When I confront a situation that seems insurmountable, I love finding the one missing piece that is causing the problem. This happens frequently with children who are struggling to learn, it happens in relationships, it even happens when building something, or plumbing a sink. Often, the smallest thing in the world can bring us to our knees in defeat and yet once that missing piece drops into place, the problem is easily solved.
I believe in these miracles. I believe in 180 degree turnabouts. I believe in radical transformations. I didn’t always. It used to be commonly accepted that children are either “smart” in school or they aren’t. I thought about myself, “Either I am ‘good at math’ or I’m not.” (I wasn’t, trust me). I've since realized that the ability to learn or not is not a black and white issue. I’ve seen so many children who “couldn’t learn” transformed into children who COULD learn successfully.
When a child misses out on learning basic skills, the results can be devastating to their progress in school. It is critical to know and understand the child before you begin to teach them so that your teaching will be effective. It is important to identify missing skills, yes, but equally important is identifying how a child takes in information and understanding how they use that information. It is what we can call “learning style.”
Of course, nobody fits neatly into any one learning style category. But being aware of ways in which people are different does help us better understand each other, and makes communication easier! The primary ways in which people differ are in how we take in information about our world, and how we use that information.
In my own experience, taking the time to study learning styles in this context transformed my understanding of my own family members, transformed my communication with them, and revolutionized the way we related to each other.
Children Are All Different
Looking at Various Learning Profiles
According to Dr. Anthony Gregorc, there are two primary ways in which people take in information from their world:
- Abstract – perceiving via intellect, imagination, and intuition.
- Concrete – perceiving directly through the senses. No inference; no supposition.
There are two primary ways people order or use the information they take in:
- Random – organizing information
- Sequential – ordering information linearly and in a sequence; creating steps.
Gregorc’s four primary learning styles are combinations of how we perceive (take in information) and how we order that information.
Although each child is unique, there are 4 main learning styles:
How We Perceive
Quite simply, people have two very different ways in which they take in information (perceive the world): concrete and abstract. Concrete perception means acquiring information using our five senses: sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing. This kind of information is factual and tangible. We directly experience this information. Abstract perception allows for “reading between the lines” and intuiting, meaning that is not directly experienced through the senses. It allows for visualization, imagination, inferences, and so forth. While some people largely rely on their senses to take in information, others have sharply tuned intuition and trust their ability to pick up on subtle nuances. It is pretty easy to see how conflict could arise between a person who is dominantly concrete in her perception and one who is heavily abstract in his perception. The abstract person might say, “I’ll betcha anything…,” while the concrete person would likely reply, “You don’t KNOW that for sure!”
If a concrete and an abstract are listening to another person speak, the concrete will listen to what is literally said, while the abstract will be paying a lot of attention to the speaker's facial expression, tone of voice, and gestures.
How We Use the Information We Perceive
There are two primary ways in which we order the information we receive: sequential and random. Those who are dominantly sequential prefer to organize in a step-by-step, linear manner. They also prefer to have steps to follow and feel most comfortable with a plan. Strongly sequential people trust a plan that was designed by an expert, and in many cases refuse to budge from that plan. Random ordering is just that: random. Dominantly random people might hop around and follow no sequence of steps, but as long as they understand the goal, they will arrive at it. To them, the steps that someone designed for them to follow are viewed as merely a suggestion; their complete focus is on getting the job done.
Start by Learning the Child
Spend time with the child individually
Let the child choose what they want to play. During the time set aside for each child, try not to direct what they do or give directions. Watch them play, engage with them, and follow their lead. You are there to observe what they do, how they do it, what they pay attention to, what they prefer, and to listen to what they say.
I recommend taking notes on what you see and hear. It is amazing what you will learn about the child when you go back later to read over your notes. Over time, a new picture of your child will emerge that will provide you with a lot of insight.
Questions to Guide Your Observation (Printable Version)
- What is your child doing when they are most able to focus? (especially pertinent if you have an active child)
- What type of activity seems to capture their attention the most?
- What do they spend the most time doing when they're allowed to freely choose an activity?
- If a conflict arises between you and your child or between your child and a peer or sibling, what is the conflict about? Does the same type of conflict occur frequently?
- What type of activity least interests your child?
- What is going on when your child becomes frustrated? (In other words, what type of activity are they doing when they become frustrated?)
The main thing to learn here is that we each trust our own ways of perceiving. A dominant concrete person relies most on hard evidence. A dominant abstract person trusts their instincts heavily. In many cases, it comes down to process versus final outcome. When we are aware of learning styles and the roles they play, we can better understand ourselves and how to work with others.
Need help finding your learning style, or those of a child or student? Check out these helpful resources:
If you have any questions, please contact us!