While I respect brain research and acknowledge its immense value, teachers need to apply what we already know.
A human being is more than just a brain.
Humans develop in multiple ways: emotionally, physically, spiritually, cognitively, and artistically. Students are more than their test scores. SEL (Social Emotional Learning) and mental health, which includes emotional + physical health, cannot be ignored.
We deserve to develop all sides of ourselves and teachers really help their students when they deliver instruction in a variety of ways, not just one single mode.
Then there is the reality of 2020.
K-12 teachers are entering the virtual teaching sphere en masse. In just a few more weeks this gets real. Young children will be learning solely through a glowing screen when the new school year begins.
How well can we teach through multiple intelligences using a virtual platform?
From an Edutopia article on Gardener’s Theory of Multiple Intelligence:
Practices Supported by Research
Having an understanding of different teaching approaches from which we all can learn, as well as a toolbox with a variety of ways to present content to students, is valuable for increasing the accessibility of learning experiences for all students. To develop this toolbox, it is especially important to gather ongoing information about student strengths and challenges as well as their developing interests and activities they dislike. Providing different contexts for students and engaging a variety of their senses — for example, learning about fractions through musical notes, flower petals, and poetic meter — is supported by research. Specifically:
- Providing students with multiple ways to access content improves learning (Hattie, 2011).
- Providing students with multiple ways to demonstrate knowledge and skills increases engagement and learning, and provides teachers with more accurate understanding of students’ knowledge and skills (Darling-Hammond, 2010).
- Instruction should be informed as much as possible by detailed knowledge about students’ specific strengths, needs, and areas for growth (Tomlinson, 2014).
As our insatiable curiosity about the learning process persists and studies continue to evolve, scientific research may emerge that further elaborates on multiple intelligences, learning styles, or perhaps another theory. To learn more about the scientific research on student learning, visit our Brain-Based Learning topic page.
In how many ways can we present our lesson material that touch on multiple intelligences while coming through a screen to first graders? How will I make the material come alive for a six to seven year old? How will I build the human relationships with my very young students in the virtual?
These are questions I am faced with as a first grade online teacher. Perhaps for a high school or college professor, it looks somewhat different. But as a teacher of primary grades, I have deep concerns about the long-term impacts of what is unfolding as we shift away from live teachers sharing stories orally and through books to Youtube videos streaming into students’ homes.
More than ever, we need ways to protect the youngest students from too much screen time and connect with them on a real, emotional, human level. Last night I watched the video of a grieving father explain how his 12 year-old son committed suicide two days before when he broke his computer monitor for a second time. I can’t help but feel we are sacrificing the lambs without knowing the potential consequences.
In 2050 this generation of first grade students will be hitting their prime working years. They might be the first generation of children who will have learned how to read and write on a computer, with many hours less of touching a real pencil to paper or holding real books in their hands from the school library.
I want to explain that I am no luddite. As a ten year old girl, I loved computers. Later, as a first year teacher in the 1990’s I sponsored an “Internet Club” for my 6th graders and I was among the first in my district to publish a teacher webpage on the internet. At the time my principal could not correctly pronounce the word, “internet.” I have a keen interest in the potential of technology in education.
I want to see a healthy use of computers that respects the needs of human development of young children. I just honestly think we as a society do not yet know what “healthy computer use” looks like for young people as evidenced by the expectations of the general public and decision-makers and devastating impacts like that of the father who lost his son to suicide.
The forced virtual schooling that is upon us may not be something we have control over and I am all in favor of focusing on the things we DO have control over. Forced online schooling happened too quickly to manage well in the middle of a health crisis this spring. What will be different this fall about forced virtual schooling now that the new school year is here?
What teachers do have control over is how we teach and how we build relationships with students and parents. We can also advocate for our students’ needs when situations call for it. I for one, will be trying as many innovative ways as I can to connect on a personal, human level, and to look for ways as many ways as possible to make my lessons physically active, imaginative, and multi-sensory for my students. At the same time that we are forced to embrace online teaching, we need to embrace what makes us human. I will continue to reach for any reasonable tools that I find to connect with my students and I will share what I find with others in the field. It’s back to school season, 2020-style.