Thursday, January 22, 2009

I Get It! Making Connections with Manipulatives

Three moms are trying to get their 3-year olds to hang up their coats...

Mom #1 tells her child, "Please go hang your coat on the peg." Mom #2 points at another child hanging up his coat and says to her kid, "See how he's hanging up his coat? Please do that." Mom #3 takes her kid by the hand, walks him over to the coat, and guides him in picking it up and hanging it on the peg--all with a strong explanation and praise. Which mom do you think will succeed?

The first mom only used auditory methods. The second mom used auditory and visual ones. Mom #3 emphasized kinesthetic/hands-on but also talked to the child (auditory) and demonstrated (visual). Good teachers and smart moms and dads cater to many learning styles when they teach!

The National Association of Elementary Principals says that most kiddos under age 9 are primarily kinesthetic learners. They learn by doing. They need to touch and move (MANIPULATE!!!) things. But, we all have combo learning styles to some degree. (I'm tactile and kinesthetic with a lot of auditory and a little visual thrown in. You get the idea.)

Hmm, seems like manipulatives must be perfect for teaching children, then! These tools are mostly kinesthetic and tactile, yet also give strong visual cues and encourage communication (auditory).

Manipulatives are visual because kids can “see” what’s going on as they work through a problem with their hands. Manipulatives help unlock abstract concepts and put them right smack dab in the palm of little concrete hands. Color-coding systems are even utilized by some kinds of manipulatives (see examples below) —a double dose of visuals!

Rainbow Fraction (R)

Reading Rods (R)

As far as the auditory part goes, hands-on instruction with manipulatives is cooperative. It gets kids talking about what they did and how they did it, while getting them to practice using key vocabulary.

If you follow this blog already, I probably don't have to convince you that the hands-on way is best for kids. But, there are folks out there who need to be reminded that hands-on instruction isn't just fun and games, that multiple learning styles aren't mumbo jumbo, and that manipulatives aren't toys.

Manipulative-based instruction is engaging, but that doesn’t mean it’s goofing off! That being said, it's not magic either. Manipulatives are “part of a complete breakfast”. When used correctly with good teaching, they’re a research-based best practice and cover skills aligned with the standards.

This isn’t just my opinion. The Put Reading First research recommends that kids learn phonics through "manipulating" word parts. Use of manipulatives has been recommended by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics in every decade since the 40's. According to the National Center for Accessing the General Curriculum, manipulatives positively affect student achievement when compared with traditional instruction. In a national survey, 85% of elementary teachers rated manipulatives as "highly effective". Need I go on? :)

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