COÎViîNGTO OUR SENSES:
BARBARA WILMES, PH. D.
LAUREN HARRINGTON, MASTER'S CANDIDATE
PATTY KOHLER-EVANS, E D . D .
DAVID SUMPTER, PH. D .
University of Central Arkansas,
The following paper addresses the responses that the learner has
to changes in the learning environment that enhance instruction.
While theorists have supported the notion that instruction
embedded in sensory-filled, brain-based and hands-on activities,
classrooms remain unchanged in many, if not most interactions.
What can we do to wake up teachers and administrators to make
these modifications? We believe as educators we must "come to
our senses" to bring about best quality learning environments.
The following section of this paper supports why we have come
to the conclusion that sensory and brain based teaching strategies
can no longer be left behind.
For many years scientists viewed the supporting notions of the increased role of
brain as somewhat inflexible, subject to brain activity in learning. Findings suggest
genetic control. Recent research, howev- that heredity provides 30-60 percent of our
er, indicates that the brain is quite adaptable brain's wiring, while 40-70 percent is due
over the individual's lifespan. Many to environmental factors (Jensen, 1998).
researchers now consider environmental Educators have a significant moral and eth-
influences to be more significant than ical responsibility for enhancing the
hereditary factors. These findings have lifetime potential of an individual, espe-
considerable implications for educators as cially since schools are places that learners
they directly affect pedagogical strategies reside for an average of six hours, 180 days
used in the classroom. for 13 years of their lives (Jensen, 1998).
Teachers can no longer ignore the fmd- Before teachers begin to incorporate
ings and implications of brain-based positive changes in the learning environ-
research in the educational environment. ment, negative influences in the learning
The cognitive development of children is environment must be altered or removed.
affected by a multitude of diverse factors, If undue stress, for example, is present,
but educators have been slow to recognize brain-based practices will be less success-
the impact that brain-based research pro- ful. Teachers often resort to scolding and
vides in our awareness of the role of the threats to motivate students. "Finish your
brain in learning. Since the 196O's, work or else!" or other similar exhorta-
research in this area is more convincingly tions are often ineffective. Other similar
660 / Education Voi. 128 No. 4
strategies such as finger pointing, humili- strategies into the classroom to produce
ation, sarcasm, the use of unrealistic more effective learning.
deadlines, and other demeaning methods,
also have dubious impact. Enhancing the Visual Environment
The teacher-student relationship which Brain research demonstrates that human
best facilitates learning is characterized by eyes are capable of registering 36,000 visu-
"trust, safety, and mutual respect"(Jensen, al messages per hour and that over 80
1998). According to Jensen (1998), there percent of all information that is absorbed
is no evidence to suggest that the use of by the brain is visual in nature (Optimal
threats effectively meets long-term acad- Environments, n.d.). Therefore, it is criti-
emic goals. To the contrary, there is cal that educators consider the significant
substantial evidence to suggest that nega- role visual factors play in learning. There
tive types of stress can prohibit learning. are several brain-based principles that are
It is believed that such stress causes the useful in creating an enriched visual envi-
"fight or flight" syndrome for many stu- ronment involving movement, contrast and
dents. Conant (2001) stated that glucose, color. There are several ways to access the
the fuel of the brain, travels from the cen- brain's inherently fast access to these prop-
ter of the brain where reasoning and erties. An excerpt from Brain-based
thought occur and goes to the muscles dur- learning, (n.d.), published at the Brain
ing stressful situations. For instance, if an Store, a website in conjunction with the
instructor reprimands a student in front of Jensen Learning Center, offers the fol-
the class, this action may trigger the "fight lowing suggestions for teachers: When
or flight" syndrome." Once stress or fright speaking to a group, the teacher needs to
develops, it may take some time for the move around the room, increasing and
body to recover, making it difficult to decreasing distance from the audience.
breathe normally, much less to learn. Other strategies include using visual dis-
While humans use this defense mechanism plays to demonstrate content, using
in life-threatening situations, it can he authentic objects so that students can feel
counterproductive when used in the class- as well as see them, color code student
room. Stress hormones can reside in the materials, and turn off the lights momen-
body at high levels for several days, tarily for introspection.
depending on the severity of the situation.
