Simple strategies for successful learning

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™ Institute. For many years she was a master catechist for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.


Seeking the face of God in the Scriptures

Archbishop José H. Gomez

Prayer is seeking the face of God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church recalls the story of how St. John Vianney once found a peasant praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament. The saint asked him what he was doing, and the man replied: “I look at him and he looks at me.”


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February 13, 2016

  • Saturday, February 13

    World Day of the Sick Mass, Mass and Anointing of the Sick, 12:30 p.m., Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels,  555 W Temple St, Los Angeles. Archbishop Gomez presiding with other bishops and priests. Special section designated for those in wheelchairs with volunteers available to help. Limited parking available for $8. Carpooling is encouraged. For more info: Chuck Huebner at cjhuebner or Jim LoCoco at



    Bosco Tech’s Yurak Memorial Run & Kids’ Fun Run, Check in begins at 8 a.m., Memorial Run at 9 a.m., Fun Run at 10 a.m., Bosco Tech, 1151 San Gabriel Blvd., Rosemead. Race registration is $35 per person. For school groups of 10 or more, the cost is $30. To register online, go to or; same-day registration available at check-in table. Included: racing fees, finisher medal, goodie bag and BBQ lunch. Plaques will be awarded to the top five male and female runners and to the fastest runner under 18.All proceeds to benefit Bosco Tech’s Yurak Athletic Center (YAC). 


    Cabrini Literary Guild “Sweetheart Bingo” Meeting, Sat., Feb.13 at Oakmont Country Club, 3100 Country Club Drive, Glendale. Meeting starts at 11 a.m., lunch at 12 p.m. ($30/person), and bingo social at 1 p.m. Bingo cards are $5 each, or $20 for five cards. For reservations, call (818) 790-3485.


    Footprints: Making Tracks for Neighbors in Need, 8:30 - 11:30 a.m., Bishop Amat High School track, 14301 Fairgrove Ave., La Puente. Catholic Charities San Gabriel Region will present this annual walk/run fundraiser to increase awareness about poverty, hunger and homelessness in the San Gabriel Region. Proceeds benefit those lacking basic needs, such as food, clothing, transportation and shelter. This is a come anytime, leave anytime event, with the first lap around the track to be led by Bishop David O'Connell. For more information, visit or contact Mary Romero at (213) 251-3582 or

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