When I speak or write about respecting individual learning needs, I am often met with skeptical remarks about how this could possibly work in a classroom or even in a homeschool setting.

Here is a story that demonstrates how easy it can be to use learning style strategies with our students.

My husband has been training altar servers in our parish and he set up a class for them that met weekly. After a few weeks he gave them a multiple choice quiz to see how they were doing — or, more accurately, to see how he was doing as their teacher!

He handed out the quiz, gave a few instructions, and the class got started. After a few minutes, one of the students came up to him, pointed to the first question, and said, “I don’t understand the question.”

He said, “Well, read it out loud to me.” So she did. And then she instantly said, “Oh, I get it now.”

At this point, a teacher or parent would normally send the child back to her seat to continue with the test. But because he’s heard me talk about this very scenario — probably hundreds of times, when he has accompanied me to speaking engagements — something else occurred to him.

He said to her, “It seems like you might do better if you read the questions out loud to yourself, so why don’t you go to the back of the class where you can quietly read the questions and see how that works.”

Well, that was unheard of in this student’s experience. Her response: “What? Are you sure?” My husband said, “Yes.” And she said, “But it’s a test. Is it okay for me to do that?” He assured her that it was.

My husband says she then got a big smile on her face, went to the back of the room and finished the test. She scored 80 percent. 

This student has what we call a Verbal Modality. One of the ways her brain processes information the best is by hearing her own voice. This is a perfectly valid modality — it doesn’t mean she is dysfunctional in some way, or less intelligent than others, or has a learning disability. She simply needs to say things out loud, or discuss with someone, in order to process and understand information.

This is such a simple strategy that can make a world of difference for the learner. It doesn’t cost any extra time, money or effort on the part of instructors, and you don't have to buy a special curriculum or gadget. All that is required on the part of the instructor is the desire to meet various learning style needs and be willing to make changes to the traditional ways of doing things.

What do you think?

—If you are a teacher, could you allow the two or three students in your classroom who are Verbal Learners to use this strategy?

—If you are a homeschooling instructor, could you implement this strategy if you have a Verbal Learner?

—If you are a parent, could you offer this strategy to your Verbal children when discussing chores and other family activities?

—How about encouraging your Verbal child to read homework assignments out loud or discuss with someone in the home?

How about spouses, co-workers, employees? No matter what age you are, if you know what your Modality strengths are, you can use them to be more effective on the job and in relationships.

I know that someone is reading this and thinking, “Well, that’s fine for adults. But we can’t do things like this in a classroom. It wouldn’t be fair to the other students.”

My response: Would you force all children to wear the same-size shoe, because it wouldn’t be fair to individualize? Of course not.

The same principle applies to learning. Believe me, the other students couldn’t care less what someone else is doing, unless they recognize that the particular strategy would work for them as well. And wouldn’t it be great if they did!

Years ago, I was working in a classroom and I had provided a student with a carrel (the equivalent of an office cubicle) for his desk. I had suggested it to him because it cut down on distractions and helped him to do his work. There was another student in the class who could have benefited from it as well, but when I asked him about it he said he did not want a carrel.

A few days later this second student asked if he could have a carrel. He had been observing how much better the first student was doing and he decided for himself this would be a good thing.

I was thrilled. This is cause for celebration, when a student recognizes his/her own learning needs and advocates for them.

We recently passed through Lent, a time of reflection and reassessment. The Gospel calls us to repent — to leave our old ways behind, to transform our minds and hearts and, therefore, our actions. The Greek word for this is metanoia.

Let us pray for a conversion of thinking when it comes to education. May we see the gifts and attributes that God has put inside each of us, the way God sees them. When we honor the gifts of others, we honor God Himself.

©2014 by Mariaemma Pelullo-Willis.

Mariaemma Pelullo-Willis is a California credentialed teacher and holds a Master’s Degree in Special Education. She is co-author of “Discover Your Child’s Learning Style” and “Midlife Crisis Begins in Kindergarten,” and co-founder of LearningSuccess‚Ñ¢ Institute. For many years she was a master catechist for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. [email protected].