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Testing for Learning Styles

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: My daughter was tested to determine her learning style. She was the only child in either grade who tested almost exactly the same percentage for all three learning styles (33%,33%, 34%). What does this mean? The only answer we get is: "She can learn from any teacher." Needless to say this is not very helpful for parents who want to understand how this all works. Any information would be greatly appreciated.

A: That response is inadequate. If the school system is going to test kids for learning styles, based on the theory of multiple intelligences (read Howard Gardner's book, "Multiple Intelligences" for the theory that these learning styles are based on), then they should be able to provide you with an explanation of what learning style theory is and what learning styles they are inventorying.

My guess is that your child received a test that is given in K-2, using pictures/drawings. I'd also guess that what they were attempting to determine was whether kids learning styles fell into these categories: visual, auditory, or tactile.

Learning style theory argues that we all have different ways in which we naturally learn best -- these are called learning styles. These tests are an attempt to see what kind of instructional strategy or method would suit your child's learning style best. Is she a child who needs to hear instructions rather than see them written, is she more analytical than intuitive, is she better learning in small groups than on her own, would her artistic or musical expressiveness be a guide to teaching her a particular concept? These are just some of the questions learning style tests attempt to predict and answer.

Some classrooms in early grades are now organized around the particular learning styles of kids and the teacher's aptitude and background to teach to that learning style. I would not be concerned about these results in any way. Although I support trying to teach to a child's natural strengths and modes of remembering, thinking, and problem solving, there is not presently a lot of scientific data to back this correlation. Ask your teacher/principal for the rationale behind the test and your daughter's class placement and ask to see the test. There is no reason why they should not accommodate you.

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.


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