Honoring Individual Learning Style
Children have different ways of dealing with the arts, and their use and understanding of the artistic processes will differ significantly across each of these domains or discipline. For example, how a young painter deals with shape and form will differ from how he or she uses these same artistic elements in music, dance, or dramatic play. In addition, each child will express these elements in an individual way according to his or her preferred learning style. Even four-year-old children show distinctive styles of thinking and learning (Gardner, 1991). Some children, for example, approach the world predominantly through the use of language; others through spatial, visual, aural, or physical means; and others through social relationships. Many early childhood teachers have informally confirmed Gardner's view, noting that some children steer away from certain visually oriented activities—such as block building or painting—but spend a great deal of time climbing or digging in the sand. Others enjoy creating musical compositions but may not be very good at telling stories or listening to them.
Another distinguishing feature of children's preferred style of thinking or learning relates to their overall interest in events and objects. For example, some children are interested in activities that focus on the unfolding of events, such as drawing a story-based picture, or acting out story through dance, drama, and music. Others may be more interested in objects, such as drawing an image, or an impression of an image, without necessarily telling a story, or building with blocks or digging in mud for the sheer pleasure of constructing a wooden structure or a mud sculpture. Similarly, their music, dance, and drama may feature the expressive, more abstract aspects of creating and communicating, such as the textures and sound qualities of music or the gestural and bodily-kinesthetic aspects of drama and dance. Of course, children may shift between a focus on events or objects, depending upon what they are wanting to achieve in their play and with whom they may be playing at the time. This issue of objects and events is discussed in greater detail in Chapter 6 along with many examples of how children use objects and events as a means of defining purpose and structure in their artistic play.
Generally, children who are events-oriented may show interest and ability in communicating with others, and create art works, dances, musical explorations, and play experiences that allow them to make statements about themselves. They may give titles to their works, such as "Cavemen Hunting for Dinosaurs," and can talk at length about the content of their creations or play experiences. For example, a four-year-old child is painting her pregnant mother. The child has painted large red hands to highlight the mother's bulging belly. A sophisticated level of problem-solving and technical skill were used to accomplish this. In addition, the discussion she had with her teacher about the painting showed a positive attitude about her mother's pregnancy and a confident understanding of herself in relation to her changing family situation.
In contrast, children who are more object-oriented may be less interested in the "story" aspects of the arts, but may be highly skilled in physical, technical, or analytical components. Their involvement often may center on activities such as making complex structures with blocks, Lego, or Mobilo, or making aesthetic arrangements with natural objects. Their paintings can be highly detailed, patterned, and aesthetically pleasing, but may not necessarily involve an unfolding of events.
When we recognize the intent of a child's artistic endeavors, we are able to be sensitive to ways in which to complement the learning style of the child. An awareness of children's learning styles assists us to find an appropriate "entry point" for children's learning (Gardner, 1993b, 1999b). Entry points provide ways of thinking about how to engage children in an activity, or to extend an activity that has already began. Because individuals have different types of intelligence, cultural backgrounds, and values, a common entry point may not work for all learning experiences. Therefore, multiple entry points provide a means by which all children may become willing and interested participants in learning.
The use of these several ways of focusing attention on the purpose of an activity can help us understand and support children's different learning styles, concepts, beliefs, and values. Alternative entry points can encourage children to come to know a concept or skill in more than one way and to approach the task from a number of different angles, both verbally and nonverbally. A multifaceted approach helps children develop numerous representations and to understand these in relation to other children's perspectives. Children come to understand something in terms of something else that is both different and similar in certain respects. Given a variety of entry points and several routes to learning, it should be possible to find at least one route that is appropriate for each child. This should increase the likelihood that every child can attain understanding of concepts and ideas across a variety of learning domains.
In addition, when children work together, collaboratively negotiating their learning with others, they develop new understandings of each other's perspectives and learning styles. Together, they socially construct their understanding. Within a mutually supportive environment, they assist and enhance each other's learning—they cooperate in the co-construction of understanding.
Easy Points for Learning
An aesthetic approach emphasizes sensory features. This appeals to children who favor an artistic stance to the experiences of living. Experiences might include illustrating fantasy issues, such as trying to capture the beauty and delicacy of a fairy through drawing, music, dance, or dramatization.
In using a narrative entry point, a teacher might present a story or ask a question about a concept. For example, folk tales or legends can be used to understand moral issues, such as empathy for others, rights in relation to responsibilities, or spiritual values.
A logical-quantitative entry point centers on logical reasoning, making the connection between generic principles and specific examples of the principle (i.e., deductive reasoning). For example, understanding the gigantic proportion of the Diplodocus dinosaur (81 by 27 feet) could be approached by plotting a drawing of it on a playing field using yard-long paper rods as a measuring device (see Rankin, 1993). Such experiences are particularly appealing to children who are numerically inclined.
A foundational (or philosophical/existential) entry point is appropriate for children who like to pose fundamental questions of the sort that one associates with philosopher's debates. Such questions include issues that many adults may have difficulty answering, such as "Where did the stars come from?" or "Why did the dinosaurs disappear?" A foundational approach might consider, for example, the reasons for origins and changes and lead to searching for factual information in books to satisfy children's thirst for knowledge.
Finally, an experiential approach emphasizes hands-on participation. Through such experiences, deal directly with the materials that embody or convey the idea or concept. For example, children might cluster into groups and make decisions about which direction an unfinished story might take and how this will affect the characters.
Source: Adapted from Gardner, 1993b, 1999b.
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