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Resource letter: impact of perceptual strengths on achievement: a bibliography.


This manuscript describes the impact of traditional auditory and visual learning as opposed to tactual and/or kinesthetic learning on the achievement of primary-through adult-students' grades in varied subjects. Its findings suggest that the perceptual strengths of low-achievers and Special Education students appear to be essentially tactual, kinesthetic, or a combination of these two and visual inclinations, and that traditional lectures and discussions may be the most important reason that certain poor learners do not do well in conventional schools.

Impact by Educational Level

Reinert (1976), a pioneer in the study of perceptual modalities and learning, became interested in research after observing that some students in his high-school German Language classes preferred memorizing foreign phrases by first listening to, and then verbally repeating them, whereas others preferred reading first, followed by verbal repetition. Other early researchers, including Buell and Buell with adults involved in staff development (1987), Clark-Thayer (1987) with college students, Carbo (1980), Urbschat (1977), and Wheeler (1983) with primary school children, Braio, Dunn, Beasley, Quinn, and Buchanan (1997), Ciarletta (1998); Drew, Dunn, Quinn, Sinatra, and Spiridakis (1994-1995); Dunn (1988); Gardiner (1986), Hill (1987), Jarsonbeck (1984), Martini (1986), and Weinberg (1983) with elementary-school students, and Kroon (1985) with high-school adolescents, all examined the impact of learning-style responsive resources or strategies on individual achievement in multiple subjects and reported the positive effects on student achievement.

Impact by Age, Achievement, and Talent

Subsequent researchers and practitioners confirmed that significantly more successful learning was evidenced by students of varied age and ability groups--particularly among poverty, minority youngsters classified as Special Education (SPED) when their perceptual strengths were identified and then accommodated with responsive resources or strategies (Dunn and DeBello, 1999; Dunn, Griggs, Olson, Gorman, and Beasley, 1995; Harp, 1990; Lovelace, 2002; Schiering and Dunn, 2001; Searson and Dunn, 2001; Sullivan, Dunn, Denig, Lynch, and Cantelmo, 2001; and Turner, 1992). That also was true for gifted and highly achieving students (Santano, 1999). Even in eleventh-grade chemistry, when Curry (1994) identified the perceptual strengths of high-academically performing and average students, she found that instruction congruent with their tactual preferences statistically increased their science achievement. Falkner (1994) found positive relationships between perceptual strengths and third-grade students' musical aptitude and Kreitner (1981) reported that most musically talented students in his high-school population were kinesthetic rather than auditory or visual.

Impact on Science Achievement

Both Roberts (1998-1999) and Sullivan, et al. (2001) reported that introducing tactual and kinesthetic instructional resources for teaching science vocabulary to seventh and fifth graders respectively, increased their achievement-test scores significantly over traditional teaching that had been comprised of speaking, discussion, and readings. Searson, Solomon, Dunn, Denig, and Pierson (2001) reported that both third-grade students with tactual and kinesthetic strengths, as well as those who had been perceptually-nonpreferenced, significantly improved their understanding of science concepts with manipulative resources in contrast with lectures, class discussions, and readings.

Fine (2002) compared the effects of learning-style responsive teaching strategies on the short- and long-term science achievement, attitudes, and behaviors of high-school SPED adolescents. Tactual resources, both teacher- and student-made, were their primary instructional materials. Fine initially had taught the students traditionally, but each week added one more learning-style strategy, such as soft lighting, informal seating, and music while learning, and then tactual materials. Students evidenced both short- and long-term achievement gains as well as increasingly more positive attitudes as each new learning-style responsive approach was added. In addition, less lateness and absence and improved classroom behaviors were evidenced.

Impact on Mathematics Achievement

Wood (2002) reported significantly improved achievement with SPED students in mathematics in grades 3-6 when they were taught fractions and other skills with tactual and kinesthetic strategies as compared with when they were taught traditionally. There also was a significant increase in attitude favoring the learning-style responsive strategies as compared with traditional lessons. Furthermore, Dunn, Bauer, Gemake, Gregory, Primavera, and Signer (1994-1995) reported that handicapped junior high school and high school students had significantly higher achievement in mathematics when taught through their most preferred modality.