Similar findings suggest that chronic stress Using Color and Lighting in Instructional
in the environment may produce excess Settings
glucocorticoids, which are toxic to neu- Color in the visual environment is par-
rons (Conant, 1988). Once the ticularly important because of its powerful
environment is balanced, educators can impact on the brain. Color provides elec-
begin to manipulate the environment. The tromagnetic radiations, similar to that
following section of the paper will address produced by x-rays, infrared, and
manipulating the environment to include microwaves. Each color has its own wave-
sensory-filled, brain-based instructional length and affects our bodies and brains
Corning to Our Senses ... / 661
differently. One study attempted to see if and elicit feelings of peacefulness. The
colors in the environment had any influence colors yellow, light orange, beige, and off-
on children's learning capacity. Several white are useful for optimal learning
classrooms with low ceilings were paint- because they seem to stimulate positive
ed in different colors. IQ tests were given feelings (Brain-based learning, n.d.).
before placing students into different col- Researchers have also noted a strong rela-
ored rooms. Students who were placed in tionship between memory and color. A
light blue, yellow, yellow-green, and recent study in Brain-based learning, ( n.d.)
orange environments increased their IQ measured the relative value or verbal cue
scores by 12 points on average. Those against color cues in learning memory. In
placed in white, black or brown rooms testing memory for verbal cues and mem-
made lower scores when given new IQ tests ory for colors, learners remember
(Katt, 1997). Color also effects emotions. associations with colors more accurately
In the book. Power of Color, by Morton than those with mere black-white patterns.
Walker (1991) the following responses Thus, educators could increase learner's
were most common among tests subjects: potential by linking new information to
Red tends to raise blood pressure, pulse color whenever possible. This strategy if
rate, respiration, perspiration, and excites used frequently could enhance learning in
brainwaves. It also stimulates appetite, a the classroom. Writing the featured
reason that many restaurants use the color phoneme or entire words in different col-
red. Orange is similar to red but less pro- ors, for example, may improve reading and
nounced in its effect. Blue tends to lower spelling abilities by helping the learner
blood pressure and pulse rate. Brain waves effectively visualize the word.
tend to decline. Blue is considered the Lighting, like color, can have impact
most tranquil color. There may be times on learning effectiveness. Most studies
that a blue environment may be helpful in show that soft, full spectrum lighting is
learning, such as in a classroom with hyper- optimal for learning. But in educational
active students. However, for the regular classrooms today, standard ñorescent light-
classroom, blue may be a bit too calming ing is the most frequent light source. In
for most students. Green is also a fairly one study, the researcher replaced standard
calming color, though less so than blue. It florescent bulbs with full spectrum light-
has similar impact on student learning. ing in several elementary classrooms. He
Yellow is the first color that the brain dis- observed a 65 % drop in absenteeism
tinguishes. It is associated with a certain among the affected students in Brain-based
degree of stress and apprehension, yet stim- Learning, ( n.d.). In his study offiveCana-
ulates a sense of well being and optimism. dian schools, Henry (1999) found that
It could be helpful in goal-setting for stu- natural light is more beneficial than tradi-
dents as well as for review activities. tional lighting. With daylight, student
Overall, researchers have found that bright attendance improved, tooth decay
colors tend to increase creativity and ener- decreased due to Vitamin D exposure, aver-
gy. Dark colors, conversely, lower stress age growth of students was one and a half
662 / Education Vol, 128 No. 4
centimeters more than in classes with arti- in classrooms.
ficial light, and scholastic performance Place tennis balls on the legs of
increased. Unfortunately, educators have chairs preventing them from bang-
little input into school design including ing against tables and other chairs.
light fixtures. Teachers can help reduce Keep windows and doors shut.
the harmful effects of artificial light by Place a rubber strip around the door
replacing fiuorescent light bulbs with indi- to block hallway noise.
rect and full spectrum lighting, and when Let students use earplugs to conceal
possible, and keeping widows uncovered, extraneous sound.
allowing natural light to filter into their Use earphones with tapes for indi-
own classrooms. vidual learning.
