Chapter 43: Learning Styles and Reading

Different ways to learn

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In 1983, an educational researcher named Howard Gardner came up with a very interesting idea. He thought that, maybe, not all children learned in the exact same way. After watching young children in different school settings, he came up with the idea of “multiple intelligences.” Through his observations, he learned that children are smart in many different ways. He thought it was a mistake to try to teach all children in the exact same way. He thought that if teachers could identify the different ways that children learn, then they could design classroom learning experiences that best fit each child’s way of learning.

Learning styles

Originally, Gardner outlined three different learning styles. Kinetic learners, he concluded, learned best when they could touch things and explore them with their hands. Auditory learners, he decided, learned best when they heard things explained or could listen to a lesson from their textbook read out loud. Visual learners were probably the students who did best in a traditional classroom setting. They learned by seeing things written on the board at the front of the classroom or by reading about them.

Gardner’s ideas are now widely accepted, and many schools try to reach students of all different learning styles. Other learning styles have also been added to the list, including musical learners, naturalistic learners, and interpersonal learners.

Learning styles and reading

As a parent, if you can determine your own child’s learning style, you can use that information to help her learn to read. Below are several groups of statements for you and your child to consider. If your child is very young, you may have to consider the statements using what you have observed about her. Older children can respond to the statements themselves. Encourage your child to answer honestly. There really is no right or wrong way to respond to these statements. If a statement describes your child, then circle it. If the statement does not describe your child, then do not circle it.

  1. I remember things I see on road signs. I can go back and find a page in a book once I’ve looked at it. I can remember most of the things on our grocery list. If I watch someone do something, then I can usually do it, too.
  2. I love to ride my bike outside. I feel relaxed and happy when I’m at the park. I like to watch videos about different kinds of animals. I have a rock or seashell collection.
  3. I get along with most people. I make friends easily. When my friends argue, I can usually help them stop arguing. I would rather tell the class about a book I read than write a book report.
  4. I read better when I read out loud. When the teacher talks, I remember most of what she says. If I practice my spelling words by saying the letters out loud, I do better on the spelling test. I love to listen to books on tape.
  5. My favorite place at the museum is the place where they let you touch things. I love to play with building sets, like Legos. I like to use counting blocks when we do math at school. In art class, I can make almost any shape out of clay.
  6. If I hear a song once, I can hum the tune. Listening to music helps me relax. Music class is my favorite part of the school. I make up songs to sing to myself.

How does yourchild learn?

If you or your child circled most – or all – of the statements in a single category, then match that category’s number to the learning styles listed below. Once you’ve identified your child’s learning style, read the learning strategies listed with that learning style. They may help your child learn to read in the way she learns best.

  1. Visual learners – This type of learner thrives in the traditional school setting. She learns from reading and from what she sees her teacher writing on the board. The silent reading practice works well for her. She can also benefit from taking notes while she studies and re-reading those notes to herself. Encourage her to close her eyes and imagine the characters in a story she’s reading or draw a picture of them. Make sure she has a quiet place to practice reading. Find her books with lots of illustrations, like those by Richard Scarry.
  2. Naturalistic learners – Naturalistic learners love the outdoors. They’re aware of the changing seasons and like to look up at the stars.  If this is your child’s learning style, then take her to the park along with a picnic basket and a bag of books. Whet her interest in reading by finding her books about animals, shells, trees or even dinosaurs. Take her on a day hike with a plant-identification guide and encourage her to read any trail markers you see.
  3. Interpersonal learners – Interpersonal learners do best when they’re interacting with other people. If this describes your child, find ways to make reading a social event. Sign her up for a library reading club, for instance, or let her turn her reading assignments into plays she can put on for the family. She’ll most likely enjoy books about other kids and their interactions, books like Harriet the Spy.
  4. Auditory learners – Auditory learners learn with their ears! If your child is an auditory learner, encourage her to read out loud whenever possible. Let her read along with a recording of a story or let her make her own books on tape. Have her turn her spelling and vocabulary words into silly little songs. Encourage her interest in language patterns and word play with fun rhyming books like those by Shel Silverstein or Dr. Seuss.
  5. Kinetic learners – The word “kinetic” refers to motion. Kinetic learners learn best when they can move around and handle things. If your child is a kinetic learner, find her books with moving parts, pop-up pictures or different textures she can feel. If she’s struggling to learn a new word or sound, let her form the letters out of clay or cut them out of construction paper. You can also let her use magnetic letters on the front of your fridge to practice her spelling or vocabulary words.
  6. Musical – Musical learners are moved by a song. If your child is a musical learner, encourage her to add a tune to her reading assignments, making them into songs. Turn on some quiet music while she does her homework, and find her books about famous musicians or even how-to books that will teach her how to play a musical instrument.


Howard Gardner, Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education,