• SUMMER/FALL 2008

DISCOVER YOUR CHILD’S (or Student’s) BEST LEARNING STRENGTH

Learning-style preferences refer to the way children prefer to approach learning and how their brains most successfully process information. Multiple intelligence categories refer to what children relate to in the things, information, and people around them. Knowing your child’s strengths can guide you to know which ways of learning information are most likely to stimulate attentive focus and stick in your child’s memory.
There are dozens of different names for learning-style preferences and intelligences. For purposes of my new book, How Your Child Learns Best: Brain-Friendly Strategies You Can Use to Ignite Your Child’s Learning and Increase School Success, I consolidated these into two Learning Strength categories

The two learning-strength categories devised for the book, Visual-spatial-kinesthetic (VSK) and Auditory-sequential (AS), incorporate commonalities between learning styles and dominant intelligences. You will find general strategies to support your VSK or AS learner below and more subject and grade specific recommendations throughout the book and in postings I’ll be adding to the website in the coming months.

When you identify your child’s (or student’s) learning strengths and find the strategies that suit him or her best, you will open up opportunities for success in all academic areas.

Discovering Your Child’s Learning Strength

To evaluate your child’s learning strength, consider which learning experiences she finds most enjoyable and which she dislikes or finds frustrating. Does she connect more to what she manipulates, listens to, or sees?
One example is observing your child at a zoo or museum
• If your son visits a zoo or museum is he more likely to run right to the habitat of his favorite animal and tell you what he sees? (VSK)
• Does she want to start at the first cage or habitat and move in an orderly way throughout the entire zoo, reading the display cards or listening to the audio headsets at each destination? (AS)
• When your child gets home, does he move toy animals around as if creating a zoo (VSK), draw sketches of animals (VSK), create stories about the animals (AS), or diagram the zoo in map form (AS)?


Visual-Spatial-Kinesthetic (VSK) Learners
If your child is a VSK learner he may be especially responsive to the physical, spatial,
and time relationships of objects, concepts, or images. A VSK child is likely to have good physical coordination in fine and gross motor skills and enjoy putting together puzzles or broken objects. Proficiencies in this learning strength include mentally re-creating and visualizing information, seeing the big picture, and prediction of what happens next.

Challenges for Some VSK Children
• Tuning out or becoming distracted during passive learning, extended explanations or directions, and prolonged sitting
• Being able to write down all the steps that take place in their brains when they solved problems
• Being challenged by memorization more than AS learners
• Having trouble organizing time and prioritizing activities
• Experiencing difficulty verbally communicating their ideas or concepts


Consider These Strategies for Your VSK learner
• Help your child see the overview of a topic, the Big Picture, before digging into details – this gives her brain the visual-spatial map on which to sort the details that follow.
• Your child will be more interested in topics of study if he has a chance to figure out some problems or try to answer some questions creatively, on his own, before reading or listening to detailed facts or instructions. After his own tries, when he then reads or listens it will be with a purpose – to learn what he couldn’t figure out himself.
• Discuss how the subject she is studying relates to her own life and interests.
• Use videos, diagrams, photographs, magazine pictures, and maps to make the study unit VSK brain-friendly. When possible have her draw her own maps and diagrams or tell you about the ones in her textbook, the internet, or in magazines related to the school topic.
• Help your child creating analogies for strong relational-memory building. “Navigation is to a ship as steering is to my bicycle.”
• Using movement of objects or his body will help your VSK learner remember information, solve problems, and convey ideas.
• Ways your VSK learner will study or review with more focus and memory include acting out vocabulary words, manipulating objects (like blocks, coins, or buttons in math), walking on number lines, and using puppets to reenact historical events.
• VSK also learners enjoy practicing and learning by moving letters on a magnetic board, writing on a chalkboard, or using colored markers on a whiteboard

Auditory-Sequential (AS) Learners
Children with this learning strength demonstrate sensitivity to sounds, structured patterns, logic, order, sequence, and words. Proficiencies include several (but usually not all) of the following: organizational abilities, logical deduction and concept building (parts-to-whole construction of knowledge), evaluating patterns and connections in information they hear, memory sensitivity to spoken and written language, and aptitude in vocabulary and foreign-language learning.

Challenges for Some AS Children
• Grasping and mentally visualizing some nonverbal concepts
• Understanding the big concept without first thoroughly understanding the steps that build it
• Recognizing the physical, spatial, and temporal relationships of objects, concepts, or images in and through space and time.
• Memorizing facts without first understanding the logic that connects them

Consider These Strategies for Your AS learner
• Clear rules to follow to learn a skill or do an activity; structured, sequential notes or instructions
• Help your child deal with one task at a time
• Categorizing and sorting helps AS learners remember new information
• Processing information in a parts-to-whole manner—doing things in well-defined
steps and with clear instructions
• Memorizing facts presented in a logical, methodical way
• Your AS learner will tend to be a more analytical thinker and succeed best when she uses logic and deduction to expand on a concept or theme by reasoning out and predicting logical implications that follow from a rule or guiding principle
• Review opportunities that use written and spoken language, such as practicing new information using changes in her tone, pitch, and rhythm
• Memory building using diagrams and charts to connect parts to whole, compare/contrast, similarities/differences, making timelines, and creating mnemonics
• Songs, music, or rhythmic movement incorporated with the information to be learned.
• Audio books, tape-recordings to review, and reading aloud or repeating information to verbally when studying



