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Effects of traditional versus tactual/kinesthetic instruction on junior high school learning-disabled students.


One hundred and fourteen learning-disabled (LD) students in grades eight, nine, ten, and eleven were taught grammar alternately using two different instructional methods--traditional and tactual/kinesthetic. Effects on achievement, applications to writing, and attitudes then were analyzed to determine the relative impact of each method on these variables. A counter-balanced design was employed with subjects serving as their own control group during the four-week duration of the study. Inclusive in each week were a pretest, one day of instruction, a posttest with an application to writing, and an attitude survey. Data were examined using analysis of variance and post hoc simple main effects tests. Findings indicated significantly more positive achievement in, applications of, and attitudes toward grammar of LD students when they were taught with tactual /kinesthetic resources than when they were taught with traditional methods.


By consensus, participants at the 1996 National Education Summit asserted that schools required high standards for guiding instruction. Economic leaders, government officials, and educators all agreed on the need to promote higher levels of student achievement (Sabres & Sabres, 1996). Thus, high school students who currently receive Special Education (SPED) services pursue regular diplomas to become prepared to meet the challenges of the workplace and continuing education. Many states have elevated academic standards for graduation and, therefore, minimal performance is no longer acceptable for any student (Mitchell, 2000; Mitchell & D'Anna, 1998). Curriculum, instruction, and assessment must be adapted to the special needs of students so they can learn as much as possible and demonstrate their competence in appropriate ways.

Unfortunately, scant attention has been directed toward the identification of effective teaching practices for helping LD students reach the newly established higher standards. Prevailing instruction essentially focuses on repetition and reduced curricular exposure, rather than diverse instructional approaches responsive to the differences in how students learn (Weinstein, 1996). Research, on the other hand, has revealed that LD students master difficult academic information differently from the way they traditionally are taught (Andrews, 1990, 1991; Brunner & Majewski, 1990; Dunn & DeBello, 1999; Quinn, 1993; Stone, 1992). Identifying students' learning styles and then matching them with responsive instructional strategies or resources would support teachers in improving programs for their identified LD population. Knowledge of students' learning styles provides a deeper understanding of the learner then previously perceived (Keefe, 1982). Because of that, Armstrong (1985) implored educators to develop specialized techniques for LD children and to recognize their learning-style strengths to improve the quality of their education--ultimately to eliminate the LD category. Research documents that children taught with responsive learning-style approaches, achieve significantly better than they do when not taught with learning-style approaches (Dunn & DeBello, 1999; Furthermore, the less academically successful the students, the more important it is to accommodate their learning-style preferences (Dunn, 1997-98).

Learning Styles of the Learning Disabled

Considerable differences exist between the learning styles of LD students and their same-age counterparts. Similarities also exist within this classification of students (Bauer, 1991; Kyriacou & Dunn, 1994; Lux, 1987; Pederson, 1984; Yong & McIntyre, 1992). LD students tend to be less persistent, less motivated, and more willing to learn with their teachers than many other students (Wild, 1979; Williams, 1989). Differences between the learning styles of LD and gifted students include variations in their preferences for light, seating design (formal versus informal), learning kinesthetically, persistence, responsibility, and in their parent versus self versus and teacher motivation (Yong & McIntyre, 1992). Pederson (1984) found that LD students often required intake (snacks or beverages), frequent mobility, and easy-to-use, self-corrective resources while learning. LD and emotionally handicapped students required significantly different amounts of structure, tactual resources, and mobility than non-challenged or handicapped populations (Dunn, Bauer, Gemake, Gregory, Primavers & Signer, 1994).

Perceptual Strengths of the Learning Disabled

Numerous researchers corroborated differences among the perceptual strengths of LD--as opposed to regular education--students (Carbo, 1980; Garrett, 1992; Jarsonbeck, 1984; Kroon, 1985; Martini, 1986; Urbschat, 1977; Weinberg, 1983; Wheeler, 1983). Perceptual preferences differentiated among: (a) visual learners who remembered best by seeing, reading, and/or observing; (b) auditory learners who remembered best by listening; (c) tactual learners who remembered best by touching and/or manipulating objects; and (d) kinesthetic learners who remembered best with whole-body movement and activity-oriented experiences. Although many students learn with combined perceptual preferences--auditory and visual or visual, tactual, and auditory--most LD students recall new and difficult academic information efficiently when learning tactually or kinesthetically (Dunn & Dunn, 1993). Few LD students reveal high visual preferences (Dunn et al., 1994). Unfortunately, most LD students have been taught predominantly with lectures and discussions that require auditory strengths, or by readings that require visual strengths-their two weakest modalities (Dunn, et al., 1994).

