Your kids’ learning styles + landing the right teacher

My sweet boy, being brave but feeling nervous on his first day of kindergarten

What’s your elementary school’s policy on requesting teachers? Is it encouraged or prohibited? Or is there some sort of in-between option?

Our school makes available parent-input forms about this time every spring. This form is meant to take the place of requesting teachers by requesting information about your child’s learning style and other considerations when assigning next year’s classroom. The administration’s goal is to use the information to assign your student the teacher with whom he or she will most likely succeed.

What I find interesting is that the form inquires about the student’s learning style, and I wonder if all parents know what that means. If I hadn’t studied education in college, I wouldn’t know. But the little background I have has made it easier to request not a teacher by name, but a teacher by approach.


Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences is Education 101, and if you’d like basic information on learning styles, he’s the guy to start with. Gardner originally identified seven types of intelligence (which is so cool because it means each person really is smart and that there are multiple ways to be smart). His list is generalized below:

Visual-spatial: These learners understand space. They can read maps and easily get their bearings. They like drawing, making models, and building with blocks.

Bodily-kinesthetic: These learners learn best when moving; they also do well with hands-on, experiential instruction. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that a lot of these kids have a hard time with sit-in-your-seat-and-work classrooms. In fact, when I taught remedial reading at the high-school level, almost every student was a kinesthetic learner.

Musical: Obviously these learners thrive musically, but they also recognize and respond to rhythm and sound. They learn well with music playing in the background and when they set concepts to rhythm and tap out time while studying.

Interpersonal: These learners learn best by interacting with others. They have social skills in spades and like group activities and discussions.

Intrapersonal: These learners understand themselves well and thrive with independent study. They are capable of making their own decisions and understand their own emotions.

Linguistic: These learners understand words and use them effectively. They retain what they hear (think lecture-style instruction and taking notes) and tell or invent stories well.

Logical-mathematical: These left-brained learners are good are reasoning, solving puzzles, and seeing patterns. And don’t assume that those who love English can’t be strong logically; understanding grammar and constructing effective written arguments require this type of intelligence.

As the years passed, another type of intelligence was identified:

Naturalistic: These learners understand the earth. They read weather patterns. They are good with plants. They make great farmers. You could also call this simply “nature intelligence.”

Even a rudimentary understanding of these intelligences can help parents better understand their kids (and spouses too!) and why they do what they do at home and at school. And most people are strong in more than one of the ways detailed above.

I don’t know if it’s luck or because I’m using “education speech,” but by filling out the parent-input forms using phrases like those above, my kids have always been assigned to classrooms complementing their strengths.

The internet offers lots of quizzes for identifying types of intelligence, and it can be a fun family activity to complete those quizzes with your kids. The results will help you understand your little ones better and help you identify the best teachers for school next year, if you’re invited to offer input. •

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