Higher Education Equity: Learning Experiences Via Multiple Pathways

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of AACTE.

Teacher educators love to talk. We lecture, provide oral directions, read passages aloud, ask countless questions, and verbally redirect. In addition to the auditory quality of teaching, we have also mastered the visual. Anchor charts, word walls, and mnemonic device posters are endemic in teacher preparation classrooms today as we dutifully prepare the next generation of teachers. Graphic organizers, mind maps, color-coding, and visual aids are also ubiquitous. In the never-ending struggle to meet the needs of all learners, the partiality toward auditory and visual aspects of teaching is biased against students (both adult learner and their future PK-12 students) who do not prefer to learn within those modalities.

There are limitless ways teacher educators can model creating equitable learning experiences for their undergraduate and graduate students. This process begins with delivering instruction via different pathways. To complement auditory and visual direct instruction (often a textbook-based lecture with accompanying worksheets and visuals), teachers can incorporate manipulatives, foldables, educational technology, and hands-on demonstrations. The importance of student choice during small group guided practice and independent practice cannot be overstated. Not all students want to write a book review on the content they are learning. By allowing students to write/perform a script, construct a paper sculpture, or create song lyrics summarizing a concept, learners can interact with the material in their preferred learning style. Moreover, when the adult learners eventually have their own classrooms, they will have a toolbox of teaching and assessment strategies to meet learner needs

The belief that students learn and retain information through different modalities – i.e., auditory, visual, kinesthetic, and tactile – is refuted by dozens of empirical studies. While the actual learning of information is similar regardless of the modality utilized, it is well-documented that students may prefer to learn using a specific modality. Teacher educators who utilize more than auditory and visual methods to students are promoting equitable outcomes for all learners.

Childhood abounds with tactile and kinesthetic activities as children are encouraged to move and play. Building blocks and puzzles provide tactile learning opportunities while adding movements to various songs (think “Itsy Bitsy Spider” or “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”) and using nonverbal gestures are examples of kinesthetic learning. As children progress through the elementary and middle grades, should a science experiment be their only chance to explore the world through tactile means? Should their only kinesthetic outlet be P.E.? By the time these same learners are enrolled in higher education, tactile learning opportunities are mostly reduced to flipping the pages of a textbook and you can forget about the kinesthetic (apart from running to class to avoid being late).

Preferred learning modality equity does not stop there. Assessment can take on many forms aside from a paper and pencil test. Examples of formative and summative assessments in different modalities include projects, experiments, portfolios, oral presentation, performance-based assessment, observation, peer evaluation, self-evaluation, and exhibitions. These strategies provide all students with the chance to be successful.

It may not be feasible to employ all modalities in the delivery and assessment of every lesson. However, by providing frequent opportunities for students to learn and demonstrate understanding through different styles, teachers are valuing and respecting student differences and promoting classroom equity.

This article was written by Jamie Hipp, adjunct professor, Louisiana State University.  Follow her on Twitter at @ArtsAreHipp.

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