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After reading an article by Thom Schultz called Why Church Doesn’t Fit Most People, which was a pretty good read, I decided to write an entry about one of the statistics he used. Thom states that research suggests that only 30% or less of people are Auditory learners, meaning that they way they learn is primarily through listening. As a former education major, I had to learn a lot about all sorts of learning styles because as a teacher, you should have an awareness. But, sometimes as a youth minister, I get the feeling that we as religious educators don’t always take the same approach, which doesn’t make any sense. We are educating, are we not? So, if the words Auditory, Kinesthetic, Intrapersonal or Tactual learners seem like I possibly made them up, this post should be super enlightening.
Understanding that there are several different types of learning styles in your youth group, as well as understanding what those styles are, will help you to tailor your educational experience to them and, hopefully, help students learn and retain more information. The first thing we should discuss is the 4 learning types:
Auditory. Like I said earlier, these students learn best by hearing the information and then speaking it out loud. These students are probably some of your favorites, because they want to answer questions and they are able to repeat what you just said back to you, which we often incorrectly attribute to paying attention. You are probably already teaching to these youth, because some of the things they would respond well to is reading aloud, listening to sermons or lectures, and answer questions out loud. Some struggles auditory learners have are written directions and staying quiet for long periods of time.
Visual. These students learn best by absorbing formation be seeing it and storing the images in their brain. These students are also pretty commonly taught toward as a secondary, though are probably not your favorites in the class because they struggle with verbal directions and are easily distracted by noise. But, on the plus side, they respond well to the white-board scribblings we sometimes accompany our lessons with, video lessons and they often maintain fierce eye contact, which we again often misattribute to paying attention. Color coding, providing handouts and writing down key points are all things you can do the help the visual learners in your group.
Kinesthetic. These students learn best by doing something, like moving around or experimenting. They are physical people generally, and will usually be coordinated and action-oriented. They are less comfortable in one place, and that’s okay – let them switch chairs when needed or change positions or couches. These are the students in your group that may be misdiagnosed as ADD or ADHD, because sitting still is not something that comes easily. They can struggle with reading and spelling, too. But, never fear, there are some great ways to engage these students, too. Have these students take notes, the act of writing or drawing what they are hearing can help focus them. If possible, incorporate a game or action into the lesson, like tossing a ball to one another while reciting a verse or learning names. Be aware that physical games as part of your meeting will help calm and focus this student, and plan occasional breaks in the lesson.
Tactual. These students learn two ways: touching or holding objects and relating to other people. As we don’t often teach on the tangible, the latter is where these students will shine. These are the students you may find to be fidgety or drive you crazy ripping up cups or drawing on everything in front of them. Anything with fine motor skills will be a good match for them, though not many youth groups have people typing on their computers or dictating on their phones. The other positive course for tactual learners is group work. So much so that working alone can be incredibly difficult for these students. So, to accommodate, work some partner or group work into lessons. Give these learners a place to interact and learn together. As a follow up, use your social media to give these learners the opportunity to type responses and communicate socially about the lesson.
All together now. Okay, I know this seems like a lot. 4 styles to follow…I can only juggle 3 balls at a time, and even then only for a short period of time. The good news is that this is easier than it sounds and becomes easier and easier with practice. And, it will help a lot in the long run, because students will retain information longer and you will have to re-teach things less often. So, I am going to write out a sample lesson idea below and how I would suggest approaching things so that you cover as many styles as possible. Check it out:
Lesson: The Ten Commandments
Before you begin: Prepare a handout with the commandments written down with space between them for notes.
Begin by having the youth open to Exodus 20 and ask for volunteers to read aloud (Auditory learner). While the reader is reading, write the 10 on a white board, chalk board, giant pad of paper or on the wall with permanent marker (Visual Learner). Then hand out the handout you made earlier and have the youth group up with those around them to discuss what they think the commandments mean (Tactual Learner). Call the group back together and discuss what they talked about, having one of the group members share one or two of their ideas (Auditory Learner) while the other group members pantomime the commandment (Kinesthetic Learner). Then teach what each means verbally (Auditory) while writing down bullet points on your board/pad/wall (Visual). Then have the groups meet again (Tactual) briefly to discuss new, enlightened examples and to write them down on the handout (Visual). As a wrap-up, divide the group into groups of 10, assigning each of them a specific commandment. Then play a game of Steal The Bacon, but instead of calling out numbers, call out commandments (Auditory) and the specific person from each team who’s commandment is called must run to the center (Kinesthetic) and grab a ball/prize/puppy/wet sponge.
So, here are my parting thoughts. First, if a student doesn’t appear to be paying attention, remember that different learners use different senses to learn. Second, if a student is struggling to understand a concept, teach it in another way. Lastly, we were all created differently, so even if this is difficult for you to do, remember that God intended these students to learn the way they do, and part of our calling as youth religious educators is to facilitate all of God’s children.
This guest post was submitted by Kellen Roggenbuck, a member of our YouthMin community. He regularly blogs at handydandyyouthministry.com and has been a full time youth minister since the summer of 2004.