My nine-year-old came home from school the other day and barricaded herself in her bedroom.
“Can you tell me what’s wrong?” I asked through the door.
When she finally let me in she explained that her teacher had given them a science test. “He didn’t even tell us that we were having it so I couldn’t study!” she wailed. My daughter doesn’t like surprises, and she doesn’t like to be unprepared.
Since we’d had a similar problem before–Emma being unprepared for a deadline–I called her teacher to gather another perspective. “I told the class last Friday that there would be a test this week,” he said with some exasperation.
“He did not,” insisted Emma, when I got off the phone. “He didn’t say anything about a test.” She rubbed her eyes, “All Mr. J. does is talk talk talk.”
I had to laugh at this. Truth be told, Mr. J. is a pretty quiet guy. But suddenly I knew what had happened. It isn’t that Mr. J. talks too much; I’m sure that he’d told the class about the test. And I’m just as sure that Emma didn’t hear him, because he didn’t write the information on the board. That would have gotten my daughter’s attention, because when it comes to absorbing new information, Emma is a visual learner. Auditory instructions fly in one ear and out the other without making a stop in her brain. If I remind Emma verbally to feed the dog there’s only a 50-50 chance that our pet will receive nourishment, but if I post a chore list on Emma’s door, the dog gets to eat on a daily basis.
I understand this auditory hiccup in Emma’s intelligence because I am the same way. Fortunately, years ago I had a psychology class where we studied the six patterns of natural intelligence. According to Dawna Markova, author of the book Open Mind, how we think and learn is based on the way we process auditory, visual, and kinesthetic information. In my class, our professor asked us a few questions and then had us guess our “conscious” learning style. Do you learn by feeling, doing, and touching? Then you lean toward kinesthetic learning. If you like to be told information, and you prefer to listen to books on tape then you are an auditory learner. Those who prefer to be shown information, and like to read the instruction manual have a conscious visual intelligence. Our answers went hand-in-hand with our preferred learning and teaching method: hands on (Kinesthetic), writing (Visual), or speaking (Auditory). From this information, we determined if we were visually (V), kinesthetically (K), or auditorily (A) centered.
This step was fairly easy for everyone to figure out. As a matter of fact, for half the class, I could have picked their conscious intelligence pattern for them. On the days we sat in a circle on the floor, Jeff, one of my classmates, used to practice a yoga routine while the teacher lectured. It drove me crazy and was horribly distracting, but when it came time for discussion, Jeff’s points were insightful and articulate. I, on the other hand, was lost. Due to my preoccupation with my classmate’s Camel Pose, I had failed to write notes and, therefore, had retained nothing of the lecture. He was a kinesthetic learner–he had to move to concentrate. I am a visual learner; if I don’t write it down or have a written form of the information, it doesn’t stick.
The next step in determining our intelligence pattern was a little more complex. Markova says that for each level of consciousness–the conscious state (beta brain waves), subconscious state (alpha brain waves), and unconscious state (theta brain waves)–our brain selects a different type of learning style. For example, AKV would be auditorially conscious, kinethetically subconscious, and visually unconscious. As discussed previously, the conscious level is easiest to detect. If you learn most easily by discussing, and organize by talking, you are an auditory learner and an “A” is your first letter.
Your second letter, or your subconscious intelligence pattern, is “the bridging place between the inner and outer world” according to Markova. She says, “When our brains are producing more alpha waves, we are capable of splitting our attention to maintain an internal and external focus simultaneously.” Does talking help you sort through your thoughts, or can you hear an inner voice while listening to words on the outside? (Auditory) Can you see visions with your eyes open or closed, or do you look to the side to find words? (Visual) If you feel pent-up energy frequently or use hand gestures to accompany words you are subconsciously kinesthetic and your second letter is a “K.”
The last piece of the puzzle is the unconscious mind where we “generate and express the distilled experiences of our lives into new patterns,” says Markova. It is in the unconscious state where we feel things most deeply, but because of this, it takes longer to process and come into our present awareness. Do you forget names or find words overwhelming? (Auditory) Are you accident prone or often overwhelmed by feelings? (Kinesthetic) If you have trouble maintaining eye contact, or are sensitive to visual stimulation then you are unconsciously visual and your last letter would be a “V,” making you AKV, auditory kinesthetic visual.
As my psychology class tried to determine our own visual, auditory, and kinesthetic combination, our professor set up six stations around the room, marking each with one of the six patterns and leaving a tube of Tinker Toys. When we were done, she instructed us to find our pattern, and as a group, make something from the Tinker Toys at our station. I went to the table marked VKA. Without a word, one of the group members dumped out the Tinker Toys on the floor and began putting them together, looking at each other for clues. One girl loosely organized the pieces by color. I felt like I wanted to throw up.
“Wait, wait,” I said. “Don’t we want to get out the instructions and read them? Don’t we want to look at the pictures? Don’t we want to have a plan about how we are going to do this?”
The group ignored me and kept piecing together the Tinker Toys. The professor must have sensed my distress, which was growing way out of proportion to the assignment. “If you are feeling uncomfortable in your group, test out other groups until you find one that feels good. You’ll know when you are in the right group,” she said.
Even though I was sure I was a VKA, I wandered over to the VAK group. The group members were huddled around the instruction booklet that was spread out on the floor. All the pieces had been lined up in an orderly fashion by color and size. After studying the directions twice and then consulting with each other, group members would take turns adding a new piece to the Tinker Toy construction. I must have made an involuntary noise of approval because the group opened their arms and said, “Welcome!” I felt a great sense of relief.
The final Tinker Toy results were interesting and telling. Our group, the VAK’s, made a picture-perfect Tinker Toy truck, and were the first ones done. We then sat quietly and continued to read the instruction manual. Since we are kinesthetically unconscious we can sit still for long periods of time. Two groups in my class didn’t make much of anything. The AKV couldn’t agree on which Tinker Toy construction to build. AKVs are natural leaders and like to tell others what to do, but sometimes have trouble turning visions into reality. The KAVs got a little distracted with their need for constant movement, and by their subconscious bridging activity of talking. The AVKs and the KVAs made fun, wild-looking contraptions that resembled Dr. Seuss inventions, but they were half-finished and fell apart easily.
The best final result came from the VKA group. Their project was functional, had moving parts, and was visually pleasing. VKAs learn easily by watching and then doing, without words or notes, and they tend to be great collaborators. Their learning style was best suited for this kind of group activity. Our VAK Tinker Toy truck paled by comparison and I felt a stab of jealousy, but then I remembered how uncomfortable I’d felt in that group (the instruction manual was still nowhere to be seen!). I realized that it is almost impossible to work against my natural pattern of intelligence, and that I would benefit greatly from learning to understand and embrace my own innate learning style.
Which brings me back to my daughter. When I reviewed the six patterns I saw that Emma was most likely a VKA, which they describe as visually smart and auditorily sensitive. In other words, she won’t “hear” her teacher announce a science test a week away if it is embedded in other auditory information. But it also explains my daughter’s unique creativity, her pent-up energy that occasionally make me send her outside to run up and down the driveway, and her notebooks filled with lists.
I knocked on her door. “Emma, can I come in? I want to talk to you about something.”