Language Deficiencies and the Learning Disabled

Success in both school and life is determined, in large part, by competence in language. For LD students, language skills are often underdeveloped and difficult (Weiser, 1981). Gerber and Bryen (1981) reported that adolescents with language-based learning disabilities have difficulty with both basic-and higher-level language tasks. Consequently, the language problems inherent in a learning disability, coupled with the unique way in which LD students process information, not a lack of ability, impede language development in LD students. It was, therefore, the intent of this investigation to examine the impact of learning-style responsive instruction on the grammar achievement of LD students.



The sample for this study was drawn from self-contained learning-disabled English classes in a suburban, middle school, and high school north of New York City. To be eligible for placement in a self-contained class, a student would have been previously classified LD by the District's Committee on Special Education. The experimental group included grades eight through eleven (n=l14). Sixty-eight percent of the students were male and thirty-two percent were female. Forty-nine were eighth-graders, thirty-eight were ninth-graders, eighteen were tenth-graders, and nine were eleventh-graders.

Data Collection Instruments

This study utilized four data-collection instruments. Students were administered the Learning Style Inventory (LSI) (Dunn, Dunn, & Price, 1999) the Semantic Differential Scale (SDS) (Pizzo, 1981), and two tests of grammar achievement. The LSI provides information concerning the conditions under which students in grades 3-12 prefer to learn. This self-report instrument asks students to rate 104 dichotomous items that survey individuals' preferences in each of 22 areas. The 22 elements provide information concerned with the patterns through which learning occurs. The LSI is a comprehensive approach to the identification of how students prefer to concentrate, learn, function, and perform during educational activities (Price & Dunn, 1997).

The LSI is the most "widely used (learning-style) assessment in elementary and secondary schools (Keefe, 1982, p. 52). It has been employed in doctoral research at more than 116 institutions of higher education in the United States and abroad (Research on the Dunn and Dunn Learning-Style Model, 2001). In a two-year study of various learning-style models and instrumentation conducted by the Ohio State University's National Center for Research in Vocational Education. Kirby (1979) reported that the LSI had "impressive reliability and construct validity" (p. 72). Curry (1987) reviewed nine different learning/cognitive style models through psychometric analyses and found that the LSI had one of the highest reliability and validity ratings. DeBello (1990) also documented the comparatively high reliability and validity of the LSI in contrast with other assessments.

Students' attitudes toward grammar instruction were assessed using the Semantic Differential Scale (SDS) (Pizzo, 1981). Students rated their feelings toward learning grammar through traditional methods of instruction and through the use of tactual and kinesthetic resources on a grade scale. The SDS isolates four dominant factors: (a) evaluative, (b) activity, (c) potency, and (d) stability. Each of the four factors includes eight bipolar adjective pairs. Pizzo developed the scale to "compare the attitudes of students tested in an acoustic environment congruent with their preferences for an element of style with those of students tested in an acoustic environment incongruent with their preferences for sound" (Pizzo, 1981, p. 155).

Tests measuring grammar achievement and application of grammatical skills to writing were drawn from the English textbook utilized by the district--the Building English Skills Series published by McDougal, Littell and Company (Littell, 1985). To ensure a comparable degree of difficulty among the four lessons selected, a sampling of students from each grade was administered the diagnostic test of punctuation skills found in Capitalization and Punctuation Makes Sense, published by Simon and Schuster (Clarke & Clarke, 1987). Results were analyzed and used to formulate the objectives for each of the four lessons. One lesson included the use of ending marks and apostrophes; two were devoted to the use of commas, and another to the use of quotation marks and underlining.


