Thoughts on Modalities of Learning

Renay had to renew her CPR/AED/First Aid this week. The last thing anyone wants to do before the end of the year is connect with the fundamentals of human health in a crisis, but in three hours after putting in a full day, Renay was certified.

But why would we tell you about this?

Renay has known for some time that her preferred modality to learning is reading and then taking a quick quiz perhaps the next day. The quiz could be short answer or even multiple choices, but the constant reminder to file away information and organize the information is actually a specialty that Renay possesses. This is how the entire company centers around Renay’s access and retrieval of information. However, this is not how any CPR/AED/First Aid class should be taught. There are discussions, there are hands on, and sometimes, there may be a test and sometimes that test is physical and sometimes that test is written on paper.

When trying to generalize the best way to share information to the masses, not everyone understands material in the same manner. And this is the thought sometimes sticks adults hoping to help students with disabilities.

Modalities, or the methods in which students learn, are usually discussed ad nauseam by some educators. The modalities, in no particular order are:

  • Visual: commonly associated with reading, pictures/graphics
  • Auditory: listening and conversational
  • Kinesthetic: “learn by doing”

And these dovetail into the nine types of Intelligence (again in no order in particular)

  • Intra-personal
  • Spatial
  • Naturalist
  • Musical
  • Logical
  • Existential
  • Interpersonal
  • Bodily-kinesthetic
  • Linguistic

But what does this all have to do with students with disabilities?

How students get information and contribute to their learning is impacted by their disability.

We have known students who have an amazing sense of musical intelligence and none of the intra-personal skills.

We have known students who never looked at a single word, absorbing all sorts of content from lectures.

We often hear that students, with and without disabilities, need to be “doing” more often. That doing is what students value. But again, we also know that this is different for every student.

But we also find that students sometimes believe that only one method is the best for them. While we also may concede this is true for many students, this is not necessarily a useful tool in their box.

We use items like visual schedules or a check sheet to help students with their day because there is a lot of sensory information (sound, lights, textures, smells, and more). Giving a student something that can help mitigate all the mental mess that happens when all the demands come together.

We give verbal directions to students, even when they need instructions on the board, because sometimes you still have to ask a security guard in a building what floor a certain office may be on and how to get there.

We provide students with tools and have them report back to us about the potential use or the information that will result in the best methods for using that specific tool, be it a simple tool like a hammer, a ruler, or a pen in order to relate to more complex tools like cars or 3d printers.

We give verbal directions to students, even when they need instructions on the board, because sometimes you still have to ask a security guard in a building what floor a certain office may be on and how to get there.


We develop a model, a diagram, or find a picture to best describe the emotion, the movement, the imagery built from a reading.

For all of these modalities, output is expected. Be it written, spoken, or constructed. The appreciation of output can be a struggle for some students with disabilities. That not all teachers have the time to wait for answers to be spoken by a student. That not everything that is known can be touched or built but doesn’t make the item or concept any less real. That some things are too big to ever be seen, or a reflection of an artistic choice that cannot be reached visually.

The students we work with have a variety of things awaiting them. Some will go on to work. Some will go on to post-secondary education. And all of these paths will result in a variety of success. Rejecting one modality because a student does not prefer that modality can make practices with that modality much more difficult, or opportunities to self-advocate for clarification as needed.

A few years back, when working with a class of students who were preparing to work on understanding themselves as individuals better,  the outside adult, a psychologist, pointed out to the students that it was not their strengths that they needed to celebrate, it was their achievements when the things that less motivated them were reached, those were the things that needed to be focused on, to move forward to appreciate the struggle, to be able to handle the things in ones life that contribute to the difficulties.

Life challenges students in many ways. One cannot always predict the outcomes or the expectations that will be ahead.

That Reminder You Don’t Always Think You Need

We hunted around a little, but probably not as hard as we should have. But we’d like to do a little end of year reminder that some students at this time of year are a little less than gracious about things. Especially students who are having anxiety for what may await them next years. Typically centering on students who may be transitioning, these students tend to display anxiety in many ways.

Some students self harm, some in less dangerous ways, students who pick at their fingernails, hair, skipping meals, being rude, having social issues, or dying their hair a different color. Other students may find that much more dangerous paths self-medicate or perhaps engage in more dangerous behaviors in that search for an outlet for their anxiety.

It is not a reflection of you as a professional if a student engages in any anxiety behavior. You certainly can feel that pull. You may have worked with a student for a while. You’re invested in seeing students succeed. We recognize that this can hurt and worry you.

Follow your campus protocol for reporting students with self-injurious behaviors. (Ask someone, usually an administrator what to do; they’ll walk you through it)

Be honest about your own limits. A student’s anxiety is not just “a phase.” And even more true for a student with a disability. Seek help for you to deal with your worries for the student separately from school.

That Last Note

Next week is our last week. The End of the School Year snuck up on us hard.

ParaEducate will sign off for the 2018-2019 academic year on May 23, 2019. Do you have any comments about this week’s blog? Do you have a question for us? Would you like to be a guest blogger? Would you like to have an opportunity to pilot some materials at your campus? Find ParaEducate online herehereherehere, and on our website. ParaEducate is a company interested in providing materials, information, and strategies for people working in special education inclusion settings for grades K-12. ParaEducate, the blog, is published weekly during the academic school year on Thursdays, unless a holiday. ParaEducate shares their findings at conferences, through their books, and their academic adaptations.

About paraeducate

ParaEducate is a company run to help reach out to paraeducators or paraprofessionals in public K-12 schools, giving advice, talking about publications that ParaEducate produces, and other useful information regarding working in public school settings.
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