We had an in-service session yesterday afternoon that was supposed to be about differentiation. I admit to not being terribly excited about it. I attended another session a few weeks back that was rarefied to the point of practically draining all the oxygen from the room. It was practically impossible to listen to that presentation and think of any way you could possibly accomplish those things in the classroom — not with X number of kids, with many of them on an IEP or 504, with paperwork to keep up with, with observations and meetings and…well, all that.

This speaker was much more practically-oriented, and — I must say for the first time in my experience being trained (educated, prepared, oriented…etc.) as a teacher, actually practiced what she was preaching. She taught the session using the same techniques that she was telling us about. What a difference from the hour-long, two-slide, nine-point-type lectures with no pictures about how we should never have more than ten words on a Powerpoint slide or talk more than 15 minutes!

Anyway, one of the areas she talked about was kinesthetic learners. From the very simplified inventory we did, I discovered (not much to my surprise) that I am basically visual but strongly kinesthetic as well. The problem is what constitutes a kinesthetic activity (or a kinesthetic take on one) and how can we incorporate that into TPRS?

The way I see it, the multiple intelligences are fine — they’re basically ways of keeping kids focused in a very artificial environment — school. Traditionally, learning took place as a young person accompanied an older one and watched, then tried, what he was doing. And the learning of L1 certainly doesn’t take place in an artificially constrained environment of silence and no movement. We do pretty well with visual and auditory modalities with TPRS, but apart from the actors, and maybe doing gestures, which many kids don’t seem to like (regardless of whether they’re normally jumping out of their seats or not) I think we’re not addressing what the speaker described as the kinesthetic learners’ needs.

Thinking about this today, I finally pulled out my trusty Question Ball (aka a cheap beach ball from EBay with the question words written on it in Chinese characters with a Sharpie marker…the kids keep asking in wonder, “Where did you get a beach ball with Chinese on it?” Viva le low tech!) and thought, well, at least this counts for large-muscle movement if they’re throwing the ball around. Actually, there is a lot you can do with it.

I had a PowerPoint up with a picture of Punxatawney Phil on it (we’re talking about Groundhog Day, sort of) and having (I thought) established the character and his characteristics, I tossed the ball to someone and told him that his question word would be the one his left thumb ended up on. That got us a “who” and a “what”, but when different kids kept catching the same question words, it forced us to branch out. We found out that Phil has two vacation homes (more than John McCain who has nine), where they are, when he bought one of them, how he bought one (with money from selling monkey burgers), how long he had sold monkey burgers, how many monkey burgers he had sold, how many monkeys it takes to make one monkey burger….seems like it’s a way to make the kids “help out” with the questioning, if you just make sure they know which question word they have and then tell them THEY have to ask a question, keeping within the two-words-of-English rule.