A jury of experts validated the subject matter and accompanying achievement tests as being grade-level appropriate and comparable in degree of difficulty. Members of the jury were experienced teachers with an earned masters or doctorate in either English education or education. This research involved the administration of the LSI, a treatment phase of one week of grammar lessons with a pretest and a posttest for each, and administration of an attitude scale and a writing test. To introduce students to the concept of learning style, the researcher read Viva la Difference: A Guide to Learning for High School Students (Bouwman, 1992) to explain the unique characteristics of different students. A discussion of individual differences followed. The Learning Style Inventory (Dunn et al., 1999) then was administered to all students to determine their learning-style preferences. Students were given the option of having the Inventory read to them or completing it on their own. After the LSI was administered, computerized individual profiles were obtained from Price Systems. This assessment of each student's preferred learning style was shared with the students at the completion of the study.

The treatment of the study included four phases. Subjects at each grade level were randomly, by class, divided into two groups. Each group received instruction in the use of punctuation skills through traditional instructional methods or by using tactual and kinesthetic resources. One group began the four-week process with a tactual/kinesthetic lesson followed by a traditional lesson. The second group began with a traditional lesson followed by a tactual/kinesthetic lesson. The process was repeated for each group so that each group alternately received two traditional lessons and two tactual/kinesthetic lessons. A counterbalance design was employed to eliminate a carryover effect, which could occur if the students found one weeks' lesson to be easier or more engaging than another. All classes were 44 minutes in length at the high school, 39 minutes at the middle school, and were taught by the same researcher.

The lessons were presented in an auditory/visual modality or in a traditional setting required students to remain in their seats while presented with a "real-life" writing sample. Students were instructed to read the writing sample and supply the missing punctuation. Upon completion, with the use of the overhead projector, the instructor reviewed the corrected answers with the class and discussed the applied grammatical rules. Students then, either independently, with a partner, or in a small group, completed additional practice exercises for reinforcement. This assignment was corrected by the instructor and returned to the students with an explanation of the corrections that had been made. The instructor also introduced lessons using a tactual and kinesthetic approach with multiple copies of "real-life" writing samples; however, these were displayed on the board and around the room. Students inserted the missing punctuation as they and the teacher discussed the applied grammatical rules. Students then participated in active kinesthetic team games and used tactual resources such as Pic-A-Holes, Fact Fans, Fact Wraps, Electroboards (Dunn & Dunn, 1993) and Comma-Clothespin Strips to reinforce the grammatical rules and skills taught.

Each treatment lasted one week. On Day 1 of each week, a pretest was administered to students. On Day 2, no treatment was administered. If a student were absent on Day 1, but present on Day 2, a pretest was administered to that particular student. On Day 3, a grammar skill lesson was taught using either traditional methods or tactual/kinesthetic materials. On Day 4, a posttest of grammar achievement and a test that required students to apply the learned skill to writing was administered. On Day 5, the SDS was administered to all students. In addition, students present for the pretest and instructional portions of the treatment, but absent on Day 4, were administered the achievement tests employed the previous day. Scores of any absent students on the instructional day, and of students who had missed a pretest and/or posttest, were not included in the analysis of the data.

Achievement Findings

The program used to compute the statistical analyses was the SPSS Generalized Linear Model (GLM) using multivariate and univariate procedures. Complete data were available for analysis on 100 LD students. Main effects were determined using a repeated-measures analysis of variance (ANOVA) design with three within-subject factors, each with two levels: (a) traditional versus tactual/kinesthetic instruction, (b) pretest versus posttest, and (c) Trial One versus Trial Two. Interactions between combinations of these factors also were explored. Results indicated an extremely strong effect for pretest versus posttest scores indicating that, in general, students' grades advanced from pretest to posttest--which was to be expected. Additionally, there was a significant interaction between traditional versus tactual/kinesthetic instruction and pre/post tests. To further explore the significant interactions, post hoc simple main effects tests were conducted. The findings are presented in Table 1. A pairwise comparison revealed that the two-point difference between the pretest mean scores was not significant. However, the posttest scores differed by almost six points, with the tactual/kinesthetic lesson being higher. Pairwise comparisons found this difference to be significant (p < .0001).

A second set of simple main effects tests were conducted comparing pretests and posttests within each level of traditional and tactual/kinesthetic instruction. There was a significant difference of 27 points between the pretests and posttests for the traditional lessons. However, there was a larger significant difference of 35 points from pretests to posttests for the tactual/kinesthetic lessons (p < .0001). Therefore, the results confirmed that LD students achieved significantly higher grammar achievement test scores when taught with tactual/kinesthetic resources than when taught traditionally.