  • Did You Know?
  • Topics for discussion with your colleagues by Dr. Judy Willis
  • Through neuroimaging studies (of the amygdala, hippocampus, and the rest of the limbic system and through measurement of dopamine and other brain chemical transmitters) we now have visible evidence that there is a profound increase in long-term memory and higher order cognition when students have trust and positive feelings for teachers, and supportive classroom and school communities.
  • The more dopamine students have released by positive emotional experiences (in school and out) the less likely they are to seek dopamine/pleasure surges from high risk behavior of drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, risky fast driving, overeating. More sports, music, dramatics, and enjoyable learning = less high-risk behavior and suicide in teens. This brain research demonstrates that superior learning takes place when classroom experiences are enjoyable and relevant to students’ lives, interests, and experiences.
  • Learning connected with positive emotional significance that leads to the new information being stored in long-term memory. Learning associated with strong positive emotion is retained longer, and stress/anxiety interfere with learning, so those lessons do not sustain for end of the year testing, even if students pass unit tests.
  • Syn-naps: Any pleasurable activity (singing, walk about the room and chat with friends, listening to music, having a few pages of a class book read aloud to them, or sharing jokes) used even as a brief break can give the amygdala a chance to “cool down” and the neurotransmitters time to rebuild as the students are refreshed.
  • Dopamine release (and the pleasure associated with it) has been found highest in school children when they are moving, laughing, interacting, being read to, feel a sense of accomplishment, and when they have choice.
  • The last part of the brain to mature (through plasticity and pruning is the prefrontal lobes. Children and many teenagers do not have fully developed delayed gratification skills during their school years. The prefrontal regions are major participants in the executive function networks of judgment, prioritizing, and delayed gratification processing. This is one reason students from kindergarten through high school continue to need support and encouragement from their teachers to keep their efforts directed on long-term goal achievement.
  • A longitudinal study of middle schoolers noted that teachers who emphasize competitive comparisons of student ability discourage students from asking for help.
  • For children with attention focusing difficulties, each time they focus their attention they are activating the brain’s alerting and focusing pathways. This repeated stimulation of these pathways makes the neural circuits stronger and increases their ability to actively direct their attention where it is needed.
  • Enthusiasm is generated when children are presented with novelty and find creative ways to explore or connect with the new material and are inspired by it. Whenever you can generate this awe and sense of wonder, your children will be pulled into the school lessons they bring home and they will be motivated to connect with the information in a meaningful way.
  • Students experience a greater level of understanding of concepts and ideas when they talked, explained, and argued about them with their group, instead of just passively listening to a lecture or reading a text.
  • Use more senses: The experiential education motto is that you learn 40% of what you hear, 60% of what you hear and see, and 80% of what you hear, see, and do.





Spring 2008


“For children, the uncertainties of the present always give way to the enchanted possibilities of the future.” Gelsey Kirkland, Prima Ballerina

“Experience is not what happens to you. It is what you do with what happens to you.” Aldous Huxley

“Education is a journey not a destination” anon

“We are teaching children now for jobs that don’t even exist yet.” Steve Jobs

“The search for the lessons of the new science is still in progress, really in its infancy…In this realm, there is a new kind of freedom, where it is more rewarding to explore than to reach conclusions, more satisfying to wonder than to know, and more exciting to search than stay put. Curiosity, not certainty, becomes the saving grace.”
M. Wheatley


“The brain isn't like a powerful computer processor. It's more like a memory system that records everything we experience and helps us predict, intelligently, what will happen next. Bringing this new brain science to computer devices will enable powerful new applications -- and it will happen sooner than you think.”
Jeff Hawkins



Did You Know?

  • When there is a well-individualized match between a students’ brain and their learning opportunities and environments, learning is more neuro-logical and successful.
  • Stress, social conditions, boredom, frustration, and classroom community influence attention, engagement, long-term memory, motivation, and resilience.
  • Every school day changes students’ brain and as educators the choices we make and the modeling we demonstrate are major factors in the development of these precious brains.
  • Mirror neurons, the primary focus of the group of neuroscientists lead by Giacomo Rizzolati, are possibly the brain’s way of recognizing cues that lead to the development of vocalizations and later language and recognition of social cues. These mirror neurons are less numerous in children with autism and early intervention with behavioral and cognitive training appears to increase their ability to respond to these cues using alternate neural pathways – learning changes the brain through neuroplasticity. This is similar to the way patients recovering from cerebral infarctions (strokes) benefit from cognitive therapy and computer programs to develop new neural pathways (neuroplasticity) to take over function of damaged pathways as they gradually regain motor, sensory, visual, cognitive, attentive, reading, and language skills.
  • Intrinsic motivation is one of the strongest motivators for perseverance and resilience in students. When we offer individualized, achievable challenge for students, personalized to coordinate their interests and ability levels with measurable, achievable results so they can see progress along the way, we are helping them build the life skills of successful learners.