Sounds in the Environment Using Music in Classrooms
The hearing environment is also high- Music is an element that may also be
ly important in helping learners achieve heard throughout the day. The role of music
maximum capability. What might describe in learning is well known. Music "enrich-
a sound-enriched classroom? Classrooms es the human intellect and spirit. It can
incorporating brain-based principles provide solace or joy; it can entertain or
involve a great deal of communication. educate. And music is a universal language,
Cooperative learning and real-world appli- which helps bind together the human com-
cations are crucial to a successful munity (Campbell and Brewer, 1998),
brain-based classroom. According to stud- Music certainly has a unique way of inte-
ies on noise levels, learners have divergent grating many elements of the brain. It
preferences. Some desire complete silence; appeals to emotional, cognitive and psy-
others may prefer a busy, noisy environ- chomotor elements of the brain, and several
ment (Brain based learning, n.d.). studies show a link between music and
Instructors should be sensitive to both pref- increased learning (Brain-based learning,
erences to ensure optimal learning. n, d.). Unfortunately, despite the evidence
Extraneous noise can be very distracting for its value, often music and other art pro-
to those who need a quieter environment, grams around the country have been
while others may feel very productive in reduced or cut from the curriculum.
this atmosphere. Since many classroom Listening to music engages the entire
designs have not changed over the past 20 brain (Jensen, 1998). Furthermore, med-
years, those who prefer silence are often ical research has shown that the nerves in
"out of luck." Old air conditioning units the ear have more extensive brain connec-
and poor acoustics often add to other tions than any other nerves of the body.
already existing external noises. Research also indicates that music direct-
Possible ways teachers can reduce class- ly effects pulse rate, blood pressure, the
room noise include the following: nervous system, and glands of the body
Place area rugs in discussion areas (Neuman, n, d.). Music can be used for
to soften sound level and movement arousal, as a carrier of words, and as a
Coming to Our Senses .../ 663
primer for the brain (Jensen, 1998). mental awareness." They further suggest
Arousal refers to the increases and that music can be used in the classroom to
decreases of attentional neurotransmitters. accomplish various learning goals includ-
The theme from "Rocky" would be an ing:
example of "perk-up" music and a soft creating a relaxing atmosphere,
piano melody would be more relaxing. establishing a positive learning style,
Soft background music, some studies show, providing a multi-sensory learning
results in substantial improvement in read- experience that enhances memory,
ing comprehension (Jensen, 1998). increasing attention by creating a
Music is used as a carrier when the short burst of energizing excitement,
melody acts as a vehicle for the words. developing rapport,
Words of songs are very easily remem- providing inspiration,
bered because of this strong musical and adding an element of fun.
connection, and, therefore, are often used
as educational tools. Toddlers, for exam- The Teacher's Helper (n. d.), an online
ple, learn the letters of the alphabet through educational resource, suggests using active
the familiar "Alphabet Song. Another concerts where the instructor introduces
example of song-based learning is the tune new learning material to classical music
of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." All in a theatrical manner. This strategy can
musical songs do not necessarily produce deliver 60% of the content in 5 % of the
the results educators desire, such as Win- time! What teacher couldn't use that kind
ston cigarettes and the slogan, "Winston of help in enhancing academic instruc-
Tastes Good Like a Cigarette Should." This tional time? The power of music to bring
ad is remembered today even by those who about learning is immense (Newman, n.
were not smokers, and even though ciga- d.).
rette ads have been missing from media What benefits can be found from the
for a number of years (Teacher's Helper, use of oral or the use of sound-based
n. d.). Academic content put with music methodology in the classroom? Stahl and
is powerfully connected to the brain. One Yaden (2004) reported strong correlations
of the most powerful ways music enrich- that involved memory and recall tasks pair-
es the environment is its ability to prime ing a TV episode and aurally presented
neural pathways. Neurons fire constant- stories. Konoid, Juel, Minden-Cupp and
ly. The difference between "neural chatter" McKinnon (2000) found in a longitudinal
and clear thinking lies in the speed, study of 213 children that oral language
sequence, and strength of the connection. development significantly related to growth
For this reason, some people are primed by in phonological awareness in kindergarten
certain types of music to help them get a children.
task completed (Jensen, 1998). Campbell Benefits may also be seen when atten-
and Brewer (1998) stated that music is rec- tion is given to oral language skills as they
ognized as a "vital, easy, and simple tool relate to written word knowledge, to com-
for dynamic improvement in body and prehension and to phoneme awareness.
