All learners have a preferred way (called learning style) to absorb and handle information and some students are homeschooled because they struggle in an environment not designed for their style.
Learning styles are divided into three main categories: visual (learn by seeing), auditory (learn by hearing), and kinesthetic/tactile (learn by doing/touching.) If a student is taught or assessed using a method not conducive to their learning style, the student will not do as well as they could, oftentimes doing poorly.
By bringing the student to a homeschool environment, teaching and assessment styles can be more flexible and better matched to students’ styles. Student learning improves and academic progress rises. But what about assessment outside the homeschool, such as standardized testing?
While testing requirements vary by state, most require some achievement testing on a scheduled basis and many homeschooling families use standardized tests as an evaluation tool. Either way, standardized achievement tests are a part of homeschooling and just like traditional students, homeschoolers need to know how best to succeed.
By their definition, standardized tests contain items developed according to very specific standards and guidelines. Students taking the test must conform to the structure of the test and are not allowed to substitute alternative forms of knowledge demonstration in lieu of the written test. This causes a dilemma for those students whose learning style is not visual (learning through seeing and making pictures in their minds.)
According to Pat Wyman, M.A., author of the book Learning vs Testing, there is a solution:
“While the best approach to teaching a child is to use their learning style strengths, unfortunately, homeschooled children are still required to take written tests, which are highly visual in nature. When a parent teaches their child how to learn new material both in their own preferred learning style and adds the visual learning style strategies, the child will have the best of all possible worlds.”
Combining Learning Styles with Test-Taking Strategies
In other words, students who are taught using their preferred learning style have a greater understanding of the information presented to them but if they are able to develop techniques for learning and invoking information visually they will be able to perform better on written tests.
Visual learners use images, color and other visual media to understand information. They prefer written material and make connections from the written words to the concepts as they learn them. These students can then retrieve the information through the same connections when they see the written words on the test. Visual students also speak in more visual terms like, “I see, I get the picture”.
So how can non-visual learners make similar connections?
“When preparing for a written test a child needs to reach into their learning toolbox and select visual strategies that they’ve added to their existing learning styles. One of the most efficient ways to do this is by actually looking in an upward direction with their eyes and creating and retrieving an image that they’ve created of what they’ve been taught,” Wyman says.
“In order to teach your child to become a more visual thinker ask your child the following types of questions:
Get an image in your mind of a picture on the wall in your room. What does it look like exactly – in every detail?
Get an image in your mind of what your best friend looks like (hair color, eye color, etc.) What does he or she look like? What was your best friend/brother/sister, etc. wearing yesterday?
Think of a movie that you’ve seen recently and describe one of the characters in it (how they were dressed, hair color, etc.)
These types of questions will require your child to get a picture in their mind in order to answer the question and as they do that they will move their eyes in an upward direction either to their left or their right side. As you observe them doing this you will know that when your child recalls a picture they look up to their left or up to their right. This is known as the “eye-brain connection.”
This eye-brain connection is what you want to use primarily to show your child how to convert what they are learning into visual images so they can be more successful when taking written tests.”
You can see this technique demonstrated by the actions of the best students in a spelling bee. These students have created visual images of the word in their mind and as the student tries to recall the word you can see them looking upward.
The good news is that anyone can learn these techniques and use them to be both successful at taking tests or other tasks that require visual learning and recall. The ability to match learning strategies to the task is an invaluable tool that your child can utilize for the rest of their life.
“It increases their learning options,” says Wyman. “When your child goes out into the world, their particular learning style is not catered to.
Say your child is a bank teller who needs to balance their draw. As it goes along it becomes visual, the numbers become a visual task, and managers don’t recognize learning styles. The world does not cater to your child’s particular learning style so you’re empowering your child when you help him or her add other learning style strategies.
You want to teach your child to select the learning style that is most appropriate for the task or for which they will be evaluated. If your child is taking written tests they are going to need to know how to become a more visual picture oriented thinker in order to be successful.
Start with the end in mind. How will my child be evaluated on what they know? If they will be evaluated in writing teach them how to add visual picture strategies to their learning style toolbox. If the assessment will be out loud add auditory strategies. If a tactile/kinesthetic evaluation will be used, teach them how to do that.
When there is a mismatch between learning and testing style the results are lower. When you can match them you give your child the gift of a lifetime by making them prepared, flexible, and empowered. ”
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