During teacher training, we had courses devoted to various learning styles. The premise was that we all learn through different modes, and those modes should all be used to deliver content in a way students could easily process.
One of the theories is that there are three different modalities or avenues for information to be delivered – visual, auditory, or kinesthetic. When planning lessons, we were charged with keeping these modalities in mind. Today I am in classrooms where the students learn vocabulary by gathering at the front of the room and reading a definition aloud while miming a related action, thereby hitting all three modalities. It’s a difficult thing to do with every subject.
The other theory we studied was that of multiple intelligences, which defines intelligence as not merely a product of reasoning and ability to understand complex ideas, but acknowledges that there are a variety of ways that a person can be smart that may not show up on our commonly accepted measuring tool, the standardized test.
This theory comes in handy when planning lessons. Students are more likely to learn when they feel a connection. Acknowledging that success on a standardized test doesn’t dictate success in life frees a student to reach his or her own potential. Gardner reasoned that it takes all kinds of people to make this world work, and by giving students freedom to interact with content in a way that is relevant to them, they are more likely to learn.
As a teacher, I see this on a daily basis. Students are more invested in something that is meaningful to them. A student who loves sports will be more inclined to read and work math problems that are related to his or her interest in the subject. Giving students research projects in a subject area they are interested in yields enthusiastic results. Offering students varied means to show knowledge of a subject allows them to own the learning process. A song created about the American Revolution that accurately reflects a predetermined set of learning goals is every bit as relevant as a multiple choice quiz.
Acknowledging multiple intelligences also give students ownership of the learning process, and our goal as teachers should not be to help students pass a test, but should be to create lifelong learners.
I was recently in a second grade classroom with a girl who was in every support group imaginable. She was not only low in reading and math, but had a hard time focusing on content the class was learning. At the end of the day, we switched to an art project. This girl threw herself into the project with an enthusiasm and focus that I hadn’t seen from her all day. She quickly completed a beautiful project and asked to do another. It was hard to pull her away when it came time to clean up. This kind of interest is what we hope for as teachers. In an era of focusing on the standardized test, we are leaving these kids behind. This particular school had done away with art in favor of more math and reading instruction, and this student was being left behind in spite of good intentions.
I understand this student. I was this student. Today, I can read and study difficult concepts, but I still reach the point where if I don’t have a creative outlet, all learning stops and pressure begins to build. I’m sure this is true for the active child, the musical child, the inter/intrapersonal child. Education favors the linguistic/mathematical model, but when it comes to the endgame of career and job selection, we need those visual/spatial, interpersonal, naturalistic students to thrive in their areas of interest. Education must support all students.
If you are interested in finding out what your learning styles are, there are plenty of online quizzes to help you out. I found that I’m pretty well rounded when it comes to the three modalities, and multiple intelligences. That probably comes from age and experience, and from providing my brain with many and varied opportunities to provide connections.
What are your strengths? Was there anything that helped or hindered your learning process?