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.
To find out what your child prefers when studying or doing homework, ask the following questions:
- Do you prefer bright light or soft lighting in the room?
- Do you prefer the room to be quiet (no music, TV, or talking), or do you prefer to have some background noise such as music or people talking?
- Do you prefer to sit at the kitchen table or a desk, or do you prefer to sit on the couch, lie on your bed, or sit on the floor?
- Which would you prefer: that the room be warm (not hot) or cool (not cold)?
These are the environmental elements of learning that impact the effectiveness of how one learns. These elements are biological, which means children don’t necessarily have control over how they react when the room in which they are studying or doing homework does not match their needs. Remember the outcome of standing on one foot with your hands on your head? That is how children feel when they are not allowed to study in a room that matches their needs. They can work for a while, but over time they will lose the ability to concentrate on what they are doing, fidget, or simply lose interest.
Rethinking the traditional classroom
Allowing students to sit on the floor in the classroom doesn’t always go over big with teachers, because they are afraid the kids will have a hard time focusing. In fact, teachers are finding that the opposite is happening. Kids who need an informal design pay more attention, behave better, and learn more when they are permitted to sit informally — but quietly. Other teachers intuitively know that some students learn better out of their chairs than in them. Those educators have always gone out of their way to help youngsters who need an extra bit of assistance to succeed.
Parents in New York’s Lakeland Central School District donated couches, easy chairs, and carpet squares to allow a more casual classroom. At a school in Turkey, where these kinds of accessories are not available, children have the option of sitting wherever they wish in the room — as long as their grades reflect their improved learning. While much research has been conducted, one study in
particular concluded that responding to students’ environmental needs tends to produce increased achievement within a six-month period (Dunn, Dunn, & Freeley, 1984).
The relationship between space and learning is critical if our goal is to ensure optimal outcomes for our children. It’s no surprise that we each are as unique as our thumbprint and that one size doesn’t fit all.