Each child learns differently and it’s important to understand and identify your child’s unique learning needs.
Primary school teachers are frequently very good at understanding that children learn differently, but in many classroom environments it is impossible to meet all the needs of different types of learners all the time. Children that have all three skills developed (visual, auditory and ‘doing’ skills) will find classroom learning easier than those who are stronger in just one learning style.
- Little girl A connects with this world visually; she has been comforted since a few weeks old by showing her pictures. She is not a talker (although her receptive vocabulary was excellent) and she spent a great deal of her preschool days drawing and painting.
- Little girl B was a very early talker which was marked by very advanced verbal conceptual thinking. At age 4, she was communicating with grandparents by text and needing to ask only occasionally how to spell words. An assessment at age 4 put her at a 99.6 percentile rank for verbal abilities.
- Little boy C’s parents are both accomplished sports people so it isn’t surprising that he was born strong. At less than one month, he put his hands on the edge of the basinet and pulled himself up. At age 5, he is already an exceptional swimmer, a brilliant runner and climber.
- Girl A could accurately be described as a visual learner. She is likely to remember and understand what she sees, more easily than what she hears.
- Girl B is verbally gifted. She is an excellent listener and could be described as an auditory learner.
- Boy C prefers to learn through doing. ‘Doers’ are described as kinaesthetic learners.
Each child learns differently and it is important to understand and identify your child’s unique learning needs.
Even though these youngsters’ talents and learning strengths have been identified, they are now struggling at school. Learning needs can be complex. It is those with extreme learning differences that encounter problems in the classroom. Some differences can be evident at an early age, but for others the problems become increasingly evident in late primary or intermediate. Students who learn differently frequently find classroom learning extremely frustrating and timed tests negatively challenging. They often develop a ‘negative emotional overlay’ which can be far more disabling than any actual learning difference.
Most students have some learning strengths and some learning weaknesses. Intellectually bright students can be limited by attention deficit difficulties. Some students may suffer from over sensitivities to light, noise and movement which can make a classroom a miserable place to be. Students identified as twice exceptional are gifted students with specific learning disabilities, and they can be the most vulnerable type of learner because they are frequently not identified or misidentified with learning and behaviour problems.
Students who learn differently usually, by definition, have different levels of development (i.e. in some areas they are advanced, in other areas they are below expectation). These students are frequently classic underachievers.
Identifying the reasons for this underachieving is important. Standardised psychometric testing can identify the particular learning needs of different types of learners. Psychometric testing is not needed when there are no presenting problems or concerns, but they are definitely needed if a child’s wellbeing is being affected and/or the child is manifesting behaviours that are not easily understood or explained.
It is not easy for many parents to admit that they or their children may need the assistance of a psychologist. It is my experience that accurately identifying and naming a child’s learning strengths and weaknesses can be immensely and practically helpful to the child, the family and educators. For any time spent on remediation of a learning weakness, double the amount of time needs to be spent on developing a child’s strengths and talents. Specialist teachers do have the skills to meet different types of learners’ needs and there are a growing number of excellent and appropriate programmes and resources available.
Lynn Berresford is a registered psychologist at the Indigo Assessment and Counselling Centre. For more information, please visit indigo.org.nz. or phone (09) 444-6859.