Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Politics -- But not as Usual

As teachers, we need to remember that our classes are made up of students with different dominant learning styles. We should present information in a “multi-layered mixture of styles” (Smith, n.d.). Too many teachers get in a rut of teaching in just one mode. We need to make sure we’re doing all we can for each type of student and to try to blend the styles together.

I enjoy collecting political cartoons to show my students. I especially like to find examples that use the symbols of elephant to represent the Republican party and the donkey to represent the Democratic party. When I show one of these images to my students, they will undoubtedly laugh. Not many of them are aware of the symbolism behind them. This coming school year is a good time to do this unit, since by then, most of them will be aware of the presidential race that is going on. When I explain to them, that there are two teams – the elephant stands for McCain’s team and the donkey stands for Barak Obama’s team, the illustrations I show them take on new meaning. I also show them examples of political cartoons that use the Uncle Sam symbol to represent the United States. Before we begin to try to interpret the different cartoons, I explain the difference between fact and opinion. I explain that these cartoons have a message from the cartoonist. He is trying to tell us his opinion about something. We may or may not agree with his or her opinion. I tell them that opinions are not right or wrong. You have yours and I have mine.

After looking at several examples, we practice drawing the elephant, donkey and Uncle Sam. The homework assignment is to go home, watch the news, talk with parents and pick a side. Most children choose the political party that their parents support. As I work with the students, I am careful not to express my own political opinions, but just give suggestions as to how they can present their opinions effectively. At the next art class, the assignment is to make a funny drawing that makes one side look bad or silly or foolish and to present the other side in a better light.

Since visual learners “think in pictures” (Kelly, n.d.), this assignment is automatically appealing to them. They want to see how things are done. They enjoy watching the demonstration. They often ask, “Can I see that again” (Smith, n.d.)?

Auditory learners learn best by listening, so hearing verbal descriptions of the images from the teacher and classmates help them understand the images better. They prefer to hear explanations and like to talk their way through things. They like to hear things and say it out loud for themselves. We need to remember not to yell at them for that. They can often follow directions after being told very precisely once or twice what to do. They will do what you say – exactly what you say. It is not enough to say, “Draw the elephant’s trunk like this. You need to say, “Make two curved lines that get closer together toward the end.” They often ask, “Can you explain that again?”

Kinesthetic learners learn best by doing, so the process of actually making the cartoons is what helps solidify the information. They like to follow along as you demonstrate. To meet the needs of these students, it’s important not to go on and on talking about political cartoons. They can’t wait to get started. They often ask, “Can we do that again?”

This project has something for every kind of learner and is a great way to look at the humorous side of our differences -- something people tend to get contentious about. Here are some of my students drawings:

Kelly, M. (n.d.) Learning styles: understanding and using learning styles in teaching.

Smith, C. (n.d.) Sensory learning styles: visual, auditory and kinesthetic learning styles in grappling.

1 comment:

Marek Bennett said...

Hey, cool! You present some great ideas, and it's especially good to see the thoughts coming from the kids.

I appreciate how you're breaking down the learning styles, obviously from your own experience.

Have you investigated the origins of these two animal political symbols? They both come from the pen of Thomas Nast, the famed 19th century political cartoonist!

-- Marek