The Elegance of Knowing Your Learning Style

cropped-copy-of-copy-of-copy-of-copy-of-copy-of-the-simple-swan-7.pngEven though I’m retired from teaching, I still get excited about the back-to-school season. Whether or not we are headed to a traditional classroom this fall, we should all think of ourselves as lifelong learners. Discovering our individual learning style can help us elegantly continue our education throughout our lives.

In one of my earliest teacher education classes, I was fascinated to find out we don’t all learn the same way, and that’s okay! Learning style refers to the way a person processes information. Some of us find it easier to learn something new by hearing about it, others need to see it, and some need to physically interact with it. Understanding our unique learning style can help us enjoy learning and be more successful.

It should be noted that education, like most fields, is prone to an abundance of research that is sometimes contradictory and confusing. While there are many different theories about learning styles, most research confirms we all have preferred ways of learning based on our individual interests and talents.

Albert Einstein said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” Let’s take a look at the most common learning styles.

  • Verbal (linguistic) – You learn best by using words in both speech and writing. You want to read and write about it.
  • Visual (spatial) – You prefer to use pictures, diagrams, images, and spatial understanding to help you learn. You want to see it.
  • Musical/Auditory (aural) – You like using music, rhymes, and rhythms to help you learn.  You benefit from listening to new information repeatedly. You want to hear about it.
  • Physical (kinesthetic) – You like to use your hands, body, and sense of touch to help you learn. You might like to act things out and enjoy a hands-on experience. You want to touch it.
  • Logical (mathematical) – Learning is easier for you if you use logic, reasoning, systems, patterns, and sequences. You want to prove it.
  • Social (interpersonal) – You like to learn new things as part of a group. Talking things out with a group helps you learn. You want to work with others.
  • Solitary (intrapersonal) – You like to work alone. You use self-study and prefer your own company when learning. You want to do it by yourself.

Do you see yourself, or your children, leaning towards one of these learning styles? Many people find a combination of approaches works for them, and some research indicates that being presented new information in a variety of ways increases longterm retention. Knowing our learning style can steer us toward our best learning environment.

Let’s say you want to learn a new hobby, such as knitting. You might want to read a book on the subject, watch YouTube videos, go to a group class, take a private lesson, or just dive-in and learn by doing. By honoring your own learning style, you will likely be wrapped in a cozy handmade scarf just in time for winter.

Even when our school days are behind us, we can still join in the back-to-school fun. Armed with a little self-knowledge and a couple of freshly sharpened pencils, we’ll be on our way to learning with style.§

“Once you stop learning, you start dying.”
~ Albert Einstein

“13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do” ~ a Book Review

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I picked up Amy Morin’s book because of the title, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do. I bought it because of the dedication on the first page, “To all who strive to become better today than they were yesterday.” I do believe living an elegant life includes a desire to be our best, and it all starts in our minds.

Morin, a licensed clinical social worker, college psychology instructor, and psychotherapist, published 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do in 2014. It’s a book I take from my shelf time and again. Sometimes I just need a quick reminder of the thirteen don’ts. Other times, I settle in for a deep-dive into one of the lessons. (I’ve practically memorized Chapter 5; the struggle is real!)  

The 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do ~

  1. They don’t waste time feeling sorry for themselves.
  2. They don’t give away their power.
  3. They don’t shy away from change.
  4. They don’t focus on things they can’t control.
  5. They don’t worry about pleasing everyone.
  6. They don’t fear taking calculated risks.
  7. They don’t dwell on the past.
  8. They don’t make the same mistakes over and over.
  9. They don’t resent other people’s success.
  10. They don’t give up after the first failure
  11. They don’t fear alone time.
  12. They don’t feel the world owes them anything.
  13. They don’t expect immediate results. 

Each chapter fully examines the idea and gives strategies for developing more positive thoughts and behavior in everyday situations. In the conclusion, Morin writes that mental strength isn’t about being the best at everything, earning the most money, or achieving the biggest accomplishments.

“Instead, developing mental strength means knowing that you’ll be okay no matter what happens,” she writes. “When you become mentally strong, you will be your best self, have the courage to do what’s right, and develop a true comfort with who you are and what you are capable of achieving.” §

“Developing mental strength is about improving your ability to regulate your emotions, manage your thoughts, and behave in a positive manner, despite your circumstances.”
~Amy Morin

 

Back-to-School Poem ~ “Sharp”

cropped-copy-of-copy-of-copy-of-copy-of-copy-of-the-simple-swan-7.pngThis poem is dedicated to our grandson, Hudson, who is excited about second grade and just a little worried about learning multiplication. 

Sharp
by Alicia Woodward

new yellow no. 2
meets metal sharpener
a tiny hand turns the crank 

simple wood and graphite   
hold lessons of the past 
and dreams of the future

an elegant invention
for a lifetime of
silvery etchings 

letters and words
facts and figures
thoughts and ideas

the other end a reminder
mistakes are expected
that’s how we learn §

“Everybody makes mistakes, that’s why they put erasers on pencils.”
~Tommy Lasorda

Elegance in the Classroom & Beyond

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It’s that time of year when I dearly miss the excitement of going back to school. I loved school so much that I became a teacher myself. For nearly thirty years, I taught literature, language arts, and social studies to middle school students. I went into teaching understanding the power of knowledge, but it was in my classroom I discovered the power of elegance.

