Searching for Strategies

As an art teacher, I’m constantly on the lookout for strategies I can use to engage my students with different learning styles.

A recent article in The New York Times about brain fatigue and ways to rejuvenate through nature linked to a study in the American Journal of Public Health by Frances Kuo and Andrea Farber Taylor. The results of this study indicated that “green outdoor settings appear to reduce ADHD symptoms in children across a wide range of individual, residential, and case characteristics.”

I was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as a child, and I’ve often benefited from having outdoor lunch breaks, especially when I was working in an office. This study rang true to me—and gave me one more strategy to use with my students.

According to Howard Gardner’s theory of intelligences, the most underrepresented learning style in the classroom is naturalistic learning, or the ability to distinguish relationships in nature. In an effort to support this intelligence, some schools are improving their grounds to include outdoor classrooms and school gardens.

Other students learn in a kinesthetic and visual-spatial style. They may find physical exercise or classroom activities that involve rhythmic patterns helpful in managing inattentiveness and impulsivity.

I discovered the power of rhythmic patterns as a way to help students reduce stress during one of my first years as an art teacher. I had planned a weaving unit for my fourth-grade students. Before testing week, my students had become very frustrated while applying the warp strands onto their cardboard looms. The next week, I prepared for a difficult class; as students entered, I decided to simplify the lesson.

We went over a few basic techniques: over and under, shag and split weaving. During the class, students were engaged. When the class ended, they did not want to leave. The entire class wanted to weave for the rest of the day, and their classroom teacher let them.

It’s important to me that I address the full gamut of learning styles and find classroom strategies that align to each one. The benefits of being outside and in nature can help ease the mind and soul. Simple activities focused on fine visual-spatial intelligence and rhythmic patterns can be therapeutic for students during times of high stress. We should keep these—and all learning styles—in mind as we prepare all students for learning.

Sisulak is an instructional assistant at Grand Canyon University in Arizona. She has taught students in public, private, nonprofit and charter school environments.