When analyzing the results of the writing component of the posttest, a paired-samples t-test revealed a significant difference (p < .0001) between the writing scores obtained by students in the traditional lessons versus those obtained in the tactual/kinesthetic lessons. For skills taught using tactual/kinesthetic resources, students were able to transfer approximately 74% of that knowledge to a written task. For skills taught through traditional methods, students were able to apply only approximately 61% of those skills to a written assignment. Consequently, when completing a written task, students were able to apply 13% more of the skills learned with tactual/kinesthetic methods than they were able to apply the skills learned with traditional methods. Furthermore, the correlation between the two instructional methods was high and positive (r = .607), indicating that students who performed well on the traditional lessons, also performed well on the tactual/kinesthetic lessons. Table 2 presents these results. See issue's website <>

Attitudinal Findings

Similar findings were obtained for attitude-toward-grammar-instruction in an analysis of posttest scores on the Semantic Differential Scale (Pizzo, 1981). Wilks Lambda for traditional versus tactual/kinesthetic instruction indicated at significant difference (p <.0001), and an eta square of .479 indicated a strong effect for instructional method. To explore further the multivariate effects, univariate posttest effects for each of the 12 adjectives of the SDS were examined. There were consistently higher ratings for the tactual/kinesthetic tasks. Results indicated an overall multivariate and univariate effects for each of the adjectives in favor of the tactual/kinesthetic lesson. Pairwise comparisons further supported students' significant preferences for the tactual/kinesthetic lessons.


These results have shown that tactual/kinesthetic instruction resulted in significantly improved grammar achievement, applications to writing, and attitudes among LD students. Further analysis of students' perceptual preferences, as reported by their LSI printouts, revealed that 37 students scored 60 or higher--which indicates a preference for learning tactually and/or kinesthetically. In addition, 15 students expressed preferences for auditory learning and 10 reported visual preferences. The remainder had no perceptual preferences. Of students who indicated a strong perceptual strength, the largest percentage reported the need for tactual and/or kinesthetic resources when learning. These findings confirmed the importance of such resources for LD students. The identification of a learning disability is usually based on: a perceived discrepancy between students' abilities and their academic success and the presence of psychological processing problems or difficulties when perceiving, interpreting, and using visual and auditory stimuli involved in academic tasks. Due to the auditory and/or visual perception problems inherent in learning disabilities, certain students with learning disabilities cannot be successful with traditional instruction. Furthermore, in an analysis of students' opposite preferences--a score of 40 or below on the LSI--it was noted that 41 students indicated a strong opposite preference, or dislike, for learning visually. Only 10 students expressed a dislike for auditory learning; 15 did not prefer to learn tactually and 10 did not prefer to learn kinesthetically. These data, in conjunction with the auditory and visual deficiencies inherent in a learning disability, evidenced that traditional instruction--lectures and reading--is the least effective method for teaching LD students.

Implications of the Findings

This investigation focused on a population of students whose journey through the public educational system often was wrought with challenges and frustrations. These students were among those who will be most profoundly impacted by the more rigorous academic standards and accompanying assessments that currently are being implemented nation-wide. Weinstein (1996) purported that the attainment of higher standards for all students will occur only when entrenched negative beliefs have been confronted and remedied by educators through the implementation of effective teaching methods. To make common rigorous standards work, we have to believe in the potential of all children to learn despite their diversity of characteristics and styles. We also have to provide children with tools for overcoming learning obstacles. We need to differentiate teaching methods in appropriate ways without lowering educational goals. Simply willing higher expectations, without attention to effective teaching practices, is unlikely to produce increased achievement.


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Diane Mitchell, Clarkstown High School South, NY Rita Dunn, St. John's University, NY Angela Klavas, St. John's University, NY Vivian Lynch, St. John's University, NY Nancy Montgomery, St. John's University, NY John Murray, St. John's University, NY

Dr. Mitchell is special education teacher. Dr. Dunn is professor, Division of Administrative and Instructional Leadership and director, Center for Study of Learning and Teaching Styles. Dr. Klavas is professor, Division of Administrative and Instructional Leadership and assistant director, Center for Study of Learning and Teaching Styles. Dr. Montgomery is professor at School of Education. Dr. Lynch is professor of English, College of Professional Studies. Reverend Murray is professor, Department of psychology.
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Date:Sep 22, 2002
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