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Learning styles of children affect moods of teachers, expert observes

GLORIETA, N.M. (BP)–Adults get hired for almost everything they got in trouble for in school, said Cynthia Tobias, CEO and founder of Apple St. (Applied Learning Styles), Sumner, Wash.

“What irritates you most about a child is what makes them most successful when they grow up,” Tobias told preschool and children’s music leaders attending the Church Music Leadership Conference at Glorieta LifeWay Conference Center, June 14-20 in New Mexico.

Tobias said kids who talk a lot, who are highly energetic and who are independent thinkers are the first to get hired as adults.

“Just because they are irritating you doesn’t mean [the way they are acting] is the wrong way,” said the author of several books on learning styles and strong-willed children.

In fact, because people learn in various ways, they act differently. This can be especially troubling to teachers who just want their students to sit quietly and take in the lessons, Tobias said.

“Teachers often discourage kids for doing exactly what they need to do to learn.”

Tobias interprets learning styles in three major areas: 1) how people concentrate; 2) how they remember; and 3) how they interact with information.

Kids (and adults) concentrate in different ways, and environmental factors can have a huge impact on learning, Tobias said. The five environmental factors that have the most effect on learning are time of day, food intake, amount of light, design of room and temperature of room.

— Time of day. “Are you an early bird or a night owl?” she asked. “This is not a small thing. If you do your hardest things at your best time of day, your productivity almost doubles.”

— Food intake. “Some people need to eat to think, and some people are distracted by eating. If eating helps you concentrate on that test, by all means, eat.”

— Lighting, bright or dim. “No one degree of light is best for anyone,” she said, “but the bottom line is whatever works for you that doesn’t strain your eyes. Very young children are automatically drawn toward areas best for them.”

— Design, formal or informal. Some people and children need very formal workplaces with everything in its place, while some like mess and disarray. “If you really want me to work, I need to be somewhere else besides a desk,” she said.

— Temperature, cold or hot. “Not everyone is all that temperature sensitive. If it’s a little too warm or little too cool, they can put on or take off a sweater. But for about 25 percent of the people, temperature really matters. They can’t even begin to think if it’s too hot or too cold.”

Tobias said people also approach remembering information in different ways.

For example, she said auditory learners must hear themselves say the words. Children who are auditory learners often get in trouble for talking.

Visual learners create a picture in their mind’s eye and have a vivid visual imagination, she said. “If someone is talking to you, you get a picture. It might not be the right picture, but you get one. Teachers need to ask what sort of picture the kids are getting when they are telling them something.”

Kinesthetic learners must move while they learn. “They need motion to remember. They shift positions, draw and doodle. If they have to look at the teacher, then they can’t hear what’s being said.”

If kids are born to move and they can’t move, what are they thinking about? Moving, she said.

“Why don’t we just teach kids how to move in acceptable ways, like put them in a rocking chair. If we make them sit still, they are going to blow up.”

In the third area, Tobias noted that kids and adults interact with information in different ways. They have different cognitive styles.

Analytic thinkers, for example, focus on specific facts; they break information down into pieces and they remember details. “We are not all born to be highly analytic thinkers. Some of you are not destined to be that ever in your life, but some are born pre-wired to be highly analytic and process information step by step.”

Analytic strengths are focusing on details, working independently, organizing, consistency and doing one task at a time, Tobias said.

Global thinkers focus on the big picture; they get an overall understanding of the gist of things. “They don’t automatically remember details,” said Tobias, who puts herself into the global category.

“Can I listen for details? Yes. If I know what kind of details I’m suppose to remember. I’m not stupid, but my mind works totally different than an analytic mind works.”

Global strengths are seeing the big picture, cooperating in groups, being inspiring, identifying many options and doing several tasks at once.

“Analytics and globals need each other,” Tobias said. “You resent us for not following through on great ideas, but we could easily accuse you of being nitpickers. But we are like the right hand and left hand.”

Tobias’s learning style books can be found on her website at www.applest.com. She also is the author of “You Can’t Make Me (But I Can Be Persuaded): Strategies for Bringing out the Best in Your Strong-Willed Child.” The Church Music Leadership Conference is sponsored by the music ministries department of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

    About the Author

  • Terri Lackey