Respect for Multiple Pathways to Understanding

When I first met my husband, he showed me a photograph of what looked like a pretty beat up, old house.  Nothing special.  In fact, it was old, dark, small, and was divided up into two living areas to accommodate both a family that lived there and a one-bedroom studio to earn rental income.  My husband had plans to renovate that house and that he would retire there.  I’ll be honest, I wasn’t impressed.  But he had a vision for it.  He is the kind of guy who can walk into a space and imagine new approaches.  He is also pretty patient!  So he showed me some drawings of what he was thinking.  He understood.  I am a visual learner.  I had to understand what he was thinking with drawings and pictures.  You may be too or you may be a tactile learner-needing to touch and feel what you are learning about, or you may be an auditory learner–needing to hear a description of a new idea or concept.  Truth is, whether it is a specific learning style, a preference based on experience, beliefs or culture, or a learning difference, there are many ways to learn.  At Roycemore, our teachers engage students deeply in imagining different ways a problem might be solved and to develop love and respect for multiple pathways to understanding.

Students learn the power of diverse approaches beginning at a young age.  In Junior Kindergarten Ms. Massey provides multiple ways for students to learn each lesson, including visual guides, auditory approaches, examples, group learning and team problem solving.  She loves watching the students partner with each other on the rug to work together to solve a problem and learn from each other’s approach. 

In Lower School students learn about their own learning styles as well as gain appreciation for their classmates.  Teachers might tell students, “everyone gets what they need but not everyone needs what others have” to foster the understanding that one child might be allowed to chew gum if they have an oral/sensory issue, but not everyone needs to chew gum. Likewise, some students may use bouncy chairs to stay focused, but not everyone has to have a bouncy chair.  

The school’s Gifted Coordinator and Learning Specialists may work with students to help them understand how best they learn and other children learn that we all need “coaches” to help us be our best selves.  Upper School Learning Specialist, Karen Byrnes states, “Through my work as an LA teacher, I am mindful that understanding for each student is personal and must be cherished and nurtured.  In the classroom, this means that I try to really listen to how a student understands an event to help myself and others in the class expand our understanding of events.”

World language classes provide excellent opportunities to gain more respect for multiple pathways to understanding.  When one is learning a new language, they often learn about the cultures of the countries where that language is predominant.  French teacher Brynn Leavitt likes to challenge students’ assumptions about culture and language and use that with reflective or clarifying questions, such as, “so, you’re saying that English is more simple than French?  One idea that I find tricky in English is X.  How would you explain that to an English language learner?”  Brynn aims for discussions to prompt a deeper level of thinking and awareness on a topic.

John Trowbridge, Roycemore’s International Family Liaison and teacher of philosophy embraces a Daoist (Taoist) approach to teaching that many Roycemore teachers share. He says, “ The Daoist [Taoist] philosopher, Zhuāng Zǐ [Chuang Tzu] 莊子 advises us to cultivate an awareness of the multiplicity of perspectives and to “harmonize them on the grindstone of nature”.  The upshot of Daoist pluralism is an open-mindedness that accommodates as many different perspectives as possible while not falling into the trap of a pernicious form of ‘anything goes’ relativism, because although there are a plurality of diverse perspectives on a given topic, there are at least provisional evaluations that can be made from within them.“

Humanities and English classes provide many opportunities for students to develop respect for multiple pathways to understanding.  Mauricio Robert, Roycemore’s College Counselor, who taught a freshman English class last year says, “I try to emphasize that there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to literary understanding, as long as they are well-supported by textual evidence. I encourage students to never view the things I say about the books we read to be absolute truths, but simply my own perspectives. I encourage students to provide their own original insights and unique forms of understanding in their assignments, and I teach them how to effectively use textual evidence to back up whatever their claims might be.” 

In math class, students learn how to solve problems in many ways.  Third grade teacher Bellamy Taylor-Pines says, “when learning about multiples, we spend time sharing patterns that we notice. We focus on the fact that different people’s brains latch onto different patterns, and there’s no “right” way to think about it.” Likewise, Middle School math teacher Grace Erb says, “I don’t subscribe to the old school method of, ‘this is how I’m teaching it, so this is how you’ll do it.’ I like to teach multiple strategies for everything and tell the kids to pick the strategy that makes the most sense. I love to encourage students to come to the board and show different ways to complete problems. It’s also always fun when a student comes in super excited to show a new strategy they learned from a parent, friend, or sibling. We talk at length about how everyone learns differently and you need to focus on what strategies work for you. I also highly encourage group collaboration in math because often students find that their classmate can help them with a certain math skill and then in a different unit, they will be the one helping their friend understand.”  Upper School math teacher Katie Carson agrees, “This is math! I always tell students that there is never one right way of solving a problem. We are all different, and think differently!”  

Going back to my opening story about being a visual learner and the house.  My husband respects that I think differently than he does.  With that respect, we went on many trips back and forth to Lowe’s so I could see examples, visualize the colors, and touch the materials.  Like our teachers at Roycemore, he provided me with the opportunity to engage deeply in the planning process, and imagine what the renovation would look like.  It paid off beautifully, and we have a house that I love and am so very proud to call home.


In partnership for the education of your children,

Adrianne Finley Odell

Head of School