DR. RAMEY: How to connect with kids’ different learning styles

Kids learn somewhat differently. Many educators try to adjust their teaching style to their students’ preferred learning modality, typically categorized as either auditory, visual, or kinesthetic. When teachers connect with their students’ best way of learning, kids are more likely to understand and remember the material.

This is a popular approach, but there is no research to support its validity. In a letter to The Guardian signed by 30 experts, the neuroscientists characterized this learning style model as a “neuromyth.” They concluded that there was “…either no evidence or very weak evidence” to support teaching to a student’s preferred learning style.

There are lots of myths about how we learn. People routinely and incorrectly proclaim that we only use about 10 percent of our brain, or characterize people as left (logical) or right (creative) brain types (also false).

RELATED: Teacher’s silly question turns out to be perfect.

Some mental health professionals have helped disseminate other myths, perhaps the most dangerous being the alleged importance of building up a child’s self-concept so that kids feel good about themselves. There is no evidence that these feel-good programs are of any value.

It’s fun when I’m asked by a friend to help them interpret a dream. Unfortunately, I have to end the discussion by dispelling another myth. Dream interpretation is more hoax than science. Dreams have no meaning, other than what we think they mean.

Here are three of the more important things we know about how we learn.

1. Mass vs. distributed practice. Kids learn most efficiently when they study for short periods of time. Cramming before an exam is the most ineffective way of studying. It's better to segment the material into smaller bits and study over several days rather than attempt memorization in one sitting. For younger children, this may mean studying for only 15 minutes at a time.

The research is clear on this issue. If you only have 45 minutes to study, don’t do it all at once. Divide it into three 15-minute sessions.

RELATED: When your child won’t take “no” for an answer.

2. It's easier to learn material that has personal significance. Why do some kids have an incredible memory for video-game strategies but can't remember grammar rules? We are much more likely to remember facts if they have some meaning or relevance to us.

3. Importance of rehearsal. Have you ever read an article, and a few minutes later been unable to remember what you read? Scientists have a solution. It's called "rehearsal." Simply ask yourself questions immediately after you've read something. Recalling the material imbeds it in your memory.

Try it now. Before you read anything else, summarize a few key points of this article. It works!

Next Week: What parents don’t understand about kids.

Dr. Ramey is the Executive Director of Dayton Children’s Center for Pediatric Mental Health Resources and can be contacted at Rameyg@childrensdayton.org.

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