Philosophy of Education

Multiple Pathway ModelI subscribe to the “multiple pathway” school of thought, i.e. that the more pathways we can create to data stored in our brains, the more readily accessible that data becomes.  By “multiple pathways,” I mean that through the use of multiple approaches to learning content, we store it in a way that makes it retrievable via more than one path.  Zadina (2011) explains the foundations of the method:

1. the brain activates multiple pathways in learning,
2. brains are very diverse, and
3. we want to teach from a variety of approaches.

I focus on a few key approaches given the subject matter that I generally teach.

Musical Approach

We all remember songs that we learned in Kindergarten, e.g. the ABC song.  I believe that we store that information in a way that is still retrievable 20 or 30 or 40 years later because of the employment of both sides of the brain in tandem when we learn data put to music.  For vocabulary strengthening, liturgy in the target language is also very helpful.

The right brain records the melody, the left brain stores the words, and the brain forms synapses to bridge across the two hemispheres making the information easier to recall.  If we remember the melody first, that gives us access to the synapses that lead to the words, or vice versa.  By setting information to music, we retain it longer and recall it more easily.

I still, 25 years after last seeing the episode, recall a scene on the television program “Cheers” wherein Coach (the bartender) is going back to school for his G.E.D. and is trying to learn world geography.  His studying method includes singing facts about Albania to the tune of “When the Saints go Marchin’ In” —

Albania, Albania: you border on the Adriatic.
Your terrain is mostly mountainous,
And your chief export is salt.

It doesn’t rhyme, and the emphasis in “mountainous” falls on the wrong syllable… but I still remember the data 25 years later.

Kinetic Approach

Another way to build multiple pathways to a data set is through the pairing the information one wishes to recall with a related action or movement.  This is particularly helpful in the study of foreign languages.  I must credit my undergrad Russian and German instructor for introducing me to this.

Rick Bridges at Kalamazoo Valley Community College had his students associate gestures with locative vocabulary, e.g. pointing to something across the room whenever saying da drüben in German or там in Russian (“over there”).  I applied the same method to my learning of Hebrew, pointing across the room whenever I say “שָׁם” and pointing down toward my feet when saying “פֹּה” (here).

The application can be made even to more abstract concepts expressed in another language, e.g. touching one’s heart when saying “I feel…” or even learning sign language in tandem with a foreign language and integrating the two.

Commands involving movement are another application of the kinetic approach.  A command to “פתוח את הדלת” (open the door) can be followed by the student physically carrying out the command.

Dramatic Approach

Another aspect of language learning that I learned from Rick Bridges is the dramatic approach, i.e. constructing “plug and play” scripts in order to teach aspects of syntax.  Bridges would give students dialogues to memorize which used basic structures of the language being taught in order to provide a template for construct application.

The subjects, verbs, and objects could be swapped out with similar forms of other appropriate words from the course vocabulary once the script was committed to memory.  As with the Kinetic Approach, “stage blocking” can be helpful in associating movement with vocabulary list items used.

Frontal Lobe Stimulation

In some students, lengthy instructions are not easily processed or retained.  This can be true with certain cognitive disabilities or with head trauma cases such as concussions.  The key to exercising the frontal lobe in these cases is to use shorter sentences initially, so that analysis tasks are manageable.  The frontal lobe is responsible for planning, evaluating, delaying gratification, making good judgments, and analyzing and synthesizing data.

Scholarly Research on the Model

  • Linnenbrink, Elizabeth A., and Paul R. Pintrich. “Multiple pathways to learning and achievement: The role of goal orientation in fostering adaptive motivation, affect, and cognition.” (2000).
  • Pintrich, Paul R. “Multiple goals, multiple pathways: The role of goal orientation in learning and achievement.” Journal of educational psychology 92, no. 3 (2000): 544.
  • Zadina, Janet.  “The Multiple Pathways Model™: Addressing Multiple Pathways in the Brain to Enhance Language Learning.”  Idiom 41, no. 3 (Fall 2011); online:

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