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Learning Styles: Part 3 - The Focused Learner

  • Debra Bell Columnist, author and conference speaker
  • 1999 31 Aug
Learning Styles: Part 3 - The Focused Learner
This week we look at our third common type of learner. We've considered the Active Learner and the Routine Learner (see the archives). Now we turn to the Focused Learner.

Good news. The focused learner will learn despite you! Bad news. He's going to exhaust you with his intensity and questions. This learner has an insatiable appetite for knowledge. He wants to be able to understand, explain, predict and control realities. He seeks to uncover principles and to use them in structuring his cognitive and intellectual world. The absent-minded professor, Mr. Spock and the mad scientist are all caricatures of this personality.

Here are the indicators that you have one growing in your home: The focused learner loves problem solving, research, experimentation and intellectual inquiry. He is a creative thinker and chooses research and investigation as a leisure activity. He will focus on one task for long periods of time and can tune out all other distractions (or even all other responsibilities.)

One mom of a focused learner was perplexed by her sons habit of curling up for the evening with a volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Another focused learner I know had an extensive rock and fossil collection categorized and labeled in a large area of his basement by the time he was eight.

This learner has a serious nature and is happy that way. He finds great self-satisfaction in his own achievements and doesnt need the approval from others as the Routine Learner does. His greatest difficulties lie in accepting his own limitations. He will often become frustrated if he cannot succeed in solving a problem or attaining his goals. He also neglects subjects and responsibilities outside his narrow frame of interest (i.e. cleaning his bedroom). He will need help and encouragement from you in keeping his shortcomings in perspective. And he will need outside accountability to insure all responsibilities eventually are completed with an acceptable level of competency.

This learner is very objective and analytical in his decision-making and has a difficult time expressing emotions or understanding others emotional responses to situations. He typically relates to his peers in an instructional, not personal, manner. For this reason, he is often the odd man out socially.

At one point in my teaching career, I developed and taught an honors English program for gifted and highly motivated students. I am reminded here of George, a remarkably intelligent student but one with little interest in my classes, which predominantly involved discussing in a subjective way the literature we were studying. What were the ideas and opinions the kids had formulated while reading the work? How did they see these ideas influencing their lives? Every day we would discuss such things, just for the sake of sharing our reactions. Well, this just wasn't for George and others like him. The focused learner values facts and empirical knowledge, not knowledge that is personal in nature.

Probably the most rapport I ever had with George came when I asked him to teach me to play chess. (I asked because I was about to marry Kermit, who loves chess. This should have been a big clue... guess what kind of learner I married!)

Program Suggestions

This student can be satisfied with materials created for classroom use, if you must go that route, but dont hand him inferior stuff. He doesnt need to be entertained, but he needs to be challenged. And he doesnt want to be talked down to. Make sure the activities and assignments do more than just measure memorization of material.

You will often find the focused learned does not want to write responses out or record all the steps used to solve a math or science problem. Unless you can show him why these requirements are a valuable use of his time, especially when the answers are immediately obvious to him, dont expect him to ever see this as more than busy work. (If you come up with a good reason, let me know as I would agree with the Focused Learner.)

Dont hesitate to let him jump several levels ahead in a subject area of great interest and strength. My friend Susans son, Jacob, was intensely focused in math and computer science while home schooling. He scored a perfect 5 on the Advanced Placement Calculus Exam in 9th grade and an 800 on the math section of his college boards in 10th. He placed in national and international programming and mathematics competitions in high school. (Hes now in a computer science program at an elite college.) This was only possible because his parents let him work with advanced math years earlier than traditionally accepted. He was free to whiz through lessons or skip entire sections until he hit his level of competency. And they allowed him to devote hours to programming, web design, and software development; and give short shift to areas (i.e. the humanities) that were of less importance to him.

Think mentors. This type of learner often doesnt enjoy working in groups or on teams unless others are as focused as he is. But he does respect and enjoy adult mentors with expertise in his areas of interest. And often the adult finds it quite rewarding to work with a young person who is motivated and enthusiastic. My good friend Cindy had a son intensely interested in video and film beginning in 6th grade. When Daniel reached high school, Cindy arranged (through countless hours and phone calls.) two apprenticing experiences for him. These proved critical in developing his skills and confirming his desire to pursue a career in this field. Hes now studying cinematography at one of the top schools in the country.

While a tutor may seem a big step for an elementary student, participation in an organization or club for his interest is another way to cultivate informal mentoring. I know of several home school students who joined hobbyist clubs before their teens. Even though it was unusual, the adults readily accepted them once they saw their seriousness and focused interest. My daughter Kayte has been the junior member of a quilt guild for several years now and a number of women are mentoring her. They find her enthusiasm and appreciation very rewarding (and as this intense interest is quite outside her mothers talents it got me off the hook in terms of teaching her.)

Finally, help this learner develop his interpersonal skills if they are weak. Serving in childrens ministry at church or volunteering at a local service organization might work well. As with each learner, it is important that we as parents design a program that allows each child to cultivate his gifts and talents, while at the same time addressing strategically the areas of weakness in character and skill -- all for the ultimate purpose of laying a sure foundation for fulfilling each ones unique calling in the Lord.

In His Sovereign Grace,


Recommended Resources:

The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling, Debra Bell. An entire section on learning styles is included in my book.

The Christian Home Educators Curriculum Manual, Elementary, Cathy Duffy.

The Christian Home Educators Curriculum Manual, Junior/Senior High, Cathy Duffy

Learning Patterns and Temperament Styles, Dr. Keith Golay

Shepherding a Child's Heart, by Tedd Tripp


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