Before becoming a mom I taught K-12 classes, starting in second language classrooms. It felt like I was at home because I grew up as a simultaneous bilingual — a person who was presented with two languages from birth in an immigrant household. My parents met in an ESL classroom in the Mission district of San Francisco, so I grew up learning in ways that helped all of us which meant using all modalities — visual, tactile, auditory, kinesthetic. Hearing wasn’t enough — it’s so subjective. Are you saying ‘b’ de burro or ‘v’ de vaca? This image helps one to establish in the mind that very fast sounds are distinguished by so little when coarticulation is involved. It also seems so fast when learning a second language, so physically moving or tapping out the sounds really helps. And of course, there must be a reason why so much of the motor strip targets the hands — I feel therefore I learn. In my own studying, it is not enough for me to just hear. If I can touch it, feel it, sign it — I feel like I own it like the way a toddler mouths a book or a toy.
Using multiple modalities also made me think of a fairly recent experience. Two summers ago I wanted to knit a playmat for my kids, so I took a beginning knitting class co-taught by two women in my area. One woman relied on auditory teaching skills — I was so lost. Knit one pearl two — what!?! She went regular speed, thinking that’s what she needed to model so that we could learn to knit correctly. There were a group of us (20 total in the class) who were just not getting it. She kept coming to our group to retell us what she had already told the larger group. Repeating didn’t help. Still lost. She showed us again at her regular speed. Stressed. So contrary to what knitting addicts profess. “Way over-rated,” I thought of knitting, as my shoulders elevated toward my ears from the stress.
Then the other teacher came to us and gently placed her hands on ours to physically guide us in the pattern. She also made the pattern slower, much more exaggerated and larger in movement than the other teacher. BINGO!!!! Our eyes and minds that had previously felt as if they were on a fast spinning merry-go-round that didn’t give us a chance to hop on finally were able to catch up and get on. We got it! And not only did this small group of auditory strugglers get it, we outlasted the larger group and stayed with the project while many others dropped out. Ahhh…knitting wasn’t over-rated after all, but much more like a catnip invoked endeavor…
This experience reinforced something I intuitively knew from growing up in a household of second language learners, from teaching second language learners, and teaching my son who has special needs including severe dysarthria, severe CAS and ASD: all modalities help. I saw this espoused at ASHA’s 2011 conference in sessions regarding ASD. Also, it’s not just the modality but the speed and the size of the movement of these modalities which also help to get those neural networks firing and wiring for a meaningful experience.
So when I think of multiple modalities for our client population — I can’t help but think knitting….
Liz Guerrini has been a K-12 and college teacher for the past 18 years and is entering her final graduate year in Communicative Disorders at CSUN. She’s an Olympian who finds many applications of her sport world to the teaching and therapy worlds. She home-schools her bright and beautiful son who lives with trisomy 2, severe dysarthria, severe CAS, hearing loss, ASD and hypotonia. She is a member of ASHA’s Minority Student Leadership Program. Liz blogs at Christopher Days, SLP to-Be and the Signing Time Academy.