Fall 2007

What You Are Doing Right?
As you learn about the strategies that increase your ability to discover the key needs of your students and individualize your lessons to reach them joyfully and successfully, your initial learning curve will be a steep one. These are times to acknowledge what are you doing right and what is working. Some of this information will come from your independent observation and authentic assessments. More personal feedback will come from your work with students’ on their goal modifications and guided metacognition. A strong collegial faculty community can provide the opportunity for colleagues to pair with you in peer observations so you can hear their professional feedback on what strategies you are using that appear to be most successful in engaging your students’ attentive focus.
It is important to keep yourself motivated. Instead of limiting your self assessments to your students’ performance on standardized tests, consider what you achieve each time you stimulate a student’s curiosity, see students use strategies you taught them (especially in a new context), or work cooperatively with a classmates. Just as students are more successful with positive feedback, so are you as their teacher, so take the time to acknowledge your own successes!


Did You Know?


Through neuroimaging studies (of the amygdala, hippocampus, and the rest of the limbic system and through measurement of dopamine and other brain chemical transmitters) we now have visible evidence that there is a profound increase in long-term memory and higher order cognition when students have trust and positive feelings for teachers, and supportive classroom and school communities.

The more dopamine students have released by positive emotional experiences (in school and out) the less likely they are to seek dopamine/pleasure surges from high risk behavior of drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, risky fast driving, overeating. More sports, music, dramatics, and enjoyable learning = less high-risk behavior and suicide in teens. This brain research demonstrates that superior learning takes place when classroom experiences are enjoyable and relevant to students’ lives, interests, and experiences.

Learning connected with positive emotional significance that leads to the new information being stored in long-term memory. Learning associated with strong positive emotion is retained longer, and stress/anxiety interfere with learning, so those lessons do not sustain for end of the year testing, even if students pass unit tests.

Syn-naps: Any pleasurable activity (singing, walk about the room and chat with friends, listening to music, having a few pages of a class book read aloud to them, or sharing jokes) used even as a brief break can give the amygdala a chance to “cool down” and the neurotransmitters time to rebuild as the students are refreshed.

Dopamine release (and the pleasure associated with it) has been found highest in school children when they are moving, laughing, interacting, being read to, feel a sense of accomplishment, and when they have choice.

Discovery Learning: Interest and discovery drive achievement. Students are more likely to remember and really understand what they learn if they find it compelling or have some part in figuring it out or discovering some part of it for themselves.

The last part of the brain to mature (through plasticity and pruning is the prefrontal lobes. Children and many teenagers do not have fully developed delayed gratification skills during their school years. The prefrontal regions are major participants in the executive function networks of judgment, prioritizing, and delayed gratification processing. This is one reason students from kindergarten through high school continue to need support and encouragement from their teachers to keep their efforts directed on long-term goal achievement.

A longitudinal study of middle schoolers noted that teachers who emphasize competitive comparisons of student ability discourage students from asking for help.

For children with attention focusing difficulties, each time they focus their attention they are activating the brain’s alerting and focusing pathways. This repeated stimulation of these pathways makes the neural circuits stronger and increases their ability to actively direct their attention where it is needed.

Enthusiasm is generated when children are presented with novelty and find creative ways to explore or connect with the new material and are inspired by it. Whenever you can generate this awe and sense of wonder, your children will be pulled into the school lessons they bring home and they will be motivated to connect with the information in a meaningful way.

Students experience a greater level of understanding of concepts and ideas when they talked, explained, and argued about them with their group, instead of just passively listening to a lecture or reading a text.

Use more senses: The experiential education motto is that you learn 40% of what you hear, 60% of what you hear and see, and 80% of what you hear, see, and do.


summer 2007
THE NEUROSCIENCE OF JOYFUL EDUCATION



Most children can't wait to start kindergarten and they approach the
beginning of school with awe and anticipation. Kindergartners and first
graders often talk passionately about what they learn and do in school.
Unfortunately, the current emphasis on standardized testing and rote
learning encroaches upon many students' joy. In their zeal to raise test
scores, too many policymakers wrongly assume that students who are
laughing, interacting in groups, or being creative with art, music, or
dance are not doing real academic work. The result is that some teachers
feel pressure to preside over more sedate classrooms with students on
the same page in the same book, sitting in straight rows, facing
straight ahead.

The truth is that when we scrub joy and comfort from the
classroom, we distance our students from effective information
processing and long-term memory storage. Instead of taking pleasure from
learning, students become bored, anxious, and anything but engaged. They
ultimately learn to feel bad about school and lose the joy they once
felt.

Current brain-based research suggests that superior learning takes
place when classroom experiences are enjoyable and relevant to students'
lives, interests, and experiences. Many education theorists have proposed that students retain what they learn when the learning is associated with strong positive emotion. Classrooms can be the safe haven where academic
practices and classroom strategies provide students with emotional
comfort and pleasure as well as knowledge. When teachers use strategies
to reduce stress and build a positive emotional environment, students
gain emotional resilience and learn more efficiently.


Link to the article and blogs at Educational Leadership