Impact on Language Arts Achievement

Braio, et al. (1997) studied fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-grade SPED and low-achieving regular education students in reading. Those researchers introduced learning-style approaches incrementally in four phases. In the fourth phase, teachers matched perceptual preferences while continuing to accommodate environmental and mobility preferences. For both SPED and regular education low achievers with identifiable modality preferences, posttest achievement scores increased compared to their pretest. Other researchers (Mitchell, Dunn, Klavas, Lynch, Montgomery, and Murray, 2002; Roberts, Dunn, Holtschneider, Klavas, Miles, and Quinn, 2000-2001) revealed that achievement scores increased significantly more when students were first taught through their most preferred modality and then reinforced through their second or third perceptual preference. Earlier, Garrett (1991) had reported on the combined effects of perceptual preferences and motivation on the vocabulary and attitudes of 535 high school students. Auditory/visual and tactual/kinesthetic homework assignments were prescribed and students were tested for short-term and long-term retention. Matching learners' modality preferences increased performance and positive attitude toward learning.

Development of Perceptual Strengths

For many youth, visual and auditory memory strengths do not develop prior to the fourth-through sixth grades at the earliest; for underachievers, not until high school (Dunn, 1988). Andrews (1990) revealed that 62 percent of underachieving elementary students had registered strong preferences for learning new and difficult academic material tactually. For learning disabled (LD) students, Mitchell, et al. (2002) found that eight-, ninth- tenth- and eleventh-grade LD students learning grammar obtained significantly higher test scores with tactual/kinesthetic approaches than with auditory/visual emphases. More important was the revelation that less than 20 percent of those secondary students were able to listen to a lecture for 40-50 minutes and recall at least three quarters of what they had heard.

Research on Studying and Doing Homework

Research on the impact of perceptual preferences and learning has not been limited to the classroom. In a study of fifth grade students, Turner (1992) found that spelling achievement increased significantly when students independently applied learning-style prescriptions to doing homework in addition to receiving modality-based instruction in the classroom. Ferdenzi, Griggs and Dunn (1998-1999) reported on parents assisting their children with homework. These first graders scored significantly higher in word recognition when the home instruction matched their perceptual preferences than when it did not. Moreover, parents perceived themselves as significantly more effective than when using traditional methods. At another level, Geiser, Dunn, Deckinger, Denig, Sklar, Beasley, and Nelson, (2000-2001) reported that middle-school students who used learning-style strategies for doing homework earned statistically higher mathematics achievement- and attitude-test scores than students who used traditional study strategies.


To summarize the research on perceptual preferences, extensive findings indicate that accommodating individuals' strengths resulted in increased achievement and more positive attitudes toward learning cross age, educational level, content area, and special groupings.


Andrews, R. H. (1990). The development of a learning-styles program in a low socioeconomic, underachieving North Carolina elementary school. Journal of Reading, Writing, and Learning Disabilities International, 6(3) 307-314.

Braio, A., Dunn, R., Beasley, T. M., Quinn, P., & Buchanan, K. (1997). Incremental implementation of learning-style strategies among urban low achievers. Journal of Educational Research, 91, 15-25

Buell, B. C .G., & Buell, N. A. (1987). Perceptual modality preference as a variable in the effectiveness of continuing education for professionals (Doctoral dissertation, University of Southern California, 1987). Dissertation Abstracts International, 48(02), 283A.

Carbo, M. A. (1980). An analysis of the relationship between the modality preferences of kindergartners and selected reading treatments as they affect the learning of a basic sight-word vocabulary (Doctoral dissertation, St. John's University, 1980). Dissertation Abstracts International, 41(04), 1389A.

Ciarletta, M. J. (1998). Effects on first- and second-grade students' achievement and attitudes toward learning of a learning-style and literature-based approach to multicultural education. (Doctoral dissertation, St. John's University, 1999) Dissertation Abstracts International, 59(08), 2824A.

Clark-Thayer, S. (1987). The relationship of the knowledge of student-perceived learning style preferences, and study habits and attitudes to achievement of college freshmen in a small, urban university. (Doctoral dissertation, Boston University, 1987) Dissertation Abstracts International, 48(04), 872A.

