Students in a Plural World

Students deserve an education they can easily access. It should be of the highest possible quality, developmentally appropriate, and stretch the learning into proximal development. Student learning happens best across language barriers and ability levels.

John Medina writes on the value of Multimedia presentations. In the book, “Brain Rules (2008)” he cites five rules for multi-media teaching. These rules offer a memory boost to students because they engage the student across language land earning abilities. Their application to Theatre Arts or English Language Arts is immediate and necessary.

Rule One, Multimedia Principle. Application: Have students create maps of their learning. Students learn from words and pictures together. Students should map their knowledge. When they do this they are creating a framework for present knowledge and future knowledge organized into nodes of learning.

Rule Two, Temporal Contiguity Principle. Application: present a concept map or picture that has text integrated into the image. For drama or ELA, this can be done with a storyboard. The storyboard can pre-view the chapter or entire story. The storyboard can include images of major characters and places that they go along with character relationships, such as family relationships.

Rule Three, Spatial Contiguity Principle. Application: Words need to be presented near the image. For a theatre classroom, all the equipment, costumes, and props, can have labels that both help to organize the room and instruct students about what they are as they passively observe the room.

Rule Four, Coherence Principle. Students learn better with information is streamlined into the basic needed information. When a class is first studying “Hamlet,” they do not need to know about the life of Shakespeare, the centuries of commentary, or the proper place to pause between each line. Rather, the students need to understand the essential storyline. Applications of Rules One and Two can provide assistance with this.

Rule Five, Modality Principle. Learning happens best when it is presented as animation and narration without text. Returning to “Hamlet,” a presentation can be created that “maps” the entire story (key plot points) in a PowerPoint presentation. The presentation can feature images that represent characters. As the images auto-change (getting married, killed, plotting etc.), the story is narrated by teacher or students (P2, P4).

I have seen all five rules affect student learning; all the examples come from my class. While I did not start with this knowledge, these examples evolved in my classroom through experimentation and student feedback. In the future, I would like to involve my students in the creation of the images. This too will add to their learning, information retention, and comprehension.

Regardless of how easily a teacher can make learning accessible, there will always be student stress – often manifested in the learning environment. Students experience stress from a variety of external and internal factors. Students are stressed about their grades, their social networks, and their personal development. But as Medina states, “some types of stress boost learning (173).”

In my students I have observed stress from the following events: the pressure of a parent, the negative opinion of peers, the student’s expectations of difficulty in academics, and the over scheduling of time outside of school.

Stress can actually ultimately good. Medina reminds us that, we develop a “flexible, immediately available, highly regulated stress response (175)” by going through the hormonal response to stress. As an educator, this eases my mind – knowing that the long-term result is beneficial to the individual.

As a teacher, I can help to mitigate the stress of the student by doing some or all of the following things. 1) Counsel the student. They should know that this is just a moment in their life; that this too will pass; 2) Ease their fears of failure by implementing a lesson plan that is easy to follow and builds their confidence; 3) work with the parents to understand the pressures outside of school and to get assistance in balancing the expectations of the family with the activities of the student; 4) giving the students a road-map to success by showing them the long-term goal along side the small step-by-step parts to get to the goal; 5) teach the student to relax through calming breaths and implementing personal time; 6) helping the student to prioritize and schedule their activities so that they are more manageable.

I have seen all of these things work quite well and I have seen them have no effect (or even have some negative effect, especially with #3 and #4). Regardless, I believe that they are all worth trying. Most importantly, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to helping a student deal with stress. I must first listen to them and then try to help them.

Another aspect of student development is the idea of proximal development. All the multimedia presentations in the world, regardless of how engaging they are, will not boost student learning unless there is something to learn.

The idea of the Zone of Proximal Development is best described by Lev Vygotsky himself, “the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers” (Vygotsky, 1978, p86). There is an ideal combination of challenge and aptitude that best assists learning. A student must be challenged to experience growth. Teacher and student work together in the activity of learning. It is a collaborative and social-constructivist method (McLeod, 2007). This mentor and apprentice approach has been used to great success because tasks can be chunked out at the appropriate individual pace to place the student in their own ZPD continually and succeed as they grow in their knowledge and skill base (H3, O2).


Medina, J. (2008). Brain rules: 12 principles for surviving and thriving at work, home, and school. Seattle, WA: Pear Press.


McLeod, S. A. (2007, January 1). Vygotsky. Retrieved July 24, 2014, from


Vygotsky, L. S., & Cole, M. (1978). Mind in society: the development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.


Author: David Orace Kelly

International Teacher - Arts and Education Leader

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