Over the years, I learned how simple elegant touches, such as a vase of fresh flowers, well-organized spaces, and a warm smile, could dramatically improve the academic performance, behavior, and well-being of everyone who entered my classroom.

My simple theory is this – if attention to elegance can so positively affect a middle school classroom, it can have a similar impact on our personal lives, our communities, and our world.

There were four words that helped me create an elegant classroom – simple, wise, attractive, and nice. These words just happen to form an acronym for the word swan. Let’s look at these words and consider how they can be applied to any community, not just a classroom.

SimpleChaos can reign in a classroom, but there are ways to bring more calm and serenity. In the same way, simplicity can be achieved in any home, small business, or large corporation. Organization and tranquility can lead to better outcomes. Bruce Lee said, “Simplicity is the key to brilliance.”

Wise – No matter our age, every day is a chance to learn something new. We can gain wisdom by reading quality literature, attending lectures, seeking out the arts, trying new things, and listening to others. The more we are individually informed and empowered to make wise decisions, the more elegant our communities will become. Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “The real safeguard of democracy is education.”

Attractive – Attention to beauty is not frivolous or unimportant. Beauty can be inspiring, and an effort to make things more attractive for others can make people feel valued, respected, and motivated. Thomas Jefferson said, “Communities should be planned with an eye to effect on the human spirit of being continually surrounded by a maximum of beauty.”

Nice – Being nice might seem incredibly simple, but it is also incredibly powerful. Just imagine how our communities could benefit from more respectful, tolerant, and polite behavior. Coretta Scott King said, “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.”

If an ordinary middle school classroom, filled with raging pubescent hormones and a diverse population, can benefit from attention to elegance, I believe it can help create more harmony and success in our personal lives and in all of the communities in which we live and work.

My heart is with the teachers as they head back to school this year. The work they do all day, every day is nothing short of miraculous. Classrooms are microcosms of the world at large, and the ability to create a culture of excellence and elegance within those walls can be an inspiration for us all. §

“I realized if you can change a classroom, you can change a community, and if you change enough communities you can change the world.”
Erin Gruwell, teacher who inspired the 2007 movie
Freedom Writers

The Elegance of a Memorable Teacher

IMG_1327An injured butterfly gently rested in my cupped hands. Looking closely, I admired the symmetrical patterns painted in sleek black on bright yellow wings. The scalloped hindwings were decorated with a royal blue art-deco design and the slightest touch of orange. She was a work of art.

I could easily identify it as a female eastern tiger swallowtail, or Papilio glaucus, thanks to my tenth grade biology teacher, Mrs. Shaw. In hindsight, she was one of the most talented and truly elegant teachers I ever had. She helped me see the beauty and artistry in science. This was no small task as I typically enjoyed more creative, right-brained pursuits.

Always dressed in a white lab coat, Mrs. Shaw taught bell-to-bell with no idle chit-chat or wasted time. Using colored chalk, she drew intricate diagrams of cells, or whatever we were learning at the time, which we would replicate and study in our own notebooks.

Even in college, it was rare to have a professor with Mrs. Shaw’s combination of knowledge, passion, and teaching skills. When I became a teacher myself, I borrowed many of her techniques for running an effective and efficient classroom. She was smart and kind, poised and mature, making her a role model for all students, especially impressionable young women.

Students in Mrs. Shaw’s biology class completed two main projects ~ an insect display in the fall and a wildflower display in the spring. Picking wildflowers was right up my alley, but the bugs were another story. I wasn’t afraid of them, but I didn’t want to kill them.

Mrs. Shaw gave a compelling explanation why the project was crucial for our education and that was that. Armed with a bug net and glass jars containing cotton-balls soaked with rubbing alcohol, I scoured our yard, nearby woods, and roadsides for a month in search of insects native to southern Illinois.

I set up my entomology lab on my dad’s workbench in the garage. After collecting an insect, I carefully placed it in the jar. I added my own step of saying a prayer of gratitude to each bug for sacrificing its life for my GPA. Next, I methodically mounted the insects with pins onto the foam board our teacher provided. The most important step was properly identifying each specimen by its common name, scientific name, and category.

More than four decades later, I can’t help but remember that experience when I encounter a cute ladybug (Harmonia axyridis), an exquisite praying mantis (Stagmomantis carolina), or a beautiful monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus).

I placed the swallowtail on a flowering bush, hoping her injured leg didn’t prove to be fatal. I bent down to say some encouraging words, and she began to move a bit. “You can do it,” I whispered as she fluttered off the bush in a graceful loop.

National Teachers’ Day is May 3. The past two years, especially, have shown us how crucial schools and educators are to our society. The lessons from our best teachers stay with us for a lifetime. As Aristotle said, “Those who know, do. Those who understand, teach.” §