Mirror neurons, Joshua Roman, and kinesthetic learners

I’ve been thinking about mirror neurons since I attended PNB’s All Balanchine performance in April. Why does the lissome grace of trained dancers affect me so much? Why does it make me feel elated and inspired and alive? While the straightforward reflecting action of mirror neurons is disputed, there definitely is cognitive resonance going on, with one discipline influencing another.

That brings me to last night’s sublime performance: cellist Joshua Roman performing with pianist Helen Huang last night at Seattle’s Town Hall. He was expressive , playful, intent, brilliant, and a comfortable public speaker. I’m just mesmerized by the kid. I loved seeing him play in a smaller venue; I loved that it was true chamber music, unmiked, and that the composer of a lengthy piece was present.

Also, the fact that I hoofed it up First Hill at a pretty fast clip just before the performance probably added to my appreciation of the music. (We learned something last night. When your ferry has been delayed and you’re trying to get to a concert on time, you can plan to take a cab from the ferry terminal. If you’re short on cash, there is an ATM on the ferry boat. Once you’re off the boat, walk down to Alaskan Way, where there are always waiting cabs. Except on a night when there’s also a Sounders game. Then there are no cabs to be had or hailed for the entire 10-block-walk to Town Hall.)

And all of the above leads me to this: on Tuesday, I went to my lovely professor’s house for the last class of the quarter. There, she gave us a personality assessment that correlates with multiple intelligences and the kind of learners we are. So since then, I’ve been thinking about kinesthetic learners. This test (based on the work of Howard Gardner) showed that I am only partially inclined to be a verbal and visual learner, while I am completely, 100% likely to learn through kinesthetic means.

What does this mean? On one hand, it means that when B. is showing me something on the computer, I tell him: Don’t show me– Let me do it. Walk me through it. It explains why I am tied to pen and paper for note-taking. It helps to explain why I need to print out journal articles and physically annotate them to really process them, rather than use a computerized note-taking program.

It also explains why I do my best thinking while walking, why I’m willing to do pilates early in the morning, why I feel mentally sluggish if I have been sitting for an hour in class, and why I am so interested in physical classroom design.

On the other hand, what does it mean in terms of language arts and academics: deriving meaning from a written text? This is a great mystery to me. Right now, I’m inclined to head in an interdisciplinary direction and bring in theatre, dance, etc. into my classroom.

I should mention that the widespread acceptance of multiple intelligences and learning styles does not mean that there is a clear best-practices way to teach to these multiple learning styles in a diverse classroom. The 2009 Association for Psychological Science critique raises the point that students would need to be grouped by learning style and taught to their strength to derive consistent benefit from any learning-style teaching approach.

3 thoughts on “Mirror neurons, Joshua Roman, and kinesthetic learners

  1. I would be so interested to take that test to see my best learning styles. It’s neat that once you know yours, it puts a lot of reason into your excitement about learning certain ways and your teaching ideas.

  2. Hi Suzanne! I have a copy of the test, so you can take it while you’re here–I’m curious to see what you come up as. Also, my professor regularly cautions us about the fact that teachers tend to teach their learning style–an understandable bias. However, the picture becomes much more complicated and interesting when a teacher has thought of herself as one kind of learner, and is actually another.

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