Learning Beyond Words

I work so closely with words that I sometimes have to force myself to remember that there are other ways to learn.

I saw a DVD of Annie Get Your Gun for the first time, and was sort of struck by the lines sung by the backwoods sharpshooter, “Folks are dumb, where I come from, they don’t have any learnin’.” The show (famous for “There’s No Business Like Show Business” and “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better”) is not exactly sensitive to Native Americans, and it plays illiteracy and innumeracy for laughs, but gender politics are still relevant. Ultimately, it made me think about my own professional assumptions about learning.

I spent much of today supervising my 12yo son as he built a catapult from a wooden kit. All the parts are pre cut and drilled, so it was just a matter of assembling all the parts gluing them, but he is very much a philosopher rather than a field worker, so I was glad we spent some time wrestling with instructions and physical problem-solving. I’ve noticed, when we play multiplayer 3D games together, he has a much better sense of spatial direction than I do, but he’s still working on manual dexterity.

By contrast, my 8yo daughter has magically dexterous fingers and a great eye for detail, but when we play mmo games she often gets lost and shouts, “Where are you guys? I’m lost!”. Today I took her grocery shopping. I let her get the cart, told her a few things on the list, and followed along behind her as she tried to find the items. We weren’t in any particular rush, and I think she enjoyed the challenge.

There’s a strength in the diversity and flexibility that comes from different learning styles, while at the same time, certain subjects call for certain mode of delivery. A sculptor has to be tactile, a general has to be strategic, and college students in writing or literature classes will have to draw on long-form reading and writing skills. This expectation can be a source of stress, but a knowledging that stress and getting students to write about it can often take the edge off.

4 thoughts on “Learning Beyond Words

  1. This lead directly to the development of “manipulables” in elementary mathematics education. The problem is how to abstract these ideas for algebra and higher mathematics. A student in one of my classes four years ago did a very nice presentation on this – I’ll see if I can find it for you.

  2. The manual dexterity isn’t exactly the learning style. The idea is to come up with strategies that build on the ability.
    Manual dexterity is associated with tactile learners, who like to touch things and manipulate them. So, a tactile learner might want to make flashcards and sort through them, or hand-write notes instead of typing them, or use stickynotes in the margins of textbooks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *