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Flip that study space

Could the design of your child's homework area hold the key to success?

By Susan M. Rundle

Try this: (1) turn the TV to a news station, (2) put your hands on your head, and (3) stand on one foot and listen for 60 seconds. Was this comfortable? How much did you remember? What were you thinking while you were standing on one foot with your hands on your head? If it was uncomfortable, then you have just experienced what it is like for children when their individual learning styles are not met.

Every human has a learning style regardless of IQ, achievement level, or socioeconomic status. Although researchers define the concept differently, learning style is essentially the conditions under which a person begins to concentrate on, absorb, process, and retain new information and skills. Psychobiologists (Dunn and Dunn, 1969-2009) have identified which elements you’re born with and which develop as an outgrowth of individual life experiences. In fact, it has been determined that three-fifths of learning style is biologically imposed (Restak, 1979, and Thies, 1979, 1999-2000).

One thing research has shown is that when an at-risk student’s learning style is considered and accommodated, the student’s achievement increases, and attitudes toward learning improve. And sometimes simply redesigning the classroom or home study space can accommodate that learning style.

On the homefront

One mother we interviewed in Australia assumed that her daughter's learning style would be similar to her own. She quickly found out that trying to force her learning style on her child was simply not working, and was, in fact, making home life difficult.  “My daughter’s learning-style profile identified the cause behind the friction — we simply had different ways of learning," she says. "While I need absolute silence, soft background music is not a distraction to her. While I need a small, cozy place, she prefers an open area. While I have a preference for soft lighting, she prefers natural light. These are all important things to consider now that we are setting up a new study area in our home.”

If this story sounds like life at your house, you are not alone. Incidentally, husbands and wives tend to have many elements of learning style that are different from each other. Children's styles do not necessarily reflect their parents', and siblings' styles appear to be more different from each other than similar.

Susan M. Rundle is CEO of Performance Concepts International and director of the International Learning Styles Network. She is also the author of the 2003 study "Effective Environments Inspire Minds to Dream More and Become More."

Comments from readers

"To the first commenter- Yes, learning styles DO help kids with how they learn. I cannot learn sitting on the floor, but I believe that more comfortable seating helps rather than the school chairs. I attend a public middle school. When I do my homework, I listen to gentle music. My first grade sister needs silence. I tried doing my homework in complete silence one day just to see how it went, and I missed a lot of problems. This wasn't a biggie, really. I'm a good student in Advanced classes, it took my grade down maybe a tenth of a point. But I performed that experiment when I read this and saw your reaction. I just wanted to correct you."
"Seriously? This commenter is saying that changing your kids study space will have a 'harmful impact'? I'm glad to see a story reminding us that setting up a space at home that's conducive to studying is kids have always studied at the kitchen table -- but one liked music blaring and the other insists on quiet.."
"First, it is reasonable to suggest that students learn differently under different conditions. However, reputable research for the last 40 years has demonstrated that the learning differences have NOTHING to do with what the author calls 'learning styles.'Although it sounds like a good idea to use learning style preferences to structure the learning environment, this may, in fact, do harm. For a great overview of unbiased research (e.g., from someone who doesn't have a stake in the outcome) about learning styles and the 'mythology' surrounding this faulty notion of learning, I'd recommend an article by cognitive psychologist Daniel Willingham: gsci.htm Again, it is good idea to set up learning environments to promote student success, but knowing a student's 'learning style' will not help you do that. In truth, for some students it is more likely reinforce poor organization skills and inconsistent study habits. Sure the changes you make to the environment may seem to work at first--but after a while the 'newness' wears off and their effects decrease, and in many cases begin to have a harmful impact. Get the facts! No matter how well intentioned, Great Schools should do a better job of vetting their articles for parent consumption--as parents it would be nice to have a source that we could trust--or perhaps this piece should have been labeled as an advertisement. "