Dana Stahl, a learning specialist and educational consultant, will address educational questions and concerns that parents may have regarding their children’s academic development and progress in school. Topics can center on how to handle homework dilemmas to what questions to ask at a CSE meeting. Questions can range from “How best do parents advocate for their children?” to “How do parents interpret formal tests that have been administered?” to “What schools and colleges are right for my child?”

Readers can write to Dana at dana@educationalalternativesllc.com. Dana will respond to one reader’s question a month. Dana hopes that her response will alleviate parents’ concerns and offer useful educational advice.

What are learning modalities and how do they help children to integrate and assimilate information when learning a new concept or task?

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Learning modalities are the visual, auditory or kinesthetic ways in which we learn. Each of us has a preferred way of learning a concept or a task. We are, in essence, visual, auditory or kinesthetic learners. Some people learn best by watching, some by listening and others by actively participating in specific tasks being presented. The concept of learning modalities remains the same whether a person is learning how to make a batch of brownies, ski down steep slopes or change a tire. We each have a preference to watch, listen or actively participate in what we are being taught.

Typically, people favor one modality over another. However, students who are both visual and auditory learners have an easier time in school, as classes tend to be lecture-based with visual components that augment specific lessons.  Educators are aware that children favor one modality over another and often incorporate a multi-modality approach to their lessons through differential instruction.

The VAKT approach to teaching (visual, auditory, kinesthetic and tactile) allows educators to tap into their students’ preferred learning modality while simultaneously helping them to integrate and assimilate new concepts and tasks.  A VAKT approach to teaching, for example, includes students being presented with a vocabulary word (visual), while hearing their teacher say the vocabulary word (auditory). Students then “sky write” the word that has been written for them and feel the movement of their hands in conjunction with the touch of pen to paper (kinesthetic and tactile).

The rationale behind the VAKT method in the above example is that by including as many senses as possible students are being given additional sensory experiences or cues to help them learn the vocabulary word being presented. If students are weak in one or two modalities, the other modalities help to convey the necessary information.

In young children, tactile stimulation associated with visual stimuli can enhance reading readiness.  Some reading clinicians see reading as a visual-motor skill, and not only as a visual discrimination skill. For example, children respond faster to learning their letter sounds when they work with sandpaper letters, rather than smooth painted letters.

VAKT skills also assist in learning basic computational skills, as well as counting.  Educational theorists have discovered that providing objects to manipulate and demonstrate problem solutions improved children’s computational performance.  Finger counting, for instance, is part of many arithmetic programs.

Touching and moving objects without appropriate verbal accompaniment are not sufficient. Nor is verbally saying the numbers in order without understanding the corresponding verbal- motor performance. However, once a coordinated verbal-motor repertoire is learned, then it is appropriate for the verbal component alone to be extended meaningfully.  For example, after children have learned to count 10 objects, just a verbal response in counting to 20 will be sufficient.

If your children demonstrate a particular strength or weakness with regard to their learning modalities, it is appropriate to inform their teachers because it is easier to learn a new concept or task when presented from a modality of strength.  If you want to know more about your child’s learning modality, have the Swassing-Barbe Modality Index administered to identify the child’s modality preference. When you understand how your child learns best, your child can then be given this information to self-advocate to the point of saying to a teacher, “Please show me, tell, me, let me try it,” when presented with a new concept or task.

Dana’s educational consultant practice focuses on assessment, advocacy and school placement for students with learning disabilities and social-emotional challenges (educationalalternativesllc.com).