Curry, E. R. (1994). Matching chemistry instructional methods with perceptual learning style preferences of eleventh grade women: Effects on attitude and achievement (Doctoral dissertation, New York University, 1995). Dissertation Abstracts International, 55(09), 2785A.

Drew, M., Dunn, R., Quinn, P., Sinatra, R., & Spiridakis, J. (1994-95). Effects of matching and mismatching minority low achievers with culturally-similar and dissimilar-story content and learning style and traditional instructional practices. National Forum of Applied Educational Research Journal, 8(2), 3-12.

Dunn, R. (1988). Commentary: Teaching students through their perceptual strengths or preferences. Journal of Reading, 31,304-309.

Dunn, R., Bauer, E., Gemake, J., Gregory, J., Primavera, L., & Signer, B. (1994-1995). Matching and mismatching junior high school learning-disabled and emotionally-handicapped students' perceptual preferences with mathematics scores. National Forum of Teacher Education Journal, 5(1), 3-13.

Dunn, R., & DeBello, T. C. (Eds.). (1999). Improved test scores, attitudes, and behaviors in America's Schools: Supervisors' success stores. Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey. Dunn, R., Griggs, S. A., Olson, J., Gorman, B., & Beasley, M. (1995) A meta-analytic validation of the Dunn and Dunn model of learning-style preferences. Journal of Educational Research, 88, 353-361.

Falkner, D, L., (1994). An investigation of modality preferences, musical aptitude, and attitude toward music at the third-grade level (Doctoral dissertation, The University of Mississippi, 1995). Dissertation Abstracts International, 55(12), 3775A.

Ferdenzi, A. C., Griggs, S. A., & Dunn, R. (1998-1999). The key to improve academic achievement: Parents use modality-responsive home learning strategies. National Forum of Teacher Education Journal, 9(1), 50-56.

Fine, D. (2002). Comparison between the learning styles of special and regular education high school students and the effects of responsive teaching on the short- and long-term achievement, attitudes, and behaviors of a subset of SPED adolescents. (Doctoral dissertation, St. John's University).

Gardiner, B. (1986). An experimental analysis of selected teaching strategies implemented at specific times of the school day and their effects on the social studies achievement test scores and attitudes of fourth-grade, low-achieving students in an urban school setting (Doctoral dissertation, St. John's University, 1987). Dissertation Abstracts International, 47(09), 3307A.

Garrett, S. L. (1991). The effects of perceptual preference and motivation on vocabulary and attitude toward the learning task among selected high school students (Doctoral dissertation, University of La Verne, 1992). Dissertation Abstracts International, 53(02), 389A.

Geiser, W. F., Dunn, R., Deckinger, E. L., Denig, S., Sklar, R. I., Beasley, T. M., & Nelson, B. (2000-2001). Effects of learning-style awareness and responsive study strategies on achievement, incidences of study, and attitude of suburban eighth-grade students. National Forum of Applied Educational Research Journal, 13(2), 37-49.

Harp B. F. (1990). A study of the relationship between selected learning styles and achievement of kindergarten language arts objectives in a local school district (Doctoral dissertation, University of North Texas, 1990) Dissertation Abstracts International, 51(09), 2978A.

Hill, G. D. (1987). An experimental investigation into the interaction between modality preference and instructional mode in the learning of spelling words by upper-elementary learning disabled students (Doctoral dissertation, University of North Texas State, 1988). Dissertation Abstracts International, 48(10), 2536A.

Jarsonbeck, S. (1984). The effects of a right-brain mathematics curriculum on low-achieving, fourth-grade students (Doctoral dissertation, University of South Florida, 1984). Dissertation Abstracts International, 45(09), 2791A.

Kreitner, K. R. (1981). Modality strengths and learning styles of musically talented high-school students. Unpublished master's thesis, The Ohio State University, Columbus.

Kroon, D. (1985). An experimental investigation of the effects on academic achievement and the resultant administrative implications of instruction congruent and incongruent with secondary, industrial arts students' learning style perceptual preference (Doctoral dissertation, St. John's University, 1986). Dissertation Abstracts International, 46(11), 3272A.

Lovelace, M. A. K. (2002). A meta-analysis of the Dunns' model of learning styles. (Doctoral dissertation, St. John's University).

