In 2011, I was a poster presenter at the Getting in Touch with Literacy conference held in Louisville, Kentucky. I presented on creating tactile memory for understanding. My information came from a lesson I had used in class for reading comprehension of a story about bird-watching. When the students only read the passage then answered questions, they scored at or below 62%. When I added the sounds of birds into the lesson and they reread and answered questions, they scored 75%. But, when I added an art project where the students filled in a puff-painted outline with sand and we talked about the birds—wow! They did not reread, but went directly to the questions and all scored above 86%! That proved to me that any way we can give them tactual experiences to understand a concept will build a memory for future processing and comparison.
Using Tactile Experiences to Promote Concept Development
Having passed this notion on to my colleagues at the Louisiana School for the Visually Impaired (LSVI), I thought I would share some ways we have incorporated this idea. One day, Susan Covington the high school English teacher, was talking about sugarcane rows in a field. One of her students didn’t understand the concept of rows, although she knew the terms "parallel" and "vertical" but couldn’t conceive it. After laying Wiki Stix on paper in vertical lines with spaces, the student understood.
Blanche Faulk, our Outreach Director, and a student made a tissue pathway on poster board to learn cardinal directions for the student who was not grasping that turning while walking followed placement directions. When Ms. Faulk said, “Go four steps north…,” the student glued four pieces of tissue squares going that direction.
Dominoes and the Braille Code
Also, for teaching directions with counting while learning braille contractions, Anna Gayle, the braille teacher, uses a game of dominoes with first graders. The students learn to play with tactile game pieces, count, match, and are quizzed at the same time on the braille code.
Jackson Pollock's Style
Even in an art class, Ms. Gayle was explaining Jackson Pollock’s style of painting. Her Art III student was able to experience the production of how he would have painted. Instead of spattering paint on canvas on the floor, the student donned an apron, went outside, and with paper mounted on cardboard, student spatter painted. She talked about hearing the paint hit the paper and feeling it when it landed on her cheeks!
Painting the Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel
One time, Sandra Manuel, world history teacher, had her students lie on the floor under the desks, making marks on paper that was taped to the bottom of the desks so they could understand how difficult Michelangelo had it to paint a ceiling.
Though these are only a few examples, maybe it will spark an idea for you to try!
-- Anna C. Gayle TVI (firstname.lastname@example.org)