Identifying & tutoring students of different learning styles



February 8, 2021


The intended objective for today’s tutoring session is to review the parts of the body in Mandarin Chinese. Forgoing more traditional methods of memorization, Jane, a peer tutor, decides instead to pull up a catchy rhyme she found through an online resource. It works. When she quizzes her student later, she can remember all the vocabulary terms based on the lyrics of the song. In the next lesson, they are onto doing Quizlet games and vocabulary flipbooks. Jane changes and bases her lessons on how her students learn best. She recognizes that some students prefer hands-on activities, while others might appreciate quality visuals in her presentations and lecture slides.

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What are learning styles?

Even though every student learns through a combination of different mediums, many often have a preference, whether conscious or unconscious. They may naturally excel on certain types of tests and struggle with others, based on the primary methods by which they absorb new information. Though it is difficult to effectively simplify each student’s learning methods into a single style, many generally fall under these four categories.

👀 Visual Learners

 generally learn through seeing and observing things.

They often:

  • make diagrams, drawings, and lists
  • learn through handouts and presentations
  • take notes, organize information spatially

👂 Auditory Learners

 often prefer hearing things explained out loud.

They may:

  • learn through lecture-discussions
  • watch videos, or listen to audiotapes
  • tend to be active in verbal discussions

🖐🏻 Kinesthetic Learners

 are also sometimes called tactile learners, and they typically learn through experiencing or doing things.

They like to:

  • engage in hands-on activities, like acting out a scene in a book
  • use movement to understand, remember, and recall concepts

✍🏽 Reading/Writing Learners

 arguably are the best-served by traditional classroom teaching methods, as they generally prefer absorbing information through the written word.

They prefer to:

  • read articles, books, search up terms in the internet
  • express themselves through writing

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How to use learning styles

Because of time and resource limitations, lesson plans may fit certain learning styles better than others, some students are often left behind as they find themselves struggling to process material in the way that they learn best. The teacher may lead the classroom in a lecture-discussion fashion, which serves the auditory and visual learners better, but this effectively leaves behind kinesthetic learners, who usually require actively doing something to master materials.

In the one-on-one setting of peer tutoring, the tutor’s ability to recognize and adapt to a student’s learning style might help those who have been unable to master materials through the strategy used earlier in class.

So, how can a tutor become more perceptive and adapt to a student’s learning style?

After surveying a group of peer tutors working at the high school level, here are some of the strategies that people said they regularly employ:

  • asked the tutee questions at the beginning of the session
  • combined general lecture about topics with more specific interactive focus activities
  • used external tools like an online whiteboard or annotation tools
  • sent follow-up videos and links for the tutee to use after the tutoring session

Additionally, most tutors mentioned that they would watch their tutee for signs of confusion, such as if a student was simply nodding along blankly, as indicators that they needed to change their approach. Some found it helpful to explain the basics and key terms of a topic to help build and enforce understanding of specific concepts students were still struggling with. Don’t assume what the tutee knows.

A tip from a peer tutor

For Rhea Rhungta, a veteran peer tutor at Desert Vista High School, it’s especially important that her tutee is comfortable at all times during the lesson, and applying a teaching method that they learn best with is a large part of that.

  Every student is unique. If I explain it one way and a student doesn’t really get it, it’s okay. I just try another way to help them be more confident. 

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How do you adapt your tutoring approach to help students master materials they are really struggling with?
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