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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Can a Teacher Reach All Students in His or Her Classroom? Part Two

Can a Teacher Reach All Students in His or Her Classroom?

To answer this challenging question I’d like to take an excerpt from the Toolbox and share a conversation between Lisa, a co-teacher, and her mentor teacher, Dr. Solomon.

Dr. Solomon begins this conference with his co-teacher saying, “Lisa, during our last meeting you raised a very important and difficult question. What can a teacher do to reach all her students? Have you thought any more about that question? If so, what’s your answer?”

Lisa sighs. “Well Dr. S, I suspected that you might ask me this question, and I’ve thought long and hard about it. Here’s my answer. I don’t think a teacher can reach all of his or her students because we, the students, are all different, and aren’t equally motivated to learn.”

“Lisa,” says Dr. Solomon “are you saying that because students are motivated differently we can’t reach them?”

Lisa nods. “Yes, Dr. Solomon, that’s exactly what I’m saying.”

Dr. Solomon considers this for a moment, and replies; “Now that’s a fascinating response, and there is some merit to your idea. But, I respectfully disagree with you. I would modify your statement, and say that teachers may not reach all their students in the same way. But, let’s change the conversation for a moment, and talk about what teachers can do to increase the likelihood of reaching all their students.”

“Lisa, do you recall that in one of our early conversations I said to you that teaching is not about being a ‘talking head’? A ‘talking head’ is a lecturer. Do you remember me saying that when I, the teacher, do all the talking, I’m the only guaranteed learner in the classroom, and that the purpose of teaching is to facilitate learning?”

“Yes, Dr. Solomon, I remember that conversation, especially because you used the term ‘talking head’,” Lisa says, “but how do your comments relate to reaching all students?”

“Lisa,” the mentor teacher explains, “if the purpose of teaching is to facilitate learning, then we must begin to understand how students receive and process information.”

Lisa holds up her hand, “Wait a second, Dr. Solomon, you’re using words I don’t understand again. What do you mean by students processing information?”

“Okay,” Dr. Solomon says, “let me put it another way, and thanks for the feedback. One of the fundamental mistakes that some teachers make is that they assume that their students are sponges that absorb (i.e. receive) and understand (i.e. process) the information that is being taught. The truth is that all students are unique. Each student has a special or preferred way to receive and comprehend data or information. Some students learn best when information is transmitted through sound; they are called auditory learners. Others prefer to receive data visually; they are called visual learners. Some of our students learn best through movement or exercise; we call them kinesthetic learners, while others prefer to receive information though touch; they are called tactile learners. These preferred channels or pathways for taking in and processing information have been named learning styles by *Drs. Rita and Kenneth Dunn (1978).”

“But, Dr. Solomon,” Lisa inquires. “haven’t you forgotten two other learning styles? What about receiving and processing information through taste and smell?”

“Wow, Lisa, I don’t know of anyone in the field of education who has developed the theory that certain students learn best through tasting and smelling. I think you’re absolutely right. We could call your idea ‘the Lisa Keller theory of gustatory (tasting) and olfactory (smelling) styles of learning’.” He sees from Lisa’s facial expression that she’s unsure whether or not he’s joking. “I’m serious about this,” the mentor teacher tells her “because I know that the brain retains memories of taste and odors over a long period of time. Thus, it’s perfectly plausible to suggest that some students learn best through stimulating these senses. Lisa, that’s good; that’s really good. In fact, one excellent way to teach children about the Jewish holidays is through smell and taste. For example, when we think of Chanukah, don’t we recall the smell of the oil when making latkes, and the taste of freshly baked challah on Shabbat?”[1]

*Dunn, R. & Dunn, K. (1978). Teaching Students Through Their Individual Learning Styles: A Practical Approach. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

[1] Rosenbaum, J. (Summer, 2007) discusses the role of taste and smell in teaching about Jewish diversity in her article: New Recipes for Jewish Diversity Education", Jewish Education News, Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education. Also read Sayag, P. (Summer, 2007), 'Ta'am Shel Shabbat - A Taste of Shabbat: One Community's Experience in the same issue of Jewish Education News.

In our next post we will further explore how teachers can reach students by activating their senses or different learning styles.

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