• ## Multi-sensory, Multi-modal Instruction

by Cathy Evins

Of the many things I have learned over the years, there are a few that I will never forget: how to identify a Loblolly Pine tree, how to visualize a tangent line to a curve, and over 1,000 vocabulary words. I remember these specific things because of how they were taught to me.

In 7th grade, my science teacher took us on a “field trip” to the wooded area just beyond the school parking lot. There I was able to see, smell, and touch an actual Loblolly Pine tree. Of the many trees we studied in class via the usual worksheets, the Loblolly is the only one I remember today. In my Calculus class, my professor would roll a yardstick around his bald head to show us how the slope of the tangent line changes as it moves over a curve. When prepping for the GRE, I made and studied from flashcards with not only words and their definitions, but also silly mnemonics and drawings for those 1000 words. I took those flashcards with me everywhere and flipped through them whenever I had a free moment.

What do these memorable examples have in common? Each learning situation involved multiple senses and multiple modes of learning. They went beyond the basics and involved sight, sound, touch, movement, smell, words, and symbols.

How can you as an educator create deep learning that “sticks” with your students for years to come? You can do that by creating lessons that engage multiple sensory systems in your students. Think VARK: Visual, Auditory, Read/Write, and Kinesthetic/Tactile. Let’s define these terms and look at some examples of teaching methods that use each.

## Visual learning happens through non-word based visual information

• Include pictures, diagrams, and graphics in notes and videos
• Demonstrate how to annotate text (underline, highlight, circle or box important information)
• Choose a text with symbols denoting different types of content
• Color code notes
• Provide flowcharts for multistep problems
• Use graphic organizers to break down big ideas and show connections

## Auditory learning involves sounds

• Read directions or notes aloud.
• Have students read aloud
• Record and share verbal feedback on assignments
• Record and post lecture videos
• Ask students to explain back to you
• Facilitate student-led discussions that explore complex topics
• Use small group activities during class so students can talk with each other
• Share rhymes or songs to remember facts, formulas, names, etc.
• Encourage Office Hours to discuss topics

## Read/Write is text-based learning

• Assign readings before and/or after class
• Model neat, organized, and thorough hand written notes
• Give students time to write down their thoughts and ideas before raising their hands
• Have students make flashcards for formulas, definitions, dates, etc.
• Write formulas in both symbols and words
• Closed caption or subtitle videos

## Kinesthetic/Tactile involves learning connected to movement and/or touching

• Use models, figures, or manipulatives
• Have students stand and write on the board during class (this can also apply to read/write learning)
• Use your hands/arms to gesture during class
• Provide students with “stress ball” on test day
• Take a field trip

Some of these teaching strategies could fit in more than one category, which is even better. Flashcards, for example, can involve writing, reading, speaking, and moving, and can include words, colors, and pictures. When you engage students’ brains on many levels and in many ways during the learning process, the understanding is deeper.

When designing your lessons, ask yourself the following questions:

• What senses did I engage in my instruction?
• What auditory inputs did I give?
• What visual information did I provide?
• What written directions or notes were given?
• What writing was necessary?
• Was the sense of touch and movement utilized?

Let’s look at a specific example: you want your students to learn how to construct a model airplane. If you merely present them with a pile of pieces and say “Go,” the chances of getting a correctly completed model plane are very low. How could you guide them to the desired result in a multi-sensory, multi-modal way?

• Show them a picture of the desired final product. (visual)
• Present a list of the pieces needed to complete the plane. (read)
• Allow them to hold and manipulate the pieces. (kinesthetic/tactile)
• Describe verbally the process to build the plane. (auditory)
• Show a video of the plane being built. (visual and auditory)
• Encourage students to work with a peer to build the plane. (kinesthetic/tactile, auditory)

At this point, most students would be able to complete the model. To verify the learning, give a follow up assignment in which students draw a schematic (visual), write a manual (write), and make a video describing and showing the construction process for a different model airplane (kinesthetic/tactile, visual, and auditory). If you incorporate all the senses into the learning process, your students will know how to build model airplanes for years to come, just like I can spot a Loblolly pine from 20 paces.

• ## How To Make Group Projects More Valuable (and Less Terrible!)

by Cathy Evins

Admit it, group projects can be a drag--not only for your students, but also for you as the instructor. So why do we do them? To quote one of my class alums, “Life is one big group project.” Working with others in an academic, professional, and personal settings is unavoidable. We as instructors know there is inherent value for students in doing group work, but too often a poorly designed project allows for the negatives to overshadow the benefits.

Let’s first acknowledge the most common complaints we hear from students about group projects.

“Why are we doing this?”

“I do all the work.”

“I don’t have time for this.”

“My partners ghosted me.”

“Why does he also get an A when I contributed more?”

“I just want to do my own thing in my own way.”

“This topic is not what I want to do nor the group I want work with.”

Frankly, given the design of many group projects, these are often valid complaints. No student wants to feel burdened by a seemingly pointless and time-consuming project that has unfair grading. How can we design group projects that will be a positive experience for students (and for us), show them the benefits of collaboration, and give them to tools needed to deal with challenges that may arise? I’ve included a data analysis group project in my Quantitative Literacy course for 20 years. Having redesigned, revised, modified tweaked, adjusted, and adapted it many times over those years, let me share with you what I’ve learned.

How To Make Group Projects More Valuable (and Less Terrible!):

• Transparency. Take the time to explain the intention, purpose, and objectives of the project, specifically the benefits of collaboration as well as the potential challenges and how you will deal with them. Have a clear grading rubric for each part of the project.
• Incorporate low stakes group work throughout semester. Smaller, “one off” group experiences, even just “compare your answer with your neighbor” or “think, pair, share,” prepare students for the larger project to come. Once the larger project begins, they will have built rapport with their fellow students and seen some of the benefits of collaboration.
• Give students some choice in topic and/or group members. In my course, I give students a few topics to choose from. The students who choose the same topic constitute the group. By choosing the same topic, group members start with something in common.
• Start with individual work. Start the project early in the term with a few building block assignments that students complete on their own first. Give a grade, feedback, and the opportunity to revise that work before the group portion begins. This guarantees each student has something to contribute to the final product.
• Provide time for group work during class. Scheduling time to meet with other students outside of class can be a big challenge, especially for students with heavy class loads, jobs, and/or family responsibilities. Schedule some time during class for the group, even it is just time to assign tasks to be done by individuals between class meetings or time to check in on progress. This can keep members on task and on schedule. Also, it gives you the opportunity to monitor participation and progress among the group members. When all work is done outside of class, you have no idea who has done what and how much each member contributed.
• Use technology. Utilize Google docs, messenger apps, or Groups on your learning management system. These are great ways for students to communicate, share work, give and receive feedback, and edit work between in person meetings.
• Follow up with individual reflection. After submission, ask students to reflect on the experience—what went well, what was challenging, how well did they work with others, what did they contribute to the final product, what did they learn, what will they take to their next group project experience, any suggested changes to the project.
• Not same grade for all group members. For example, 25% of final project grade is based on the individual assignments, 10% based on participation in group portion, 10% on individual reflection, and 55% of grade based on final product produced by the group.

A well-designed project can mitigate the common complaints about group work and enhance the benefits. By giving students a choice and a voice, opportunities to help and be helped, flexibility and agency, and support and freedom, you just might find out how to make group projects more valuable.

Share your thoughts and ideas on group projects in the comments.