We All Learn In Different Ways
May 19, 2013 Learning Methodology 2986 Views
A couple of years ago I was coaching an under 7's sporting team, and remember one particular boy who couldn't seem to throw the ball properly during practice drills. No matter how much I instructed the boy, he couldn't seem to throw the ball even half as far as the other boys his age could, and looked rather awkward in the process.
Over a period of several weeks I saw this young boys enthusiasm gradually plummet, dragging his confidence down with it. By the third week of training it was obvious that he had solidified the belief that he simply wasn't any good at it.
It was very frustrating trying to teach this boy. I assumed he must have had some kind of physical impairment. I even heard the other boys whispering about there being 'something wrong' with him.
By the fourth week, when I arrived for training I noticed the boy sitting down drawing. Nothing appeared out of place until I suddenly realised that he was using his left hand to draw. "Why haven't you been using your left hand to throw?" I asked him. He explained that whilst trying to learn how to throw, he observed the way the other boys were doing it, including the hand they chose to use. It had simply never occurred to him to use his left hand to throw.
Once I got him to practice throwing left handed, he started making sudden improvements and his confidence skyrocketed. In fact, his parents later told me that behind the scenes, he had been so humiliated that he was about to give up and stop playing. Moreover, they were about to let him give up, because they too assumed that he was no good at the sport.
All this happened because of three common assumptions:
- 1) There is a right and wrong way to do something,
- 2) The right way is the way that 'most people' do it, and
- 3) If you can't do it the way most people do it then you can't do it at all. Therefore there's something wrong with you.
After several weeks of practice this boy could throw further than most of the other boys. As it turns out he was just as good as anyone else (in fact better than most) so long as he was able to do it in the way that worked best for him. So what's the lesson we can learn from this?
One of the most common situations you will encounter as a teacher, tutor or trainer, is where a student has been struggling with a particular area of their schoolwork that they just can't seem to keep up with. The parents know that their child is bright in certain ways, but become frustrated and even distraught when they simply cannot figure out why they 'just don't get it' or 'just can't do it'.
When you show them that their son or daughter can understand something as well as anyone else can as long as it is taught in a way they learn best, the relief you will see from them is often enormous. You will see parents go from showing negativity, criticism and frustration to a new found level of hope, excitement and pride. It is therefore fundamentally important, to find out how your student makes sense of the world around them. How do they learn best? What are their strengths, and how can you use those strengths to help them overcome their weaknesses?
It is my wholehearted belief that anyone can learn anything if it is communicated to them in the right way. The right way of course is different for everyone, so the initial challenge you must overcome is to find the right way for each of your students. Whilst there are certain 'categories' that learners are typically placed into, one of the biggest mistakes teachers make is trying to categorise their student rather than observing what works best for them at the individual level.
Whilst there are particular categorisations that we lump our students into, the reality is that everyone is different. Whilst trying to assess whether your student is a visual, kinaesthetic or auditory learner, sometimes it's best to simply experiment with various strategies, and focus on the ones that work best.
If you find that a student is distracted if they are fidgeting or playing with a pen in one hand, then get them to stop. If they seem to learn better if they fidget or doodling a picture whilst listening, then rather than trying to determine what kind of learner that makes them, just let them doodle pictures whilst learning. Sometimes the most important discoveries are made accidentally or whilst experimenting with different approaches. The most important thing to focus on is what works best with that student, rather than trying to assign a category to them.
As for how you can experiment with different approaches? That is only limited largely to their age, the subject, the resources you have available, obvious safety issues, the permission you have from their parents and most of all, your imagination!
Adapting the way in which a child is taught can either make or break their progress, their confidence and ultimately their success in life. Make sure you do it right!