How to identify the learning styles of your youth

Teaching youth can be a daunting task. After all, they're at a crucial point of development: a time when they're defining what they believe and who they are. Because of that, youth Bible study teachers must present the truth of God's Word and its application for life so students can understand it.

In doing this, we cater to the learning styles of students, and they are more likely to understand and internalize God's truths. Learning style is defined as the way people prefer to focus when trying to learn challenging or difficult material. The first step to better teaching is discovering what those learning styles are.

How do we discover personal learning style?

When trying to discover learning styles, a standardized checklist or "test" in Bible study is not going to cut it. Try assessing your teens' learning styles informally. Observe their likes and dislikes, their abilities and their achievements to discover their learning preferences. These will likely reveal two or three primary learning style strengths and a few more they are comfortable using. Each strength is related to a skill set and abilities your youth have and use in everyday life.

To create a learning style profile, observe what a teenager enjoys doing and where his or her skills lie. You may want to keep a notebook with a page dedicated to each of your students, and write down things you discover about him or her. Collect these observations and look for learning preference patterns in your students.

Once you have evaluated all of your students by using this approach, you can combine the learning strengths of your entire class to discover what types of teaching methods are best suited to help your class internalize the challenging truths that are to be applied to their lives.

What are the primary learning styles?

One way to look at learning styles is Dr. Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences (detailed in "Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences"), which is well suited for the purposes of youth Bible study. Once you have some observations about your students, look for patterns that match the various learning styles. This list of the styles and general characteristics can be a good beginning point:

Relational:

  • Comfortable in social situations
  • Communicate their thoughts and feelings well to others
  • Usually good at sensing the thoughts and moods of others
  • Can empathize with others, often accomplished negotiators and peacemakers
  • Prefer for group-learning activities
  • May avoid situations that force them to be alone for a long time
  • May have ability to lead

Musical:

  • Vocal or instrumental musical ability
  • Musical appreciation, a great deal of time spent listening to
  • Toe or finger tapping to a beat, humming and singing without music

Logical:

  • Good problem-solving ability
  • Outstanding ability in math or natural science
  • May not answer questions right away
  • Thinking and reasoning beyond an easy or obvious answer
  • Enjoy debating about things for the logical stimulation and the enjoyment of thinking

Natural:

  • A love for the outdoors
  • Significant ability to recognize and distinguish among species of life
  • May seem to have an innate understanding of the behavior of animals and people
  • May have a number of pets and to take great pride and care in tending to them
  • May take interest in agriculture, landscaping, geology, astronomy or meteorology.

Physical:

  • May have above-average balance, strength, speed or agility in activities such as sports, dancing or gymnastics
  • May express themselves through vivid body language or physical comedy.
  • May lack the ability to sit still
  • Ability in activities requiring dexterity such as slight of hand, sculpting, sketching or even juggling

Reflective:

  • Have a well-developed sense of who they are and an ability to change themselves based on that knowledge
  • Have refined personal goals that they work toward persistently
  • Have an acute awareness of their own feelings, thoughts and thought processes
  • Thoughtful behavior and noticeable self-discipline
  • Enjoys being alone with his or her thoughts
  • Need a quiet, peaceful time for personal contemplation.

Visual:

  • Can often see an image or situation and rapidly assess areas that could be changed to improve the appearance
  • May have a flair for combining shapes and colors in art or presenting physical elements in interior design
  • May prefer to interpret their feelings through pictures they create, the way they dress or even though vivid facial expressions.

Verbal:

  • Use language well
  • Enjoy speaking and writing
  • Uncanny ability to choose words that communicate exactly what they mean.
  • Voracious readers
  • Express thoughts and feelings with detailed word pictures
  • Often dissect thoughts, feelings, and motives of others through the words that others use around them
  • Perceived as intelligent as a result of their impressive use of a large vocabulary

How Can You Use What You Have Discovered?

There are some outstanding tools in Bible study curriculum to help you maximize these learning styles. Both LifeTrak and the Family Bible Study from LifeWay Christian Resources are written using these learning styles as a teaching/learning basis.

Armed with the knowledge of your students' learning style strengths and a Bible study curriculum that is sensitive to learning style concerns, you will be well on your way to tailoring your lessons to fit your specific group.

Dr. Rick Morton is a veteran youth worker and the Assistant Professor of Christian Education and Associate Director of the Youth Ministry Institute at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

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