Breaking Molds: One Size Does Not Fit All in Education

Traditional teaching methods focus on the minority of students who have certain ways of...


Do I take in information primarily through my senses or do I intuit and make connections? Do I organize information in a sequential manner, or do I prefer to make my own steps for arriving at the goal?

While there are many children who can succeed in traditional classrooms, there are a vast number of children who learn best through visual and kinesthetic connections made between what is familiar to them, and the new, unknown material. 

To these children, showing them a string of symbols which makes up a word and asking them to just remember it is a very difficult task. There are too many little bits, and each bit carries information they have to remember in order to correctly utilize it (ie: this symbol is an A and its sound is "a" as in "apple"). If a word is stylized to show instantly what it is, is shaped to show the meaning of the word, a right-brained learner may take one look at the word and absorb it whole. Then he is ready to break the word into its parts. Many global children will prefer to learn this way: from whole to part.

While we traditionally teach children to read by introducing letter names, then sounds, then various phonetic rules for decoding, these visual and kinesthetic learners would thrive if they understood first that the word they see is a whole, has meaning which they are familiar with. At this point, it will not be difficult to explain the rules of sounds and decoding. Global children often experience difficulty with a learning situation that is largely sequential in nature - a series of steps to be taken - desperately need to know the goal they are aiming for - the whole word. Once they know the word, they can focus on its parts. 


Can I just hear it, do I need to see it as it relates to a pattern, or do I need to actually handle it, and do the job myself in order to remember?

Again, children who are visual, kinesthetic, global learners will need very much to have the opportunity to try their hand at a task in order to make sense of it and thus be able to remember the meaning they have made. Many children will not remember nor make sense of learning unless they can DO it themselves. Many of these children must see isolated bits of information as they relate to whole patterns in order to understand and remember. Example: If you are working on "play," it is not enough to simply say, '"When you see AY it says [long] A." It will make far more sense to the child and he will remember the concept if you take the time to engage him in generating a list of other words that have this spelling pattern. Taking it further, for those visual learners, is to have a yellow crayon with which to color only the letters that have the target spelling. Seeing the word PLAY in a list of words with the same pattern, seeing the target spelling colored, these are simple but powerful means for making sense and remembering.


Do I prefer to follow directions sequentially, "just because," or do I need to see the whole picture, know the final goal, and understand the "why" behind the task?

Global learners will not be able to even hear directions until they know what the goal of the exercise is. In the effort to save valuable instruction time, often we quickly spout a series of directions and might even write them on the board. There are always a group of children who are not quick to pick up on the task. Some might look like a deer caught in headlights, some might start chatting, others might act out. It is highly uncomfortable to see others around me starting to follow directions that I can make no sense out of.

State the end result first, why we are doing the exercise, and then explain that what is following will be the suggested steps for getting there. Global learners and others will now be ready and able to hear, understand, and make sense out of the directions.

Children need very much to be competent. When they feel lost, when they don't understand, behaviors come in. They are not always going to be able to verbalize their confusion or lack of understanding. Working with children from kindergarten to middle school who were struggling taught me that in many cases, the key to improving undesirable behavior was improving competence and confidence in the learning process. Rather than focusing on the behavior, focus on what is behind it. Children need to know they are smart in order to have the motivation to work at learning.

Being Intelligent

Am I best able to learn through words, through my own logic, or do I need to make mental associations, use "maps" to view relationships to other facts? Do I learn best by doing it myself? 

Traditional vs. Non-Traditional Learners:

Traditional teaching methods are concrete, sequential, auditory, verbal, logical, and mathematical. A huge number of students, in fact, most young children, fall into other learning categories such as abstract, random, visual, kinesthetic, and global. It only makes good sense to adjust our teaching methods and materials to blend seamlessly with children's natural way of interacting with their world.

In our society, in particular, we tend to consider certain types of learners as the smart ones, while the others might fall into the categories of "talented" or "good with his hands." In reality, there are many ways of being smart. In general, our achievement tests measure and celebrate those children who are in the first group described above. Tests cannot show the incredible intelligence of those children who learn, remember, and are smart in other ways. For those children who cannot just memorize facts, symbols, equations, there is hope. Those children may utilize pictures they draw themselves, graphic organizers that make sense to them. It is a great practice to start with kindergarten children asking them, "How did you remember this?" or "How can we remember this word next time we see it?" "What does this look like to you?" "What does this make you think of?" All these questions will be priming the child's own brain to come up with associations he/she can use to learn and remember.

Research shows that the elements of which we speak (visuals, motions, body movement, stories, activities that utilize both hemispheres of the brain simultaneously help with many children who struggle - from dyslexia, autism, Asperger's, ADD, children with other "identified learning disabilities." 

For children with attention difficulties, using the visuals embedded in symbols allows their brain to record a quick snapshot of the word so that the visual is there to act as a hook for recall. 

"Research confirms that effective, multisensory reading instruction literally remodels the brains of struggling readers. Multisensory learning incorporates a variety of learning channels during instruction, especially utilization of visual, auditory, tactile (touch) and kinesthetic (muscle movement) learning pathways. When struggling learners are taught to read using direct, explicit, systematic, multisensory phonics instruction, research using brain imaging shows us that the impact on the brain is significant!

Dr. Sally Shaywitz, a leader in the field of dyslexia and reading research, has conducted reading research at Yale University's Center for Learning and Attention. Observing brain imaging during the reading process through the use of functional MRIs explicitly shows that good readers consistently use specific portions of the left-brain, with brain activity highly-focused in very specific areas during reading tasks. Brain imaging in poor readers, on the other hand, shows diffused activity scattered throughout the brain; much less efficient for reading.

Early identification and intervention in kindergarten and grade one using this research-based instruction can prevent many at-risk students from ever struggling with reading. This kind of proven and effective instruction for older students who already struggle with reading skills acquisition can reverse the on-going difficulties, changing those learners into more competent readers. For dyslexic, learning disabled, and ADD individuals, these instructional methods give them specific strategies and skills to work with their learning differences, allowing them to become successful readers and spellers, significantly impacting their schoolwork and life-long success.

Excerpts from the article "School Support for Learning Disabled and ADD Learners"
By Laurie Wagner
Reading and Language Arts Centers

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