Learning styles seem so fussy. Much of learning in our house is based on finding a great spot outside to read out loud. Fussyness just does not fit in! .. . But, there are very real differences in how people process information. I ignored this to my own peril. You may be too.
If your child takes in the world around him by hearing or observing, or if she has a great memory you will not need to pay much attention to learning styles. Almost all reading instruction is geared to them.
If they understand the world around them by grabbing a hold of it and fitting pieces together (either conceptually or actually) learning styles could make or break their reading success. No English phonics program on the planet (that we found anyway) is systematic enough for them.
The standard names of reading styles are visual, audio, and kinesthetic. I prefer the term; mechanical thinker. You can let a child handle a 3D letter all day long but if you can't connect it systematically to a sound it won't help the child normally considered kinesthetic or "hands-on".
Reading is a system of recognizing written symbols (called letters) and hearing sounds. Seeing and hearing skills are so clearly in play here. It is easy to overlook the process of seeing how the letters and sounds go together. This is where a mechanical thinker narrows in. In the case of some young people, especially some boys, this is where they live!
Let me give you an example:
When my second boy was learning to read I invited him outside to sing the ABC's to me while I hung out some laundry. He was four or five years old. He came along but told me he didn't remember the song.
I peeked around some damp piece of clothing to see if I was dealing with a will problem here. No, he was totally at ease following some creepy crawly thing around the small area of our yard.
We had only sung this song together about 100 times. Perplexed, I sang it with him - Again. He is not an audio learner. If he had been I would have gone right along my merry way - ignoring learning styles. Audio or visual learners can find their way through most reading programs anyway.
Back to the example: I brought this bizarre occurrence up to my husband. Did songs help him remember things? No, he told me. He had learned the ABC song to please his great grandmother, who had taught him to read, play the piano, enjoy the Hardy Boys series and lots of other cool things.
Wow! What a revelation. I grew up composing songs, writing poems, and dancing using the rhythm that came so easily to me. I couldn't sing well, but I really enjoyed it anyway if someone could put up with me. All these little characteristics in both my husband and I are very sure indicators of learning styles.
Here are some of the indicators of how my son's thinking is wired. They may sound familiar to you. He could hit a pitched ball before he was two years old even though we are not sports fanatics. His coordination was incredible. He was often frustrated by the explanation of our instructions or corrections. These had satisfied his older two siblings. His response to the same word-family book his brother and sister used was nothing. It did nothing to help him read.
These details pointed to a smart little man who understood things around him by how they fit together. He sharpened a quick, laser-like focus. He developed his coordination as he explored the world intently with his hands. He rarely took time to calmly express emotion.
He could out-hammer, out-saw, out-fix and would try to out-fox anyone twice his size. I have an uncle who called him lion-hearted. My sister cried when he actually acknowledged being hurt. He had never done so before.
He needed to know how an action fit with his parents' response. Consistent response was not enough to him. The same thing was true of his reading. Word families were consistent but the connection between letters and resulting sounds in pronunciation needed to be explained - precisely!
My "Hey, let's go out on the porch and do some reading" ideas failed to provide the info needed. It was all he could do to sit still through the ordeal. He looked like a little volcano just steaming and ready to go off.
Did he tell me about his understanding? Yes, once he called from the back seat of the car and told me how I could teach him how to read. I almost pulled off the road. I should have. He explained that if I could use a remote to slow down a phonics video that his youngest siblings watched he could use it to tell him what sounds the letters in a book said. He expected phonics to be a one letter one sound system. Nothing else made any sense to him. He told me that part of his understanding too - loud and repeatedly.
Many times learning styles seem to be excess baggage on the road trip towards reading. That is because most people have some ability to learn by what they see and hear. Almost all reading programs will use these methods. As a fall back some people have good memories. My husband's memory was nearly photographic. Memorizing the ABC's for his grandmother was no big shakes. He never told her that it didn't help him.
If your child is happily singing through life you can continue being a learning styles heretic like I was. If however, you interrupted this message to make sure the sound you just heard was not a power tool revving up in the garage (sure fire evidence of a mechanical learner) you would do well to pay attention to them.
Read On! and put the power tools on the top shelf.
If you want an in depth explanation of how your child may be processing phonics based on their learning style: Click to types of letter sounds.
Click the turtle if you have hands-on learners.