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The Role of Sight in Learning

Updated on July 31, 2012
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Any teacher can tell you the importance of the teacher-student relationship. You students need to trust you, respect you, feel safe in the environment you have created for them to learn in. Remove any of these components and you will directly affect what your students are able to learn while entrusted into your care.


There is lots written, printed and said about the trust and respect aspects of this important relationship, but how much time and energy do you place on creating the environment in which these students learn in. How much affect does "what the student sees" have in their learning process?


We will look at the role of sight in the learning process, and provide some examples for ways you can create an environment more conducive to learning

Sights Impact on the Learning Process

According to Brain-Based Learning: The New Paradigm of Teaching (Jensen, 2008) our brains register 36,000 visual messages per hour, with 80-90% of all information absorbed by our brains being visual, and 40% of all nerve fibers connected to the brain coming from the retina. The importance of understanding what our students see and how our students process what they see starts to come to light.


With so much going on visually in our brain we have to start to wonder how do our students know what to focus on? The brain has developed a coping mechanism that allows it to "shut-down" when it becomes overloaded with information. How do we make sure the information we need our students to process enters the brain before it reaches the "shut-down" stage, and once reached how do we re-engage our students?


There are some essential elements that allow our eyes to draw meaning from what they are seeing: contrast, tilt, curvature, line ends, color and size allow us to gain our students attention visually. Movement, contract and color changes will allow you to gain the attention of your students as their brains have been designed to focus on each of these elements because they can each signal potential danger. Thinking back to some of the first toys my daughter played with as a child I remembered that most were simple geometric patterns focusing on the essential elements listed above.

children start to recognize differences in shapes, curvature, lines, etc before they even consciously realize it
children start to recognize differences in shapes, curvature, lines, etc before they even consciously realize it | Source
but nothing compares to a pop of color
but nothing compares to a pop of color | Source
take time to see how color affects your students.
take time to see how color affects your students. | Source
colors can affect different students in different ways...some even on different days
colors can affect different students in different ways...some even on different days | Source

Color in the Environment

A recent study (Vuontela, Rama, Raninen, Aronen & Carlson 1999) measured the relative value of verbal cues versus color cues in learning and memory. It found that even when learners intentionally try to remember verbal cues, they still responded better in memory with color cues.


Think of all the ways color affects you in a given day. Do you have a specific place, or room that you go to when feeling stressed or depressed? What color is it? When we meet people, or describe people we generally use characteristics such as their skin color, eye color, hair color to do so. In trying to remember a new person, or look for someone in a crowd the color of their clothing is often a help.


We use color unconsciously so much in our every day is it any wonder how important it can be in the our students learning process? Think about your classroom, do you have bright colorful, engaging posters up to help students absorb new information. Do you vary the slides and colors on power point presentations? Do you utilize color when using handouts?


These very simply practices can suddenly piqued your students interests and allow you to have a captive audience for your lessons.

How Colors Affect Your

What color helps you relax and de-stress?

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Concrete Vivid Images

In todays computer dominated world it is tempting to believe that technology can provide our students with the best way to convey information. With an app for just about anything, it is tempting to believe that computers and technology are leading ways to convey information to our students. Fiske and Taylor (1984) dispel this notion instead stating that concrete vivid images are most influential.


Utilizing the brains most primitive abilities by using pictures, models, objects, bulletin board displays, charts etc as part of our presentations allow our students to better attain and retain the information we are trying to pass onto them. For even better results have your students be active participants in creating such items and change them up often.

Using posters is a great way to help students start their day off right.
Using posters is a great way to help students start their day off right. | Source
find posters that are colorful and encourage positive behavior
find posters that are colorful and encourage positive behavior | Source

The Impact of Peripherals

Who would have thought that when mom put our perfect paper up on the fridge she was actually promoting continued learning! Studies show that while our brains know how to prioritize and recognize what they need to provide primary focus on, they are constantly away of what is going on around them as well. Having posters with positive messages, high-quality student work, and other such stimuli around your classroom will encourage students in their learning process. Take time to think about what is up on your walls...and most importantly, make sure they aren't blank!

While getting better, many classrooms still utilize fluorescent lighting
While getting better, many classrooms still utilize fluorescent lighting | Source
Subjects such as math are better taught using a whiteboard instead of an overhead projector.
Subjects such as math are better taught using a whiteboard instead of an overhead projector. | Source
If only every room could be lit so well
If only every room could be lit so well | Source

Light in the Environment

The effects of fluorescent lights have come to light in the recent years. The flickering and barely noticeable hum of these lights affect the brain by raising cortisol levels (stress hormone) inadvertently causing the eyes to blink more rapidly.

Studied already in 1951 by Harmon, lighting showed to be a direct indicator in student health and learning. A more recent study by the Heschong Mahone Consulting Group in 2007 focused on 21,000 students from 3 districts in 3 states and found the following:

  • students with the most sunlight in their classroom progressed 20% faster on math tests and 26% faster on reading tests.
  • classrooms that face the east with no blinds and have to contend with the glare of the morning sun underperformed compared to students in classrooms facing north
  • In subjects that depend highly on visuals such as math, students performed better using a whiteboard rather than an overhead projector due to lighting.

Taking time to research the type of lighting available in your classroom will have a positive effect on your students. Work to provide a variety of types of lighting and allow students the ability to chose where they sit depending on which type of lighting works best for them.

Seasons Can Impact Learning

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) was first recorded in 1987 by the American Psychiatric Association. Brought on by decreased levels of sunlight during the winter months, SAD is seen in women more than men and can often resulting in depression and negatively affecting learning.


The further distance you are from the equator, the less likely you are to be affected by SAD. According to Liberman (1991) the best time for learning is when daylight hours are at there longest, June thru August for the Northern Hemisphere and December to February in the Southern Hemisphere, these are also the times most schools are out of session for holiday and summer vacations.


According to Liberman (1991) a small amount of artificial light, or sunlight therapy can alleviate the symptoms of SAD if the dosage of light is strong enough. Sessions range from 30 minutes to 4 hours a day and have shown a decrease of depression and anxiety symptoms in 85% of participants.


Recognizing the importance of sight in the process of learning allows teachers to develop lessons that encourage student engagement and promote retention of material learned.

Seasons bring about changes in the weather...and our students
Seasons bring about changes in the weather...and our students | Source
Anytime you can help students get more natural sunlight is good...you will see the difference in their learning
Anytime you can help students get more natural sunlight is good...you will see the difference in their learning | Source

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    • josh3418 profile image

      Joshua Zerbini 4 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Jeani,

      Very informative hub! I learned quite a bit of interesting things here for sure; the section on peripherals especially. Thanks for sharing Jeani!

    • Jeani Nugent profile image
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      Jeani Nugent 4 years ago from Cumberland, Wisconsin

      Thanks Josh...part of my Masters program for Education, figured I would try the forum out and see how it works for something like this.

    • CyberShelley profile image

      Shelley Watson 4 years ago

      Extremely interesting hub and beautifully presented. Thanks. Voted Up, interesting and useful.

    • Jeani Nugent profile image
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      Jeani Nugent 4 years ago from Cumberland, Wisconsin

      Thanks for comment...wasn't sure how it would turn out so glad people are enjoying it

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