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The Influence of Learning Styles in Home Education

An Question/Answer Session
with Mariaemma Willis and Victoria Kindle Hodson

January 2002

The following is a question and answer session that appeared on's message boards. Mariaemma Willis and Victoria Kindle Hodson are the authors of Discover Your Child's Learning Style. Their website is Parents who would like to find out how to work better with their children should consider completing A Self-Portrait On-line™ for themselves and each child.


Mary Leggewie: My older son (ten) is easily distracted. He can't handle noise of any kind and even notices when my computer makes a different sound! Do you have any ideas that would enable me to have the other two kids in the same room when he's doing school? By the way, Roger turns out to have a vision problem that is frequently misdiagnosed as ADD. He has problems with pursuits and saccades--which means he has to work really hard to read and do anything written, but he's doing very well with his work because he's determined and I have been limiting the distractions. He's an auditory learner, no doubt...he wants me to read all his instructions out loud so he can hear them!

Mariaemma: If he is really an auditory learner, it might help to give him some of his work on tape - for instance, he can listen to books on tape for literature, social studies, etc. - probably best with earphones on. This way it blocks out other noise and the others in the room don't have to listen to it. If he is distracted visually as well, you could give him his own corner with a little rug or bean bag chair, with perhaps a cardboard carrel as you suggested. Or, if he likes to draw, he could draw while he listens and this might cut out other distractions for him. Other possibilities are to have him build with Legos or do other crafts type activities while he listens (depending on his interests). Another thing you could try is to have music that is calming, such as Classical music, especially Baroque, again with headphones. Some students can really stay on task while listening to this music.

Victoria: This is an interesting situation. It would be helpful to have more information: ages of your children, whether Roger has had his hearing tested, and whether younger siblings are performing at higher levels of skill development in reading and writing than Roger is. If you would be willing to give me this information, perhaps we can determine what the next step might be.

It seems that Roger is an auditory-verbal learner, if he wants to read his instructions out loud. An auditory-verbal learner needs to hear the sound of his own voice in order to make sense of what he is reading. He is likely to learn and remember best by talking things over, making presentations during which he explains how things work, and teaching others - anything that allows him to hear his own voice.

Mary Leggewie: Roger is super sensitive. He was a real pain to get to take the On-Line Portrait, but because I forced him to do the entire thing in one sitting (shame on me--I bribed him with no school!). The section with the choices to be made (least, most, a lot) was very hard for him to do...he's a perfectionist and had a hard time understanding what the sentences meant, especially when some sentences were negative and others positive.

Roger's hearing has been tested--I was worried because he's so LOUD. His vision problem apparently is often diagnosed as ADD because kids with problems with tracking have behavior problems that come from frustration. I cringe to think where he he would be in a classroom setting! He often breaks down and cries at stuff that isn't that hard.

Disposition: "Invents" is his highest, and "thinks/creates" is his second highest.
Modality: Learns best when:
1. Talk to myself (verbal)
2. watch movies (picture)
3. touch, take apart, or put together (hands-on).

I put moved his desk to a corner facing a blank wall after he agreed it might help, but it's gotten cluttered little by little. Do you suggest a different setting? He can't handle ANYTHING that is timed for speed. Will I ever be able to have the other kids do school at the same time?

Mariaemma: What do you think about trying some of the things I suggested in the first post - listening to books on tape with earphones on, watching videos or CD ROM's on computer with earphones on, and being in a corner where he can't see the others looking at him. Also, continue to encourage him to talk himself through things and to read out loud.

I assume he is getting vision therapy for the tracking problem. Using a marker is a great way to to stay on track. I am also wondering if he should be tested for Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome - this is the light sensitivity that is cleared up with colored lenses - you might have heard of it. Often, when kids are affected by this and it is cleared up, other "behavioral" issues are cleared up as well.

Does he like to draw? Would drawing and doodling help him stay on task?

Mary Leggewie: Since I appear to have the same problem Roger has with tracking, my husband is the one who is doing home vision therapy with Roger. We did a few office visits, but the cost was sky high, so we did a training visit and are doing it on our own. I'm going to buy a couple books that have been recommended on home therapy. We really see an improvement because of it. I have heard about the colored markers (cellophane in a whole so he can read words with a colored background instead of white), and maybe I'll give it a try. He has been doing well as long as I hold the marker, so I hadn't tried anything else.

