We commonly hear that kinesthetic learners need to move, touch and experience in order to learn, but I wonder if we ever think about how we are all potential kinesthetic learners due to our skin: our biggest organ, and one of the connections to the information registered in every tangible thing in our world.
Through touch we learn about pressure, friction, vibration, temperature, texture, consistency, and pain. Similar to our heart and our brain, our skin cannot be unplugged. We can close our eyes and imagine what someone who cannot see; we can cover our ears and try to imagine what it feels like to be deaf, but there is nothing we can do about our sense of touch. Its omnipresence is such that it’s impossible to stop one of our senses to imagine what life would be like without touch.
Touch is a language on its own; a secret weapon in our many relationships in our world. In his article, The World at our Fingertips, Derek Cabrera (2010) explains how in science experiments touch is as important as vision for learning and retaining information. Likewise, Dr. Rigaud explained to me how, in the Montessori framework, tactile activities such as playing with blocks help children improve everything from their mathematics abilities to their thinking skills. Thus, as I reflect on the experience I witnessed these past days in PYP2 science, PYP3 social studies and PYP1 arts class, it is clear to me how we can easily go through our lives being knowledge architects: building intellectual edifices through physical experiences.
I enjoyed witnessing how Mr. Bradley Murray, our PYP2 teacher, engaged his students in feeling the relationship between objects (weight, proximity, location) in order to understand the science behind levers. It was clear how when he asked students to use their bodies in the learning process, not only were they able to understand the role each item played and the effect each had on the other, but they were also able to explain to their classmates. I noticed that touch can have a big effect, even if it seems silly or unconnected to the learning goal at hand. As a language teacher, witnessing this helped me create extra layers in the session I was about to have with one PYP2 student who needs language support. As I saw the connection our pupil made, it was evident to me how we understand language in a richer, fuller way if we can connect it to the actions we perform.
Ms. Szyman’s PYP3 classroom is in front of mine, so I inevitably have the opportunity to experience the learning that happens there. She is currently working on past civilizations and her students are busy doing research about sarcophagus, their design and the message they convey. I noticed that one of her students was tearing her vocabulary sheet apart, and I asked her why she was doing that. Needless to day, her answer was brilliant: ‘So I can do stuff with it.’ I stayed next to her and saw how she was using each vocabulary item both as checkpoints of her progress, and to label aspects of her work. Clearly, abstract concepts became easier to understand after she had transformed vocabulary into physical objects—in this case, pieces of paper she could hold, feel and manipulate.
Upon becoming a ‘touch experience’ hunter, I arrived in the arts classroom where PYP1 students were working on making simple machines, and I noticed how manipulating materials and establishing dialogue while doing so really engaged our students, helping them bring to the world what was happening in their heads. I noticed how in this particular kind of engagements we need to ask them about the way they are reading the world with their sense of touch; after all, they are the sources of input that help us make sense of the world.
I remember what my drama teacher taught me about understanding space. I remember how he said that we have to learn to look at objects and spaces as if we were to establish a lifelong relationship with them for, this way, our brain will process what the object/space looks like, and will remember what it feels like to touch and navigate it as a new geography that our body understands. Knowing how strong this connection is, I wonder if one day computers examining data coming only from the part of our brain that processes touch will be able predict which object we are actually looking at.
I will be cooking tonight, and as I wash my hands I feel that I will be thinking about the stories, secrets, and learning I am washing away in the process.