Whether you’re new to teaching or are a seasoned professional, you’ll understand that each class and every student is unique.

Where some students excel in writing activities, others struggle to remain focused. From tapping their feet, to humming, to clicking their pen, it’s obvious when a student isn’t concentrating on the task at hand.

Although there are a variety of factors that can contribute to this lack of focus, understanding the different learning styles is vital to keeping students involved and engaged in their learning.

While students present with different learning styles, visual, auditory, and kinaesthetic/tactile are common. Most students will gravitate toward one or two of these styles. But, the often-difficult task for teachers is ascertaining which learning style is most prevalent in a classroom. So, how can you determine the differences between visual, auditory, and kinaesthetic learners in your classroom?

Visual Learners

These students typically take pride in their handwriting, excel in art and reading, and may be found doodling when you teach without visual aids.

Auditory Learners

These students are often the ones who enjoy asking or answering questions in front of the class, they thrive in group discussions, and could be the ones who start whispering to their neighbour during silent reading.

Kinaesthetic Learners

These students enjoy hands-on activities, such as playing sport, writing, and conducting experiments. They are often found fidgeting and moving restlessly in their chair, particularly if they have been reading for too long.

So, essentially, we have the doodlers, the talkers, and the fidgeters. Or, those who take the time for immaculate handwriting, those who maintain eye contact while you’re talking, and those who always seem to be out of their seat. Sure, lots of your students may possess at least two of these attributes, but identifying which type of style they have proclivities towards will help you understand how to reach them better.

Understanding each type of learner

The important thing to remember about learning styles is that it’s not just about how a student best learns or what environment best suits them, it also shows you where they could struggle. For instance, a visual or kinaesthetic learner who is asked a question on the spot may struggle to string together their response. So, by focusing on asking questions to students who are verbally inclined, you’ll not only maximise their learning productivity, but you’ll also avoid making your visual or kinaesthetic learners feel inadequate because they can’t process what you’ve said as quickly.

Tip: A great way to enhance homework productivity is to give each student an option of how they want to complete their homework task: they can choose to either write a report, or create a visual representation with a small written piece.

Helping your students understand their learning style

There’s no reason for learning styles to be kept a secret. Instead, each student should be allowed to take a learning styles quiz during class to ascertain what percentage they are of each style. For most students, the realisation of why they don’t enjoy answering questions in class, or always find themselves doodling, will be enlightening. It will not only reveal more about how they learn, but will also help them make sense of the way they view the world around them.

Once you’ve handed out printed tests or booked out the computer lab, explain to your class that there are no right or wrong answers, nor is one style better than the other. Explain that this test is only to show you how you can teach them better.

After the students have completed their test and you have marked them all as a class, ensure that each student has a copy as well as one for yourself. Then explain what the learning types are and how they make each student more unique.

Take suggestions

After you’ve allowed your students to discuss their results with their classmates, start a class discussion on what activities they think might be helpful in their learning. If they’ve just found out that they’re kinaesthetic, how can you replicate classroom lessons into outdoor activities that the whole class can enjoy?

This will not only confirm ideas that you already have, but will allow your students to feel a greater input and sense of ownership over their learning and their school life.

Should I tailor all assessments to each child?

No. It’s still important that children are tested in different formats, some of which they won’t be comfortable with. As students progress through primary, into high school, and then into tertiary studies, exams, speeches, and group work will be compulsory regardless of their ‘learning style’. But, by helping your students identify their strengths and weaknesses, they’ll be better prepared for these challenges.

Through determining the differences between learning styles in the classroom, students can grow in self-awareness, as well as in their problem-solving skills.

How do you think your students and classroom will benefit from discussing learning styles?