Understanding your student’s learning styles can help you in many ways, especially when it comes to teaching math. Oftentimes, students are taught to learn mathematical concepts in one set way without their unique way of learning ever considered. Let’s look at what learning styles are and how they can be used to teach math.
What are learning styles and why do they matter?
The concept of learning styles has a deep history, dating back to modern psychologist Carl Jung in the early 1900s. What he discovered was that the ways in which people process and evaluate information tend to develop into particular personality types. Many years later, two ladies – Kathleen Briggs and Isabel Myers – expanded on his philosophy, which is where we now get the infamous Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Their test helps people to better understand their strengths and weaknesses as learners, workers, and individuals.
It goes without saying that no student falls into just one learning style category, and their style of learning shouldn’t be used against them, nor ignored. In addition to individual learning styles that students can have, John R. Brunsting and Terry Walsh developed four mathematical learning styles that can be used to complement student’s ways of learning.
The 4 Mathematical Learning Styles
Mastery Learning Style
Students in this category typically want to learn practical information and set procedures. They like to solve math problems similar to what they have previously learned. And, they approach problem-solving in a step-by-step manner. These students thrive when new skills are modeled, when they have time to practice, and when they receive feedback.
Understanding Learning Style
Students who fall into this category like to understand why the math they learn works. They prefer math problems that ask them to prove, explain, or take a position. These students look for patterns, identify hidden questions, and like to be challenged by explaining their mode of thinking. They run into problems when they have to cooperate or collaborate with other students.
Interpersonal Learning Style
These students learn math through dialogue, collaboration, and cooperative learning. They prefer to focus on real-world applications and on how math helps people. They thrive when the teacher (or parent) pays attention to their successes and struggles in math. Students in this category approach learning as an open discussion among a community of problem solvers.
Self-Expressive Learning Style
As you can guess by the name of this style, these students use their imagination to explore mathematical ideas. They prefer math problems that are nonroutine, project-like in nature, and that allow them to think “outside the box.” They best thrive when they’re able to use their creativity and imagination to solve math problems. Students in this category become resistant with drill, practice, and rote problem-solving.
How to Teach Math According to Learning Styles
Even if you’ve never heard of the four types of mathematical learning styles, you can probably pick up on lots of similarities to the commonly discussed learning styles: auditory, kinesthetic, visual, etc. You may also see some of the math learning style characteristics in your child. With this in mind, here are a few ways to teach math according to these learning styles. These won’t fall within specific categories, but they can be used on a rotation basis until you find the ones that work best for your student:
● Identify similarities and differences by using comparisons, analogies, metaphors, and
● Use summary and note-taking to teach students how to collect, record, and condense
● Reinforce effort and provide recognition to help your student continue working toward
● Use homework and practice strategies to allow students to rehearse and retain their
learning on their own.
● Nonlinguistic representation can be used by means of visualization, icons, symbols,
and graphic organizers to represent learning.
● Cooperative learning can help create structures that allow students to work, learn, and
develop products and performances as part of a collective team.
● Set objectives and provide feedback to help your student identify goals, monitor
progress, and develop plans for improvement.
● Use cues, questions, and advance organizers to help your student activate prior
knowledge, connect to new learning and see the “structure” of what they’re about to
● Incorporate vocabulary instruction, placing primary focus on the most critical
● Writing improves performance in all academic areas and helps with the depth of their
When taking your student’s learning styles into consideration, never disregard any of the others. As they grow and develop, they may even change learning styles. Use the examples above to look for ways to help your student thrive in math. Be patient as you navigate and pinpoint tools, resources, and support that will best help them understand what they are learning.
Singapore Math Learning Center
At Singapore Math Learning Center, we provide online tutoring and online courses to those who are using any Singapore Math curriculums or who are interested in the Singapore Math method. For a free math assessment, please contact us.