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Oysterponds focuses on making students more active in classroom


In the center of the gymnasium at Oysterponds Elementary School Tuesday afternoon, a second-grader stood holding a plate that read “sun.” A few feet away, another student spun in circles while holding a sign reading “Earth.” A third student circled Earth, holding a paper plate labeled “moon.”

The goal of this lesson was to explain the revolving and rotating movements of the moon around the Earth, a focus of this year’s unit on the solar system. What makes this activity different from those at other schools is just that — it’s active.

This year, Oysterponds is focusing on personal learning plans, an concept that tailors lessons to three primary modalities that help students learn best: auditory, visual and kinesthetic.

Auditory learning focuses on listening and can involve music, lectures or discussions. Visual lessons integrate graphs, pictures and videos. These two modalities combine to make up the general classroom experience.

But it’s the integration of the third modality, kinesthetic learning, that’s setting Oysterponds apart. As demonstrated by Tuesday’s moon rotation lesson, it involves getting students literally active in the classroom.

“I think back and we were all in rows, we were all on page six and we were all doing the same worksheet, and then you took a test,” said principal Jennifer Wissemann. “Education is changing and we need to really think of all the ways that children learn. They don’t all learn the same way.”

In an effort to determine exactly which modalities are most effective for each student, school psychologist Dan Goldfarb, chair of the school’s committee on special education, did research and created a screening instrument that reveals the students’ preferred method of learning.

The screening instrument contained 18 questions. For each question, students had to choose which of three options suited them best in that situation. Each option represented one of the three modalities.

One example focused on how students most enjoy a story. The three options offered were hearing a story being read (auditory), seeing a comic strip of a story (visual) or acting out a story (kinesthetic). Another question asked students what type of puzzle they prefer, with the options being find the difference (visual), name that tune (auditory) or a jigsaw puzzle (kinesthetic).

“One of the things that surprised me is that pretty much, it varies by percentage. When you take a group of kids, one-third are auditory dominant, one-third are visually dominant and about a third are kinesthetic,” Mr. Goldfarb said.

In the sixth-grade class, 27 percent are primarily visual, 37 percent are kinesthetic and 40 percent prefer auditory. Results were similar among fifth-graders, with 34 percent visual, 30 percent kinesthetic and 36 percent auditory.

“One-third of the youngsters would learn best through kinesthetic, but kinesthetic represents almost zero percent of the lessons taught,” said Dr. Goldfarb. “And that’s one of the things we’re going to focus on and try to increase.”

In order to do this effectively, the school is integrating these lessons into the curriculum slowly. Currently, the school is focusing on certain Response to Intervention students in first, second, fifth and sixth grades.

“It’s students who need inventive ways of really connecting with their learning, so we’re stressing their interests and aligning it to the interventions,” superintendent Richard Malone said.

Although the program began only last week, both Ms. Wissemann and Mr. Goldfarb have seen a positive reaction from the students.

The school has plans to continue adding kinesthetic lessons throughout the year and will assess outcomes at the end of this school year. As of now, the plan is to introduce the three-tiered model to the entire student body during the 2016-17 school year, Mr. Malone said.

“Anytime you can get the kids up and moving … it’s been well received,” Ms. Wissemann said.

Photo Caption: Suzanne Cluff gets her students moving to teach them about the rotating and revolving movements of the moon and the Earth. (Credit: Nicole Smith)

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