Yes, he doodles too! In fact, it's strange, but at bedtime reading, he actually seems to concentrate better if he's allowed to thumb through unrelated books while I'm reading aloud! Weird, but it works, and I tested him so many times asking him what I just said that I finally allow him to do that. He loves TV and CD-ROMs (as long as they aren't timed), and we use a lot of educational videos. I will encourage him more to talk to himself--it sure works for ME!

Victoria: One thing that I would like to suggest is that every member of the family do the profiles and that you make a graph of all your scores. There is actually a graph in our book on page 291 just for this purpose. When children are consistently loud and sensitive to small things, it can be a clue that the they don't think that people are listening to them. Sometimes it is a sign that they don't see themselves as valued and acknowledged in a group. By putting all the scores for your families learning dispositions on the same graph, you can show your son where some of you are similar and where you are different. The overall message can be that we are all different, and one way is not better than another. Perhaps this would set the tone for belonging and team effort that would allow all of you to work in the same room.


Jill: I struggle so much with my child paying attention. She is five years old and reading to her things that she hasn't picked to read are like pulling teeth. I have done the profile and visual was one of her strengths (in Modality). Creating is high in the Disposition section.

Mariaemma: Most five year olds (and even many six and seven year olds) are not developmentally ready for a traditional academic program. That's why so many kids in schools are labeled with a learning problem early on. Five year olds need to have fun while learning - at this age they continue to learn best through play of all kinds. Also, this is a critical period for instilling a love of reading, so I recommend that you go with her interests and read things that are enjoyable and exciting for her. Reading ought to be associated with pleasant feelings and memories. In addition to that, if her strength is visual picture, it would be even more stressful for her to have to listen to material that does not connect with her. It's possible that she would be interested in the subject itself if she could interact in some way - draw, look at pictures, see a movie, act it out, etc.

Jill: You suggest Ultimate phonics and Phonics Tutor and the Wilson reading program and AVKO. Are there any other programs that have come out since the publication of the book that you would recommend. Frontline is what I was wondering about. Please comment on any other programs you might know about.

Mariaemma: The Frontline Phonics program looks fun and interesting. I do not have first hand experience with it, but I have heard of it and from what I've seen on their Web site, it looks like they do a good job presenting phonics in a sequential manner (most phonics programs don't, by the way.) Two other programs we recommend for beginning reading are Sing Spell Read and Write and Sonday Reading System. Any of these programs would probably be fine. Again, remember that most five year olds are not ready for formal reading instruction, but if you are willing to "play" with the materials, have fun together while introducing sounds, and not have any specific expectation, your daughter will have a positive experience connected with reading. Please don't judge her progress based on testimonials about four year olds who learned to read easily with such and such a program. Maybe your daughter will and maybe she won't. The important thing is to respect her learning timetable.


Barbara: My daughter (age fifteen) has always had problems focusing in on her work. For example, while watching a video on the Revolutionary War, she made the comment, "Do you ever wonder what they would think of our weapons today?" I told her to focus on the video. If I hadn't, she would have expounded on her thoughts and we would have had to rewind the video. When studying for a test, her mind drifts off to other things (her dog, a book she is reading, etc.) and studying just never seems to happen.

I've also noticed that if something she is working on is not interesting to her, she does poorly. We only did the first two modules in Apologia Physical Science. By the third one, she had decided that physical science was boring. We did Module 3 twice and she still didn't get it because she couldn't focus in on something uninteresting. Do you have any suggestions?

Mariaemma: Your daughter sounds like she might be a Thinking/Creating and or Inventing learner, possibly high in visual picture and/or tactile kinesthetic modality. Her question about the weapons was not off track at all - this is precisely the way Thinking/Creating people learn best! They need to make connections, try out ideas, go with their flow of thought. Yes, the video needs to be stopped while that discussion goes on (or even journal writing or drawing or looking something up - giving her time to process, think, work out the thoughts and ideas). Yes, it might take longer, but this is how she will REALLY learn. Actually, the way she learns is not a problem, it's an asset - it's what makes our great scientists and inventors be able to create and come up with the wonderful things they come up with. Your daughter is in this category!

When your daughter studies, suggest that she stay active with the subject. She could make up a song about the thing she is learning, she could draw pictures, make charts, doodle - whatever will keep her engaged with the material. She could read things out loud and record herself, then play it back while she does exercises, rides her bike, etc.

