What’s in Your Gallery? Using Different Modalities to Teach Students with Various Learning Styles

It is widely known among educators that students learn through a variety of modalities. Some students’ learning styles are obvious to the observer taking a sneak peek into a classroom setting, while other styles take some creativity to unwrap and discover.  The most common modalities through which individuals best learn are: visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic. By determining the styles through which students best absorb content and skills, educators can tailor lessons to allow for optimal learning and success.

Take the visual learner. He is the student who just needs to see the image of the map on the board to be reminded of the various details within it; the borders, bodies of water, states, and capitals, all within reach once the map is available for viewing. All of the discussions in the world  about states and capitals, oceans and seas, North, South, East, and West will be futile if they continued to be presented verbally. It is the visual image that gets photoshopped into the student’s gallery, allowing for further review and revisiting even once the original image has been deleted.

The auditory learner has an empty gallery. His pictures don’t translate into meaningful images, as his brain is wired to best comprehend information that he can hear, not see. While I firmly believe that talking is not teaching, for some, talking can lead to true learning. Take the student who has a form of cerebral palsy, resulting in limited visual range and virtually no capacity for fine or gross motor skills. This is the student who sits in his wheelchair each day, eagerly listening and participating in class discussions. He is relying on his strong auditory sense, thus committing to memory the important words, ideas and concepts being transmitted. Be fearful of what you say in front of him, as he will hear it (and repeat it) even if it was not intended for him. 

The tactile learner is often the best note-taker in school. He may never have taken the time to review those notes before an exam, but the experience of writing down the information, whether it be in full sentences, outline form, or even short-hand, is enough to find its entrance into his world of understanding and of memory. It is the experience of drawing the diagram, filling out the graphic organizer, color-coding the chart, or entering data into a template that paves the way for learning and ownership.

And finally, our kinesthetic learners, our young men who learn from doing and interacting with their environment. These are the students who often excel in camp settings where movement is primary. They are learning about the meraglim (spies) by experiencing their own spy missions in school and in the community. They are allowing for difficult math concepts to enter their brainwaves by being encouraged to explore entrepreneurship at school and beyond. They are leaders in clubs, electives, and extracurricular activities, learning the valuable lessons of taking initiative, collaboration, responsibility, and commitment.  

At the start of this school year, faculty members of SINAI Shalem at TABC and Ma’ayanot revisited these modalities as they eagerly anticipated the arrival of their students for the new school year. When reviewing student profiles they collaborated and considered ways to introduce new material, review previously learned skills, and promote student ownership and independence, while being mindful of the modalities through which their students best learn. Considering fine and gross motor skills, visual acuity, and expressive and receptive language skills, teachers began brainstorming creative methods for their incoming students to be successful.

We now fast-forward just a few short weeks. I have the fortune of being a regular witness to multi-modality learning both in and out of the classroom daily. In only a month’s time, two new students are improving mathematical skills as well as social comfort and opportunity by selling cholent, a popular Shabbos delicacy, to students and faculty throughout the TABC building each Friday. No, this is not cholent that they purchased for re-sale. It is cholent that was prepared by peers the previous evening, who appreciate the kinesthetic form of learning, as they cut potatoes, shake spices, learn to take turns, and to collaborate. In this case, both the process and the product are valued.  Our upperclassman, a group of auditory learners, enhanced their review of gemara terminology by recording Gemara vocabulary words and their definitions to the popular Mordechai Shapiro tune “Schar Mitzvah Mitzvah.” These learners demonstrated what they know, simultaneously committing it to memory, through their favored outlet: music. Students learning through the tactile mode are communicating in writing through typing, as they hone their proofreading skills in Composition classes. They have come to expect comments on their Google docs in real time as their teacher seeks to provide immediate feedback, arriving in digital form on their laptop screens during class. They claim it is “spooky” to see comments appear as they are writing. Lastly, students at Shalem have each begun the school year by being introduced to their vocational placement, allowing the concepts of ownership and independence to expand well beyond the classroom. Each week students spend up to two hours at their job site reporting to a new boss, increasing task maintenance, improving problem solving skills, and engaging with others in the workplace appropriately and effectively. This is where visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic strategies are put to the test as job coaches encourage students to make a list, set an alarm, draw a picture, or even role play a scenario in an effort to ensure that each of our young employers is experiencing the world of employment through the modality that most suits his style.

For some, identifying the preferred modality creates a gateway to learning that had since been closed, even sealed, throughout years of unsuccessful schooling. For others, it is the magical combination of various modes that allows the student to hear, see, feel, and experience the learning, resulting in that final “click” of understanding that had been years in the making. As we strive to educate our young men, grooming them towards lives of fulfillment and independence, it behooves us to help each student identify the modality through which he best learns, as this will be his ticket towards developing his own strategies towards personal success.