Some years ago, I gave my youngest son a math worksheet with about 20 problems. Since he was in elementary school, it was probably some simple arithmetic. These were timed math drill worksheets, designed to test math facts that we practiced with flash cards, and the goal was to keep learning the math facts proficiently and to get through those worksheets more quickly each time. As a home educator, I was used to this particular  math curriculum, because I had used it with my older two children.

One day, I noticed something interesting. Instead of working through each problem in sequence, going across each row (or even down a column), my son would pick one problem here, one problem there, and worked in a scattered fashion to finish the worksheet. I could not figure out what his method was. Was it because he was doing the problems he knew first?  Or some other reason? I observed him a few times and realized that it was not because he did not know the other problems.

So what was it? Why did he choose to go through the worksheet in what seemed to me to be an unusual way?

The answer came later, after I attended a home school conference and a particular session on learning styles. I learned not only about three dominant learning styles that I discussed in  yesterday’s post, but also about others.  The speaker recommended a book, which I did buy and read, called The Way They Learn by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias.

Aha! The book provided an answer. My son was an “abstract random” learner. After reading the detailed information about this type of learner, the way he completed the worksheet made more sense – and so did many other things about him. It was very helpful for me, as a parent. This type of learner does not necessarily gather information in a sequential approach.

Fast forward a few years now, and the other day, he was working on a debate assignment and was very focused and quietly doing his work. As soon as that was done (he had a deadline to turn in an assignment), he was to work on his math. Usually math is the first subject of the day, but because of the deadline, debate came first. (Actually, he has taking such a liking to debate, I have to remind him he has a lot of other things to do.)

Well, everything changed after debate was over and it was math time. He walked to the kitchen, looking for food. Then he came over to the sofa, where I was, to talk about something debate-related. Finally, he returned to his desk and opened his math books. Not too long afterwards, I saw him spinning around on his chair, looking at the ceiling. It was really funny.

It is a clear picture of who he is. Granted, math is most definitely not his favorite subject, and we have had our share of tears and conflict and difficulty with it. But this year, he turned a corner: there are fewer conflicts (though they have not disappeared entirely). I have also observed that he is able to focus quite well on debate. Perhaps it is the subject he is interested in, too, that makes a difference. Debate requires logical thinking, so I think that it is helpful for him to participate in, to make him think in different ways. The other day he told me he likes to spend time just thinking about arguments about his particular policy case, and sometimes at night before he sleeps he is thinking about his case and how he can defend it.

In any case, knowing his learning style has helped to explain much, such as the fact that as a random abstract thinker, his room is messy and that does not seem to bother him (maybe this is just part of his age, too). In my house, you can follow the trail of objects left behind to lead directly to him, haha! As I said, he has turned a corner this year in terms of being able to focus on math and in his organizational skills, and he is growing older, but knowing all of these things about him helps me as a parent to better communicate to him.

These learning styles apply not only to children, but also to adults. Below is a chart of the four learning styles Tobias covers in her book:


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Whether you are a parent, educator, or simply would like to communicate better with those around you, this book is a very helpful resource, which has been widely discussed and used.

Tune in tomorrow, as we will look at some personality style assessments.

Question for you: Based on the above chart, what do you think is your learning style? How can knowing these learning styels help you improve your communication with those around you?