One of my GCSE English students has tried his best all year, despite having been told at the start of it by someone that he was a kinaesthetic learner, giving rise to the thought for him that therefore he couldn’t like or get on very well with English GCSE classes.
It had made me cross to begin with and I told him that actually using a pen and paper to write with was fairly kinaesthetic. This seemed to actually temporarily con him and he zoomed away with renewed self belief in the idea that he might enjoy English after all, speedily writing several very long paragraphs, which were actually quite beautifully written.
He ebbed and flowed with enthusiasm and achievement throughout the year, also undergoing an operation and managing to maintain engagement with the subject until recently. Then I asked the class before the Easter holidays what type of tasks and activities in class they liked and loved, what they didn’t like, and how we might maintain motivation and enthusiasm right down until the exam.
This young lad said with gritted determination, “I like kinaesthetic activities”. It seemed as if he had bore resentment against me the entire academic year while secretly maintaining the view that he liked to be somehow physically engaged with tasks while learning, and doggedly refusing the idea that this was possible if what we did in English classes was focused on reading and writing.
I decided to respond to a psychologically thrown down gauntlet. I went to Hobby Craft and bought some stuff to do and make with that could largely be related to activities of the more kinaesthetic kind. I also took the trouble of designing a range of group activities that students could choose from, that could be selected from a folder of laminated group tasks. I then had the real tasks I knew the students needed, past exam papers and SPAG exercises, available as a third option on the side.
Mr Kinaesthetic was at first bemused and wary when I presented him with a make it yourself peg board, string of neon flashing lighting, and batteries, with which he had to create words. In this case, language features. He spent some time pushing holes out of the peg board, putting in pegs, wrapping the neon lighting string round the pegs, and fashioning a few words with it: namely, ‘verb’ and ‘irony’. We then took photos of his newly made words. He cast me a suspicious glance and asserted his idea that this photo would be on the front of ‘English Weekly’ tomorrow.
So. Having engaged in this little kinaesthetic activity, I paused to talk to him about it. I asked him how effective he thought this type of task might be in preparing him for the exam, which is an assessment in reading and writing. He said not very. I agreed. Although these two words may well stick in his head more memorably than before now, he had used a lot of class time basically developing his manual dexterity, and enjoying the flashing lights, when what was really needed was to perhaps give a past paper a once over and maybe practise a few questions, and receive feedback from me or a peer on how he might improve his answer the next time.
I asked him a few leading questions about the value of his preferences against the types of tasks that might help better prepare him for the exam. He then asked me for a copy of a past paper and got his head down into it. He was engaged. Afresh. The battle had been won again, at least temporarily. Learning styles 0 – common sense 1?
I had a similar discussion with the rest of the class about the so called group activities at the end of the session. I asked them how they had enjoyed them and then asked them to consider what they were going to be faced with in about 6 weeks time and whether the group tasks were really going to be the best type of thing to help them prepare for the exam, or perhaps past papers. Everyone reluctantly agreed past papers were the way forward.
I feel we had made progress. We had moved along a rocky path together and somehow grown.
I confess that three hours is a long time for 16-19 year olds to just sit going past papers and nothing else, so perhaps I’ll throw in a few five minute breaks of hangman and taboo, debate cards and word puzzles… Just to break things up a bit. I might also throw Mr Kinaesthetic a few making tasks once in a while just for the laugh. But I think we’ve all agreed that just because we like certain types of tasks and activities, they aren’t always what we need.
The flashing lights were brill though 😉