Yes, your daughter will quickly lose interest in things that are boring to her. One way to approach this is to let her choose the topic (for example in science - she might prefer learning about animals or the planets). If it is critical that she work through the particular science program you mentioned then, again, show her how to make it interesting by having her do a project, drawing, watch videos about the subject, etc. Your daughter needs to know how smart she is and what a great learning style she has. This will build her confidence and keep her moving forward toward her goals.

Victoria: Your daughter's "inability" to focus could be looked at as an ability to focus very well - when the subject is something that is interesting to her. This ability is one of the primary characteristics of what the schools call a "gifted and talented" student. In Learning Style terms, your daughter probably has a Thinking/Creating or Inventing learning Disposition.

The experience you had watching the Revolutionary War video with her is a classic example of how the mind of this kind of learner works. Something in the video sparked her question about what the people then would think of our weapons now. This is where her interest in the subject is, and from a learning style perspective, I would encourage you to stop the video and have that discussion with your daughter. Real learning only takes place because we have a question that we want to have answered. If we override our children's questions because there is something that we think is more important going on, it is guaranteed that they will stop asking questions and stop sharing their curiosity with us. The unexplored and undeveloped truth about learning is that the more we can link activities to our children's questions and interests, the more they will enjoy and remember what they studying.


Anna: My eldest son (twelve) is definitely a creative/inventive personality. He loves to read and come up with his own codes and airplane designs. He is interested in architecture. Problem... he cannot memorize his times facts. He can tell you every detail from a book he's read, but not what nine times eight is. I would love ideas on how to help him learn his facts. He dreads long division, because it takes him so long, with out that mastery; of the facts. He knows HOW to do lots of math, but is frustrated because it takes him so long.

Victoria: Often people who have a Thinking/Creating or Inventing learning Disposition learn best through a visual-picture modality. This means that everything makes more sense through pictures, graphs, and charts.

Last summer I worked with a twelve year old boy who was having difficulty memorizing the multiplication tables using the Bornstein Memorizer picture flash cards. He was surprised at how interesting the facts were when presented in this form and how easy it was for him to remember them. You can obtain these cards from Mr. Bornstein at 800.468.2058.

Since I don't know all aspects of your child's learning style, I can only make guesses, of course. One thing that is helpful for all learning styles is set the stage for learning the facts. Find out which facts are known quickly and which are not. It is sometimes surprising to find out that there are just a dozen or so facts that are slowing your child down. Before launching into learning the troublesome facts, make sure that you give your child "lots" of credit for what he has learned. The number of facts he knows probably far exceeds the number he doesn't know. It is very important to accentuate the positive if you want your son to be enthusiastic (or even cooperative) about learning something that is difficult for him.

If your child is quite active or has difficulty sitting still for long periods of time, he might be a Whole Body Learner and enjoy the following activity: Place flash cards (the old fashioned kind - 6 X 8 = 48,etc.) on the floor. Bounce a ball on the card while saying the equation. You could also have him bounce on a mini-trampoline and recite the facts. For students who are auditory-listening learners, there are some great audio tapes available that turn the multiplication tables into songs-the kind of songs that you keep singing over and over to yourself long after the tape is finished.


Susie: We have our history/literature class together, one sixth grader and two ninth graders. My sixth grader just can't seem to get words on paper. He stares a the paper for the longest time before he comes up with one or two sentences.

Mariaemma: I understand your frustration! I have a workshop called "What Do You Mean You Don't Get It?!" It's hard to understand why someone can't do something when we understand how to do it. If your son takes the Learning Style Profile, chances are he will come out as a Visual-Picture Learner and/or one of the Tactile Kinesthetic types (hands-on, whole body, sketching), but NOT Visual Print or Tactile Writing! Also, he might have a Thinking Creating or Inventing Disposition, or perhaps Performing. What this all means is that he needs other techniques to get him to tap into writing mode. If he likes to draw, one of the techniques is to have him draw about the book - in other words, a picture report. A picture is worth a thousand words, right? Picture reports are often very insightful and creative. Another technique is to use Information Mapping - a brainstorming approach that makes it very easy to then convert into sentences. Let me know if you are interested in finding out more about these techniques. I do have a book called What To Do When They Don't Get It, which teaches how to teach mapping.

It is important to remember that, while either of these techniques is being introduced, your son should not be asked to do book reports in the "normal way." In other words, he needs time to really get to know these techniques - to discover his own processing skills, as it were. Later, it will be easy to link directly to the written format. For some kids it's several weeks, for others it's several months. But if you use these techniques you can rest assured that he will be on the right track for writing.

Many thanks to Mariaemma and Victoria for sharing their thoughts with us here at!

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