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Different Strokes (Part 1) "A"
Understanding Your Child’s Learning Pattern
by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

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Different Strokes …

Imagine that a close friend of yours is planning a simcha and asks you for a detailed weather forecast for the next three days and nights. Assuming that you possess all the information that your friend desires, you could share this knowledge with him in a number of ways:

  1. You could give him all the facts that he needs in narrative form - in writing - and hand him a piece of paper that reads: Tuesday will be sunny with a high temperature of 87 and a low of 65, Wednesday will be cloudy with a … etc.
  2. You could present him with the information orally - by speaking to him and informing him of the weather situation.
  3. You could show it to him visually - by presenting him with a graph of the three days with the high and low temperatures for each day clearly noted. You may decide to dress up the chart by writing the high and low temperatures in red and blue ink, respectively. You could also attach a picture of the sun on clear days and clouds on rainy ones.

Which is the best format to use in order to present this information to your friend? Well, that question is difficult for me to answer, since I do not know the learning retention style of your friend. But if you wish to be of true help to your friend, it is important for you to know that there are distinctly diverse learning patterns.

… For Different Talmidim

Some people learn best by reading. They get distracted by people talking and like to learn and study in a quiet setting. You may have had a chavrusah with this learning profile. When you learned a difficult piece of gemorah with him, you may have been surprised - or perhaps insulted - when he asked you to refrain from talking for a few minutes while he read the gemorah several times and quietly absorbed the information. Perhaps that was the case because you didn't understand that although you acquire knowledge by listening to people speak, your friend finds it distracting. While you get energized by crowds, noises and high-tempo environments and may do your best studying for tests with music blasting in the background, your friend wonders how you can possibly concentrate with all that ear-shattering noise.

Yet another friend of yours has a remarkably different learning pattern. While he can learn on some level by reading and listening, the best way to his mind is through visual learning. Whatever he sees, remains imprinted in his mind almost permanently. He loves graphs and charts, but his eyes 'glaze over' and his mind 'shuts down' while reading lines of text that contain the exact same information as the visual aid that so stimulates him.

Thinking Back

Think back to the time that you were leaning maseches Yevamos in the Beis Midrash in your late teens, and your chaverim were struggling to understand the complex family ties described in the gemorah. You probably didn't realize it then, but those diverse learning styles were on vivid display for all (who understand this) to see.

Some of you concentrated on the gemorah and read those lines of text again and again. Others had their chavrusos read the gemorah to them and tried to sort it out that way. At the same time, there were some bachurim who took pen to paper and began drawing the family trees that the gemorah described and came to a better understanding by viewing the diagram that they drew.

Halacha L'maiseh

Once you start thinking in these terms, you will begin to understand your own unique learning pattern. More importantly, as you prepare your shiur, it may be helpful to think about your very diverse group of talmidim - and their different learning styles. Keep in mind that in my example of the Beis Midrash of your late teen years, you and your dissimilar chaveirim were very much in the driver's seat as you learned. You were each able to acquire the gemorah according to the style of thinking that works best for you.

Not so in your classroom, where you control the information flow.

And, I suggest to you, that if you are presenting information in only one or two of these three methods, some of your talmidim are almost certainly going to be inadvertently deprived of a significant opportunity for success in your classroom (and may be among the ones who get quickly frustrated and start misbehaving).

Next Column
Next week, we will:

  • Discuss some interesting mamorei chazal that support the notion of teaching to all of these styles.
  • Explore some methods and creative suggestions for teaching to all these three profiles.

In the meantime, allow me to leave you with a few questions:

  1. In our classrooms, generally speaking, which of these three learning styles is most likely to be met?
  2. Which one is the least likely to be addressed?
  3. What are some of the things that we as mechanchim can do to present our shiurim in a variety of ways?

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Related Articles:
Different Strokes (Part 3) "A"
Different Strokes (Part 2) "A"

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