VAKS: Learning in style

I have been doing an on-line course on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy during this lockdown – very insightful. But what jumped out at me yesterday during my session, as a poignant reminder of my teacher training some years ago, is the idea of learning styles. I think I’ve mentioned this idea a few blogs ago but it is worth revisiting because of its importance for all children’s learning.

We all learn by a mixture of seeing, hearing and doing – the three main styles. The fourth style, social, is to do with whether we learn alone or with others. The theory is that, although we all use these learning styles to greater or lesser degrees – most people have a preferred style, through which their learning outcomes are more effective in relation to thought, long term memory, overall retention and application. So let’s consider these four learning styles in relation to the games and activities I have already suggested for kids to play while at home. I will coin these as VAKS (visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, social).

Firstly, the visual. How we SEE things. Some people view the world through images. Even when listening to something or someone, they doodle and construct diagrams, as notes, to help them remember and retain what they have heard. How often have we heard the saying – a picture says a thousand words? For some people, this is true. How far is your child a visual learner? Does he or she prefer, and remember, pictures rather than words? Are the rules for your household portrayed on your wall as cartoon-like diagrams rather than instructions? Interesting. Does your child love art?

Secondly, auditory. How we HEAR things. Some of us love to listen – to words, as lectures, as recited poetry – or to music and conversation. Some people love noise and sound in their lives, even when they are learning. Avid listeners often take notes and refer to them later. These kinds of learners like words. I am one of them. I think about words a lot – especially their meanings. Many people make sense of the world through words. Even when reading poetry – some people hear rhythm running through the words.

Thirdly, kinaesthetic – the DOING, touchy-feely side of our senses. This is active learning – often physical. Imagine your child has listened to the teacher explain something in class (auditory), and seen a picture related to it (visual) – your child then does an activity that practises or develops that theme – plays a game perhaps. For spelling, might it be word jigsaws or using a highlighter to find tricky words on a worksheet, or building words kinaesthetically from separate plastic letters? For numbers, might the kinaesthetic task be to make as many numbers as possible from four or five separate digits (3487 or 7843 or 3784) – then place the numbers made in order from smallest to largest? The activities that your child does after having listened to and/or watched the teacher, are the ‘doing’ part of this VAKS idea. In my own teaching I have often invited four or five children out to the front of the class to demonstrate a skill or idea by MOVEMENT – for example, each of four children hold up a single digit on card – then shuffle along to different places within the line, to demonstrate their digit value (as thousands, hundreds, tens or units). You get the idea?

Finally, consider the fourth style – SOCIAL. Some people like to work out things by themselves. They like to solve puzzles by thinking alone. Others prefer to work in groups, using combined learning to help formulate their personal learning. Social aspects of learning (often in pairs or groups) encourage children to bounce ideas between them, offering each member of a group many different perspectives of the same idea – for a child to consider and perhaps select as his own.

Learning is complex. And the VAKS combination of learning styles is something that we should all tune into in order to help children learn. Of course, your child must use ALL their learning senses to some degree, but it is useful to observe your child and identify which of the main four your child is more drawn towards. Does your child love reading books? Is he drawn to words (visual)? Does he love playing games (social)? Will he sit forever trying to work out a puzzle by himself? Does he love music in the background (auditory)? Does he love drawing and painting? Does your child enjoy Lego perhaps, as my granddaughter does while on this lockdown (kinaesthetic)? Practising counting to one hundred? Why not jump or skip them (kinaesthetic)?

Observe! Then design your games accordingly. The basic skills of reading, writing and maths can all be developed through the games (snap, pairs, happy families) I’ve been suggesting in earlier blogs – linked to VAKS. So why not try it? You may find your child becomes more engaged when the game is shaped and adapted to his natural, preferred learning style.

More ideas next week. Meanwhile all you need to know is out there in my books for parents. Start by finding out WHAT your child learns and HOW. My books will help – Support Your Child with SEND (Book 1) and at successive Key Stages (Books 2 to 4), by Sylvia Edwards, all available from Lulu in printed form, and from Amazon. Visit my website: Parents: Help YOUR child succeed.

Good luck.

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