monster bows in example 2). I then played the examples again, but I left my bow up in the air. I went through the bowing motions, but I made no sound whatsoever. The student immediately figured out that I was using smaller bows with number 1 and shorter bows with number 2. Mission accomplished!

Kinesthetic learners need to feel what they are learning and to involve their bodies in the process. Kinesthetic learners have historically been the more challenging of the learning styles, at least in the public school system, which has historically been geared more toward visual learners. In years past, when a parent complained to me that their child was getting behavior referrals from the child's school, I understood that the school wasn't handling the child's kinesthetic needs very well. A kinesthetic child needs to use his or her body in the learning process. Such a child finds it difficult to sit still and just take in instructions. They need to interact in some way. If only children were allowed to mark their school books, many of our kinesthetic "behavior issues" might disappear. I have taught kinesthetic children to read music or instructions by having them underline or circle words in their music or theory books. The action of writing or drawing helps to calm the kinesthetic need for physical activity.

When I teach, I identify the learning style of both my student and his or her parent. I do that so that I can figure out where there may be difficulties in communication between the student and the parent when practicing at home. For example, a visual type parent may communicate with her aural type child by using language that doesn't "ring a bell" with her child. Perhaps the parent is pointing to something in the music, while the child is just looking away. The visual parent will then say something like, "look at me when I'm talking to you." That sort of thing amuses me. What does the parent really want from the child? Does the parent want the child to look at the parent or to hear what the parent is saying? Many times aural children don't "look" when they are listening. It doesn't mean that the child doesn't hear them.

There are problems with mismatches of other learning styles. Aural parents tend to talk at their child more, and visual students need to see the instructions more than they need to hear about them. Kinesthetic learners tend to move around; they have a hard time sitting still to look at things or to listen to what's being told to them, although I often find that kinesthetic learners have good aural skills too. I wonder if it's akin to how blind people have more developed senses of hearing and touch. Perhaps kinesthetic folks have higher senses of hearing and touch as well.

In a future post, I'll talk about specific ways to teach to the particular learning styles. For now, I will note that I identify the student's learning style, and then I strive NOT to teach to that style unless I need to get a point across quickly. Instead I think it's more important to strengthen the student's other senses as much as possible to help the student to become the best they can possibly be. My future posts will tell you how I do that.

Write me a comment and tell me what learning style you think you are and how you think that impacts your lifestyle or learning environment.

1 comment:

  1. Another thank you! I am a visual learner, my 6yo is kin esthetic and my 4yo is aural. You certainly helped me SEE (ha! You made me aware of that language choice) where our wires were getting crossed.

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