Kinesthetic Learners — Are They Left Behind?

A student is sitting at his desk, staring off into space. The teacher notices this, walks toward the child and inquires why his attention is not focused on the lesson being taught.

The boy can only muster a distressed “I don’t know.” The teacher becomes frustrated, for this is not the first offense, and starts to inquire to the student “everyone else is paying attention, why can’t you?” Again, the young child states “I don’t know.” Mentally, the teacher translates the “I don’t know” for “I don’t care”. A call is then made to his parents for his poor behavior.

Let’s put the rest of that scenario on hold for now. Have we ever dealt with a child in a similar fashion? Sometimes we can get caught up in the mental trap of thinking all or most students will grasp what we are trying to teach by using a whiteboard and handouts. Though they have their merits, and some students may do well with this technique, still others may be getting left behind. This is especially true as students move into higher grades.

So, what is the cause of these declines? Simply put, when children are in primary school more learning types are catered to, thus the vast majority will do very well. But as students move up, it seems that the teaching styles/types become more narrow. This narrowness can snuff out the desire and attention spans of one group in particular, kinesthetic learners.

These students need to have a tangible experience with what they are trying to learn.

Let’s make a very basic example. When we were first learning how to add we may have been given a small box of rubber balls. We are asked to take three of the balls and put them on the left side of a sheet of paper we have in front of us. Then, we are given the direction to take four more balls and put them on the right. A plus sign is drawn between both sets of rubber balls. The teacher then instructs us to count how many we have total. We count that there seven total, and the teacher praises us for doing a good job.

This is a very common exercise that allows student to feel what they learn, allowing them to physically quantify what they are learning. However these teaching exercises may only last from kindergarten to fifth grade. Students then have that experience replaced with standard book and paper learning. Though nothing is particularly wrong with that form of teaching, we may just not be getting the best results from our students. But to incorporate kinesthetic centric lessons or assignments can be hard because it takes much more effort to prepare. We also have to think of all the other students who may already have a good grasp of the material, trying not to slow down their progress.

Speaking from personal experience, there is no greater joy to be found from watching a child go from struggling with a basic concept to mastering it due to a shift in teaching style. In the end we want what is best for our students, and that extra effort will be worth it.

Now let’s get back to our scenario, we left off where a call was made to the parents. The teacher wanting to get the bottom of what may be wrong asks about how this student did in previous years. The parents respond, telling the teacher that he did very well. This takes the teacher by surprise, and after a couple more questions learns that the child did well with block, lego, and string activities. The educator now knew what the problem may be. Thanking the parents for the insightful conversation, the teacher then starts to adjust tomorrow’s lesson plan.

The next day the children file into the classroom, and all notice something is amiss. As they sit down the teacher explains how the lesson today will be different, and will incorporate them having to demonstrate what they have learned in this unit so far. The students eagerly start the assignment, and as the teacher walks around observing the class. The child from the day previous catches his attention. A noticeable smile and a look of engagement can found on the young students face.

Eagerly the teacher asks the child, “Does this lesson make sense now?” The young student looks up, breaking his focus ever so briefly to reply. With a confident voice the child says,”Yes, I understand now…thank you.”

Kameron Remmers, ESL Teacher

Classloom Blog Writer

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Originally published at on February 24, 2016.

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