Martini, M. (1986). An analysis of the relationships between and among computer assisted instruction, learning style perceptual preferences, attitudes, and the science achievement of seventh grade students in a suburban, New York school district (Doctoral dissertation, St. John's University, 1986). Dissertation Abstracts International, 47(03), 877A.

Mitchell, D., Dunn, R., Klavas, A. Lynch, V., Montgomery, N., & Murray, J. (2002). Effects of traditional versus tactual/kinesthetic instruction on the achievement, application to writing, and attitudes of junior high and high school learning-disabled students. Academic Exchange Quarterly, 6(3), 115-122.

Reinert, H. (1976). One Picture is Worth a Thousand Words? Not Necessarily! Modern Language Journal 60(4), 160-168.

Roberts, A.V. (1998-1999). Effects of tactual and kinesthetic instructional methods on social studies achievement and attitude test scores on fifth-grade students. National Forum of Teacher Education Journal, 9(1), 16-26.

Roberts, A.V., Dunn, R., Holtschneider, D., Klavas, A., Miles, B., & Quinn, P. (2000-2001). Effects of tactual and kinesthetic instructional resources on the social studies achievement, attitude test scores, and short- and long-term memory of fourth-grade students. National Forum of Applied Educational Research Journal, 13(2), 10-22.

Santano, T. (1999). Effects of contract activity packages on social studies achievement of gifted students. The Journal of Social Studies Research, 23(1), 3-10.

Schiering, M. S. & Dunn, K. J. (2001). Student empowerment: From cognition to metacognition. In R. Dunn, (Ed.). The Art of Significantly Increasing Science Achievement Test Scores: Research and Practical Applications. NY: St. John's University's Center for the Study of Learning and Teaching Styles, 43-66.

Searson, R. & Dunn, R. (2001). The learning-style teaching model. Science and Children, 38(5), 22-26.

Searson, R., Solomon, P., Dunn, R., Denig, S. J., & Pierson, H. (2001). Effects of tactual and kinesthetic instructional resources on science achievement of third-grade students. In Rita Dunn, (Ed.). The Art of Significantly Increasing Science Achievement Test Scores: Research and Practical Applications. NY: St. John's University's Center for the Study of Learning and Teaching Styles, 3-27.

Sullivan, A. T., Dunn, R., Denig, S. J., Lynch, V. V., & Cantelmo, F. R. (2001). Effects of learning-style environmental and tactual/kinesthetic preferences on the understanding of scientific terms and attitude test scores of fifth-grade students. In R. Dunn, (Ed.). The Art of Significantly Increasing Science Achievement Test Scores: Research and Practical Applications. NY: St. John's University's Center for the Study of Learning and Teaching Styles, 29-41.

Turner, N. D. (1992). A comparative study of the effects of learning style prescriptions and/or modality-based instruction on the spelling achievement of fifth-grade students (Doctoral dissertation, Andrews University, 1992). Dissertation Abstracts International, 53(04), 1051A.

Urbschat, K. S. (1977). A study of preferred learning modes and their relationship to the amount of recall of CVC trigrams (Doctoral dissertation, Wayne State University, 1977). Dissertation Abstracts International, 38(05), 2536A.

Weinberg, F. H. (1983). An experimental investigation of the interaction between sensory modality preference and mode of presentation in the instruction of arithmetic concepts to third grade underachievers (Doctoral dissertation, St. John's University, 1983). Dissertation Abstracts International, 44(06), 1740A.

Wheeler, R. (1983). An investigation of the degree of academic achievement evidenced when second grade, learning disabled students' perceptual preferences are matched and mismatched with complementary sensory approaches to beginning reading instruction (Doctoral dissertation, St. John's University, 1984). Dissertation Abstracts International, 44(07), 2039A.

Wood, M. (2002). Effects of individualized plans independent of and supplemented by learning-style profiles on the mathematics achievement and attitudes of special education students in grades three-six (Doctoral dissertation, St. John's University).

Angela Cutolo, St. Johns University, NY

Angela Cutolo is an administrator in the Institute of English-as-a-Second Language and a doctoral student in the Instructional Leadership Program.
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Author:Cutolo, Angela
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Mar 22, 2003
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