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Multisensory learning gets the green light

pedagogy | Published in TESpro on 30 November, 2012 | By: Michael Shaw

If you wander through the hall at an education trade show these days, you will often find a corner that looks like a chill-out zone at a festival for stoners.

Strange lights flash, objects glow and soft ambient music plays. In some, high-tech equipment is used to project pictures of bubbles and other realistic digital images on to the floor that react to your movements as you walk through. It may make you relax, or you may find the whole thing freaking crazy, man.

These demonstration spaces are, of course, designed to show off equipment for multisensory rooms. These rooms continue to be popular in special schools or primaries with significant numbers of pupils with special educational needs, hence the kit is normally on display in the SEN section of trade shows.

How useful such gadgets are is open to question and will depend on the gadget. But the demand for them shows that schools are paying more attention to offering multisensory experiences.

Giving pupils the opportunity to touch, taste and smell can make learning more memorable, and not just when they are of sandpit age. It does not necessarily require fancy technology, nor does every sense have to be catered for in every lesson; it’s enough to remember that hearing and vision are not are our only senses.

Some schools have taken more experimental approaches to multisensory education. Two years ago, TES reported on the start of a curious experiment at All Saints Catholic Primary School in Anfield. It began wafting the smell of peppermint into one class and playing sounds of running water and rustling leaves into another to see if this affected the 10- and 11-year-olds’ concentration and memory.

That the school has since stopped doing both these things suggests that neither turned out to be the magic bullet to improve results. But then, multisensory experiences should be relevant to what is being learned, rather than a general add-on.

Be aware that there is also a danger of overdoing it. Teachers who face too much sensory overload in their lessons may need a quiet sit-down, although probably not in the chill-out zone.

Michael Shaw is editor of TESpro michael.shaw@tes.co.uk @mrmichaelshaw.


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