Chapter Five: “Multi-Sensory Input”

[And then God said to bring forth all kinds of creatures and God saw how good it was! ]

Somehow the impossible happened.  I mean that actually the idea of this wild eyed dream became a reality.  First, there was an angel (my friend Linda Wilson) who came to me and said that she and her husband wanted to support my project!  Then there was the big room at a local church that became available.  A retired math professor brought his new video camera.  And, in response to a sign posted on the front lawn of the small church that read “Video songs for children of the world…” numerous children of multiple ages and abilities showed up offering their services.  Everyone signed a permission release form and we started creating short videos of stories that we created by using a standard folk or children’s song as a base.

Oh yes…  I did create the music tracks for each song.  I had been studying with David Darling and Music for People for several years and had received the impetus to create the original versions with evocative tonalities and expressive sounds.  Imagine the carnival of the animals but on a smaller scale.  What does a gorilla say when he gets up in the morning?  “Ugh”, Ugh”, Ugh”, Ugh”, as he thumps his chest.  What child doesn’t want to walk like a gorilla or slither on the floor like a snake to the lilting tune in 6/8 time that asks what animals do in the morning when they get up?

The children committed.  They offered every ounce of talent and enthusiasm that they had. I was incredulous. After the first filming experience I realized that I was in over my head… then the phone rang and a woman – unknown to me – told me to call Hank Charnesky (a local videographer) and his lovely wife who served as his assistant. They graciously joined in the ongoing lunacy with the admission that they knew better than to agree to film animals or children…  but then they did.

One person brought all the left over pieces of material from their costume making business.  Others brought exactly the right costume pieces… a small coat that served well for the ringmaster, and a tall black hat.  Oh yes, and someone even brought in large flood lights to support the filming.  I am not lying when I tell you that I did not manage, order, or even imagine these items.  It just happened.

So what exactly is meant by the words: “Multi-Sensory Input ? These words mean that students of all abilities, multiple needs, ages, and distinctions benefit from activities that provide group participation in physical and expressive sounds and movements that provide opportunity for the senses to receive stimulation.

The easiest subject in which to include multi-sensory input is music.  Just by singing, patting, clapping, or walking to the beat, the experience of expressing sound, moving the body, feeling that body, and listening to the music provides opportunity for the senses to be more active.

Physiologists Calvert and Thesen state there has been a “growing shift of emphasis away from the study of the senses in isolation and towards an understanding of how the human brain coordinates the unique sensory impression provided by the different sensory streams…integrating inputs from multiple sensory sources disambiguates or removes the uncertainty of meaning from the discriminations of external stimuli and can speed up responsiveness.” Journal of Physiology, 2004- Paris 98, 191-205.

So, this explains it!  This is why our students have changed… they are accustomed to coordinating multiple sensory streams from multiple sensory sources and they are consequently bored to tears with other modes of input.

Hence, not only is this method preferred by students, they are so accustomed to such reception of information  on multiple levels that they truly need to have this kind of instruction!

There is now scientific evidence – based on brain scans and imaging that this kind of instruction actually has a perceivable impact on the brain and that all students realize a benefit from interactive and multi-sensory instruction.  Singing and moving while singing a song like “Hokey Pokey” is entertaining, but it is also an asset for learning!  As the song says: “That’s what it’s all about!”

Dr. Samuel T. Orton and educator and psychologist Anna Gillingham are credited with the identifying of this kind instruction of literacy and they are famous for developing positive modes of instruction for students with special needs. However, their examples of use have often been for one teacher presenting tactile or emotive presentation to one student at a time.  This is of course a huge challenge for teachers who manage large numbers of students at one time!

With the adaptation of this concept through the “multi-media platform” or video songs, the mode of sensory reception becomes available on many levels.  In addition, it provides reliable reference for future viewings so that those students who need absolute continuity in their activities (like autistic students) can be served.

As the students have the opportunity to receive information through movement, interactive play, and /or assuming the role of a specific character they are engaged in experiential learning opportunities.  Related lessons on reading, script writing, research, and musical expression can be adapted for multiple levels of perception, application, and expansion.

When students comprehend a task, such as pretending to be a high wire circus performer, imagination propels the challenge.  One eight year old boy told his mother that the high wire (in the Teddy Bear Circus video) was fifteen feet off the ground.  This young boy also overcame his previously held conviction that he could not sing because he discovered his voice in the very same pretend activity!

The “Teddy Bear Circus” is the most complete dramatic expression for groups to recreate.  It is also the most comprehensive and satisfying, as it can be expanded to include student interaction with their personal teddy bears (we provided one for each student) to develop responsibility and caring for themselves and others.

Students are encouraged to build miniature trapeze chairs for their bears as well as to design the circus ring and colorful backdrop.  Historical research on the history of Teddy Roosevelt and the first Teddy Bear, discussion about nature and wild animals, as well as the lifestyle of circus performers provide a rich abundance of enticing topics for student and practice.  Our fifth and sixth grade students were as enthused as the younger students by the numerous roles and opportunities for improvisation in the dramatization of this activity.

The famous psychologist, Jean Piaget (1896-1980) focused on child development more than learning specific behaviors.  He is credited with the concept of “Discovery Learning”, the idea that children learn best through doing and activity exploring!  Piaget also stated that there are many ways to measure growth and development and many reasons why well developed students don’t succeed on written tests. Again, as a society that wants reassurance that their schools are doing the job, this information is vitally important.  We can easily record our students as they practice and recreate the content provided in a video song multimedia tool for learning.  This manner of demonstration that the students are truly engaged and challenged is an additional reason to employ this form of active learning.

Teachers are invited to support the multi-sensory input that is so necessary for good learning.  However, teachers are not actors, singers, dancers, directors choreographers, and artists all rolled into one!  Teachers are in the classroom to guide the students as they participate in active decisions about what and how they want to learn.

The video songs in “The Blue Alligator Blues” serve as the models for the students in the classrooms.  The students in the videos are real students who learned these songs, stories, and games in just a few hours and they truly serve as realistic example of how typical young children can learn through this process.  It is perfectly ok to allow for unplanned humor when the actors show their inexperience!

This kind of multi-sensory platform is the pillar on which the teacher can build a truly interactive and integrative curriculum for healthy and enjoyable educational growth.

[God “looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good.”]

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