I listen and I forget;
I see and I remember;
I do and I understand.
Why, even though there are new developments in science that allow us to affirm that we learn through experiences, and those experiences necessarily involve the senses, the learning process in the formal education has been focused in limited sensory experiences? (Boynton, n.d.). Our senses are the means that let us collect the necessary information from the world, so that we can processes it later in our brain through the creation of synaptic connections, and this is what we call “learning”. This is why the experiences that we have from day to day must be meaningful, as they will ensure new learning and the construction of new knowledge. However, diverse and meaningful sensory experiences in formal education are limited. Thus, text books and master classes have been the predominant means to transmit information. But both learning and achieving a comprehensive understanding of the world are processes that involve corporeal experiences, which also include multiple senses (Classen, 1999; Claxton, 2015).
The Western educational system, has given the most prominence to the senses of sight and hearing, leaving aside our other senses: touch, taste, smell, kinesthetic and the proprioceptive (Classen, 1999). In this way, education is restraining students’ experiences and as a result, limits their learning, ways they can relate to their environment, and communicate their thoughts. For these reasons, we can ask ourselves, how can we integrate our senses as part of the learning, understanding and thinking development of students?
Nowadays, there are multiple strategies that allow the senses to be taken as an essential part of the learning process. Giving experiences a main role in the classrooms.
Even though it has been a topic that has generated debate for decades, and has been discussed by people including Montessori (1912) and Dale (Dale, 1946), the process of changing paradigms regarding the incorporation of the senses in education has been a slow process. This process has been consolidated in different strategies or flows that invite educators, in an innovative way, to integrate the senses in education. Some of these Known strategies are:
- The Maker Movement. The students become creators of physical or digital products and services, taking advantage of their creativity and access to open knowledge. In this way, the experience of producing is a privilege, as it can generate multiple opportunities to involve the senses and to promote learning through doing (Rosenfeld, Halverson & Sheridan, 2014).
- Flipped classrooms. Classroom work is focused in creating projects, making exercises, participating in discussions or debates, conducting experiments, etc., while time out of the classroom is used for other learning processes, such as research. In this way, sensory experiences have an important role as a mechanism to develop skills, as a source of understanding and implementing knowledge (Flipped Classrooms, n.d).
- Artful thinking. By using this methodology, art is involved not just in the creation of artistic works, but also by using the exploration of art as an engine to promote thinking, new learning and knowledge (Project Zero, n.d).
All these new projects and strategies are already an active part of the education system in different parts of the world. They are examples of a turning point in education that is giving more importance to experiences, and therefore, the senses in the learning process.
It is important to consider all of these tendencies and their theoretical bases, so that we can generate new ways to promote meaningful learning in our classrooms. Sensory experiences are not the main goal of education; these are promoted as part of the learning process, because they give students the opportunity to build their comprehension and abstraction of concepts, and help them to make sense of knowledge and learning. They connect, as well, what has been learnt with learning strategies to the students’ daily life, making learning more meaningful and inclusive. A student who is capable of thinking strategically about his/her senses, and who considers that thought and learning involve both his/her brain and body as a unit, is a person capable of relating to the world in a state of constant learning and exploration.
Taking all of the above into account, we can include these 10 suggestions from the VESS model:
- Recognize, as teachers, which senses are we focusing on and how we can include, in a balanced way, all of our senses in the curriculum
- Find ways to add different senses by using innovative strategies, with a clear purpose
- Explore multiple sensory experiences to build knowledge. When talking about a plant, do not just see the plant; smell it, taste it, hear it, mimic its movement, touch the plant (always taking care of your safety) and develop knowledge from there
- Invite to do. Doing should be part of learning and comprehension
- Involve students in the solution of real problems.
- Allow yourself to reorganize the priorities of the students’ learning processes. Allow time for students to explore their knowledge at different times and through various means, both inside and outside of the classroom
- Connect areas of knowledge that we usually isolate in traditional education, such as arts or sports with physics and math
- Avoid separating sensory experiences from the learning process. For example, movement must occur beyond the limited space of physical education
- Involve moments of sensory experiences that we usually isolate from the exploration of traditional areas of knowledge: meal times, play times or even recesses can become moments that are part of the learning processes.
Reflect on the use of the senses: which senses that were used, what they were used for, and what was the purpose of involving that sense in relation to the learning objectives?
- Boynton, C. (s.f.). Sensing our five senses. Viewed on the 8th of May 2017, from the YaleNational Initiative: http://teachers.yale.edu/curriculum/viewer/initiative_09.06.02_u
- Dale, E. (1946). Chapter 4. The Cone of Experience. En Audio-Visual Methis in Teaching. Nueva York: Dryden Press.
- Flipped Classrooms. (s.f). The Flipped Classroom. Viewed on the 09th of June 2017, form Vision-What is The Flipped Classroom: http://www.theflippedclassroom.es/what-is- innovacion-educativa/
- Rosenfeld Halverson, E., & Sheridan, K. (2014). The maker movement in Education. Harvard Educational Review.
- Project Zero. (s.f). Artful Thinking. Viewed on the 09th of June 2017, form Overview: http://pzartfulthinking.org/?page_id=5