There is a "new" education push and conversation: That is to teach to "learning styles." The term is seeping out into the public conversation but what is meant by "learning styles" and why might it be important?
Simply put, "learning styles" refers to how different people will use their more dominant senses to receive and store information. There is strong evidence that as we learn we make use of some of our senses, and the more sensory input the better when it comes to learning. Much recent research on how we learn has been done by Neurophysiologist Karl Pribram, of Stanford University. From Pribram's extensive research he concludes that sensory input is imperative in order that we learn to read and write.
If we consider it, most of us can cite things that we do to learn something new; That is, commit it to our brains and be able to draw out the information when needed. Some can remember things better when they see images. If no visual is offered they may make a mental picture or sit and doodle about the subject or associate symbols with the ideas they just heard (e.g. make a triangle while listening, draw faces or other imagery and associate it with what was heard in a lecture).
Other learners can remember more when listening, and others will create devices for learning associations. For example, they may remember sentences by coming up with a catch phrase or word in which a letter in that word represents a piece of information, still others need to have a tactile experience: touching a texture, folding their papers' corners, writing with a special pen that "feels right, all the while listening and receiving information they want to commit to memory. They will then relate their physical actions performed when they were trying to learn to recall what was said. There are those who, if they have a strong stimulation from their sense of smell, can tell you about a scene in great detail if they recall that smell. They will recall the sights and sounds of what was said, who said it and more based on their olfactory experience at that time.
I have taught for more than 20 years in the classroom and privately, teaching Pre-K through adults. Twentyfive years ago, when I was a newly graduated teacher, I concluded that the problem solving skills gained by work done in the art room would make better learners, and students better equiped to adapt in a fast-paced age of technology.
This seems more relavant today than 25 years ago. Additionally when I consider what I actually did learn from elementary and middle school years, I can recall learning done when multi sensory projects were included. The recall of facts, are nearly exclusively among those including input where I had to create something. I had used senses of sight, touch, smell (art suppies usually have an odor and often will make a sound when manipulated) and quite likely sound also. As for time in the class sitting and listening in order to learn, I don't recall too much.
As a NYS educator and special needs tutor with an MS in art therapy, I have seen results among students who were children, teens and adults of all ages( and abilities), including students who had been classified for either physical or emotional or cognitive impairments. Some students and clients have included people who loss use of their body and/or minds. Some students, going through more difficult life periods would never be diagnosed with a learning disorder, but due to their crisis get "stuck" at the learning level they are at (at the time of the crisis incident).
With these students, the importance of doing multi-sensory inclusive learning projects is imperative. You see, when we learn, neurologically speaking a new pathway in our brain is added. As though we are creating veins and arteries, we add to previous learning by making an association or by making a new inroad. As we get "stuck" or age, new inroads do become more difficult to make. And so it is only in the bombardment of our brain's stimulation that we might be able to overcome blocks in learning.
It troubles me that the subject areas that most school districts have reduced and eliminated have been generally the most sensory inclusive learning classes. Art, Music, Technologies classes are being shaved and often cut out completely. I was recently teaching in a regional public school where they had cut out a state mandated requirement for art and cut out their introductory computer programs. Yet I heard during orientation nights, the parents being told the new and "available academic time" would allow English and Social Studies teachers to add more with their classes. They were told that their children will get plenty of their arts and computer education met while they were incorporated into their 3 R subjects. This would be ideal situation for 3Rs learning if that were actually happening.
Most teachers are not trained to use varying art/music supplies, do not have time to teach other curriculum, are not given a budget to include variety and leave out a huge portion of what goes on in these classes. Perhaps what is most lost is learning about the arts subjects themselves, so many new jobs are arts related. It also is my observation that frequently arts and technology teachers use content from other academic areas to cover the standards for education from other subject areas. What had been happening in these rooms was that the education that may have been introduced by RRR teachers was then revisited. They use sight, sound, touch, sounds and smells relating to that learning content and most expecially then support learners whose learning style is touching. Incredibly most learners thrive using touch as a learning style and the listening style is less inclusive, yet our education model is reversed from this approach.
When I was a young teacher I taught evening art classes to older adults and retirees. In those early days of my career, I was impressed by the rapid growth and learning among my students. I was teaching drawing and painting classes to those who had hardly attempted to draw since they were children. The positive affects on their personality was not only noticeable but remarkable, they seemed to get more youthful and happy. I wanted to understand, "What WAS it, exactly, that caused these rapid changes?" and I wanted to use these catalysts with greater control so more students may be as affected.
I can honestly say that learning more about psychology, therapy and using the arts in these realms has given me a unique understanding of the concept of making use of a variety of senses. Having an MS in Art Therapy has made me a powerful educator. I have witnessed very dramatic education strides among my students and tutoring clients. I have been able to apply theraperutic art ideas and education with fantastic results. To illustrate this, I am including 3 photos of a severely autistic 9 year old's stages of drawing a person. The first was done in late January (2012). He draws faces by mid February with a limited assortment of expressions. The third image is what he drew in May. (Again they all are his depiction of my request for him to draw a person). Assorted sensory stimulation is at the heart of these rapid advances.
Paying attention to learning style and offering opportunities for varying ways to have sensory stimulation in schools, needs to be demanded by the community if teachers are going to do a better job. Teaching our children takes a community, and parents are partners with teachers. Please take time to copy and share this with others.
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