Reaching all learning styles through the arts

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By Su D’Ambrosio
Picture this: It’s 1:00 am on Christmas morning, my living room floor is covered with a million plastic pieces that, supposedly, if connected in the right order will result in the Little People’s Village, complete with moving parts and music. What was Santa thinking?? Now, to be fair, there were directions included…somewhere…but I can do this without directions, right? Who has the patience to sit and read directions, sort out all the parts, and proceed in a concrete, sequential assembly process? Actually, to “concrete-sequential” learners, this would make perfect sense.  They would have that toy assembled in seconds. Too bad all my “concrete-sequential” friends were asleep that Christmas morning!

The term “concrete-sequential” comes from The Mind Styles Model developed by Anthony Gregorc, PhD. His model outlines four basic learning styles: concrete-sequential, concrete-random, abstract-sequential and abstract-random. According to this model, learners in each style approach learning in very different ways and have particular preferences and dislikes. Without going into detail, suffice it to say that directions are great for a concrete-sequential learner but useless for an abstract-sequential learner.  The flipside of this is that a box full of parts with no directions would be no problem for our AS learner and a nightmare for the CS learner.

This model is one of many, including Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences and the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, that outline all the ways we learn and understand the world differently. If we all know we are different, why are schools structured to teach to all students as if they are the same? For the most part, typical schools cater to concrete-sequential learners and the others have to conform, or worse, fail. Why don’t we apply what we know about people when it comes to education?

I think one reason is simply tradition; the act of putting together a successful lesson plan requires concrete sequential thinking, which often carries over in a concrete sequential teaching style. Skilled teachers can make this model work for most students. When dealing with a school system that has hundreds of teachers and thousands of students, it is easiest to settle on a common system versus create an individual learning plan for each student. Grouping students according to their learning style, and assigning a teacher who understands that particular style would be difficult and expensive. Factoring in curve balls such as special needs adds another layer of complexity.

At South Shore Conservatory’s arts-integrated Preschool/PreK/Kindergarten, we use the arts to meet this challenge. All learning styles, intelligences and personality types are reached through the arts. Music is based on patterns and reaches students aurally; movement connects with kinesthetic learners, drama leads us to the abstract, but has sequential elements when we learn a play; visual art is tactile and visual.

If I type the word “butterfly”, you might immediately think of a picture of a butterfly. If I tell you about the life-cycle of a butterfly you might remember the details later. However, if I show you pictures while I talk, you store that information in two places and are more likely to remember. If I play some music to prompt you to become a caterpillar egg, hatch, crawl around like a caterpillar, spin a chrysalis, emerge as a butterfly and fly away you will always remember the life-cycle process. If you draw butterflies, and write a story about the adventures of a butterfly, you move into the realm of imagination and inference that leads to higher thinking. This arts-integrated approach works for all learning styles and results in a classroom of students who learn deeply and love school.

To learn more about SSC’s arts-integrated Preschool/PreK/Kindergarten programs, visit

Su D’Ambrosio is Director of Programs and Curriculum for South Shore Conservatory.  She lives in Plymouth with her daughters Maria and Rosa and her dog Bernie who’s learning style is “Scratch and Sniff.”


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