664 / Education Voi. 128 No. 4
Thus, it is imperative that teachers con- Obviously, not all aromas produce the
sistently schedule adequate time for same effects. Certain aromas are linked to
children to talk, discuss, and for them to increased performance. Peppermint and
hear good oral language models with a lemon scents are known to energize. One
widely spoken language vocabulary. study showed that groups exposed to the
Another method using sound to pro- aroma of peppermint were able to solve
duce brain activity changes was reported puzzles 30% faster than the unexposed
by McCandleiss and Posner (2003) of a control group (Brain based learning, n. d.).
study using Fast For Word, a process of Popcorn and fresh coffee signify a mood
rapidly changing auditory information to change and raise anticipation. Vanilla,
draw attention to changes in speech chamomile and pine are great for perfor-
streams. This method, using amplification mance jitters before tests to create a
of sounds, has been found to increase brain relaxing atmosphere. The scent of pine is
activity in the posterior areas of the brain used to put travelers at ease going through
that are related to sounding out visual customs at London's Heathrow Airport
words. It would seem that teachers should (Wallace, 2000).
use auditory changes in pitch and intensi- Educators can reinforce memory by
ty to enhance children's reading print for using the same aroma while introducing
any academic content that may be the infonnation that will be used during
addressed. the exam. Although the exact mechanism
responsible for the effects of odor on mem-
Using the Sense of Smell ory is not known, memory seems to be
Smell is the least obvious of the sens- enhanced when associated with odor (Lipp-
es in its value to enrich the learning ner, 1999).
environment; however, its impact is also Pleasant smells can improve cognitive
powerful. Wallace (2000) cited this quote functioning. When exposed to pleasant
from Oliver Wendell Holmes, "Memories, odors of powder, spiced apple, and lemon,
imagination, old sentiments and associa- college students performed word con-
tions are more readily reached through the struction and decoding tasks under stressful
sense of smell than any other channel." and no stress environments better than
Scientists now recognize that they only those not exposed to the fragrances. In
know a fraction about olfaction and its rela- addition, one study showed that a combi-
tionship to learning. What they have nation of floral aromas was associated with
discovered so far about the nose has prac- double the speed of learning (Lippner,
tical applications for learning. The use of 1999). To boost learning in the classroom,
aromas produces similar effects as music educators should use essential oils rather
in the learning environment. Both can than artificial ones (Wallace, 2000). There
energize, set or change a mood, relax, rein- are also "scratch and sniff' labels and other
force memory, and make the surroundings scented papers available to help connect
more pleasant and welcoming (Wallace, learning to aromas. Computer technolo-
2000). gy has utilized aromatherapy effectively.
Coming to Our Senses .../ 665
scented papers available to help connect many benefits; teaching new information
learning to. aromas. Computer technolo- through song and music maximizes the use
gy has utilized aromatherapy effectively. of teaching time; and incorporating aro-
Digital scent technology has made it pos- mas with new learriirig has been shown to
sible to send and receive "e-smell" increase recall.
messages. Websites now have the capa- Enriching student learning through
bility to release a customized scent using sensory strategies in a brain-based
(Wallace, 2000). Imagine the possibili- environment is one of the easiest and most
ties!! Although this technology is not rewarding ways for an instructor to begin
widely available and is rather costly, to improve the learning environment and
instructors can very easily, and inexpen- academic outcomes for all children!
sively enhance the learning environment Teachers can no longer ignore the signif-
using aromas. Furthermore, as an added icance the sensory environment and to fail
bonus, the use of aromas can also energize to implement the fore mentioned, well-
or relax the instructor! researched sensory and brain based
teaching strategies. We educators must
Conclusions "come to our own senses" and implement
Scientists and educators alike have pro- the senses through brain-based environ-
duced volumes of evidence and studies that ments and activities if we are to maximize
demonstrate the significant impact that the learning opportunities for children!
environment has on learning. But why are
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