I am now a multimodal learner with preferences toward aural and kinesthetic styles. I also have mixed bag of Gardener’s Intelligences; Intrapersonal, Naturalist, Spatial. I would also add one to Gardeners list, Compositional: the ability to understand the emotional and cognitive effect of an arrangement of elements on a two dimensional surface to convey a certain concept, feeling, mood or idea. I add this because I do not think that Spatial quite hits the mark for two dimensional visual artists or graphic designers. This all means that I am a very engaged learner and that I need lots of excitement and activity based participatory lessons.
With multimodal learners, teachers as facilitators must make things exciting and ever changing. Differentiated instruction can be a very useful style of teaching to employ here. In differentiated instruction we are offering many different ways of learning the same material, whether it is a math lesson or an art lesson. In a math lesson we can think around the problems and come up with many different ways to reach a solution. For example, we can have a station with blocks where our students can build the equation, physically moving blocks from side to side, removing and adding to satisfy their kinesthetic sense and find the correct answer. We can also use color theory to illustrate an equation: blue plus what equals purple we find the solution by asking, “What do you add to blue to make purple?” Shown that blue symbolizes 2 and purple symbolizes 5 students can pretty easily, visually connect red to 3. We can offer a reading station or have students do group reading which they then present to the class to get their aural side out. When we build options for different kinds of learners into our lesson plans we essentially let our students take control of their own learning and give them a great advantage. Imagine being able to choose how you learn! We can debrief our students after class to see what worked best for them and in the future we and they can know how and what to do to help ourselves learn quickly and with high retention. In offering choices you also sharpen the critical thinking skills of your students allowing them to make decisions which affect their lives, in a safe environment. I see this as practice for the future; students get to see direct repercussions of their decisions. I know this would have helped me as I was growing up; I would even go so far as to say that this would have built confidence in my own abilities to decide and helped me to resist peer pressure.
I truly believe that differentiated instruction is the best way to reach any type of learner as it gives them the choice of picking which activity is best for them and how it will make the most sense to their brain. We all change learning styles and intelligences to a certain extent depending on our focus at the moment or the situation which we are in and differentiated instruction takes this into account, even encourages it. As Eric Jensen says, “The easiest way to reach all of your learners is to provide both variety and choice.” (Jensen, p. 38, 2009) The world of rote memo
“The child’s own instincts and powers furnish the material and give the starting point for alleducation. Save as the efforts of the educator connect with some activity which the child is carrying on of his own initiative independent of the educator, education becomes reduced to a pressure from without. It may, indeed, give certain external results, but cannot truly be called educative. Without insight into the psychological structure and activities of the individual, the educative process will, therefore, be haphazard and arbitrary. If it chances to coincide with the child’s activity it will get a leverage; if it does not, it will result in friction, or disintegration, or arrest of the child nature.”(Dewey, 1879)
John Dewey was the “Father” of experiential education (Neill, 2005) of which differentiated learning is a part or strategy. He clearly argues for differentiated instruction, and advocates that the child knows how they will learn best even if they do not know how to structure that learning (Neill, 2005). He then goes on to say that if the educator does not allow for and include the child in learning, that child’s education will, “…be haphazard and arbitrary.” I know that if Dewey’s ideas had taken hold way back in 1879, my education would have been a much different experience. I happen to be one of the ones who did not match up to the dominant style and got lost in the cracks. Luckily I was able to move to an alternative school where my learning style was recognized and where, I see now, I was taught strategies to compensate and take advantage of the dominate style of direct instruction. I learned to be multimodal as a survival tactic. I hope that we can help our children not only to survive but to thrive through differentiated instruction and child centered classrooms.
Dewey, John, 1897: The School Journal, Volume LIV, Number 3
Fleming, Neil, 2009: The VARK Questionnaire, http://www.vark-learn.com/english/page.asp?p=questionnaire
Neill, James, 2005: John Dewey, the Modern Father of Experiential Education
Jensen, Eric, 2009: Super Teaching, Corwin Press, fourth edition
Woolfolk, Anita, 2008: Educational Psychology, Pearson Education, Tenth Edition