A recent research program undertaken at Yale University has shown that when pupils and students are given the opportunity to learn in a new environment both the speed of learning and the level of retention accelerate rapidly.
This occurs even if the location that the pupils or students are learning in is not especially related to the subject that they are studying – it is simply the fact that they have gone somewhere new.
An informal study in England followed this up with a small number of dyslexic children who were given a spelling activity which involved working through flash cards at home with their parents.
By way of experiment, the parents were asked to take the child to an unfamiliar environment each day and spend 10 – 15 minutes working through the exercises on the cards.
All the parents in the study reported that they found an improvement in the child’s learning and retention.
This, of course, was not a scientific study in the sense that the Yale study was, but nevertheless the experiment gave a new impetus to the child’s work with his/her reading and spelling cards, and parents reported that after the informal experiment they were continuing to use this method of going somewhere different to practise spellings.
Such an experiment is difficult to replicate at school, although in some schools a small group of dyscalculic and dyslexic pupils or students are being taken out to a new location from time to time with a specific set of spellings or a maths table to learn.
Again, this is an informal experiment but teachers are reporting that, as the Yale study predicts, learning is accelerated and retained for longer than might otherwise be expected. What’s more, not only does learning increase at an unexpectedly high rate but so does the self-esteem of the pupils or students.
This has led to several schools leasing or sharing an extra minibus so that their SEN students can learn in a different environment more often. There is more information on using learning outside as a way of stimulating learning in this article and there is more about the leasing of minibuses at www.minibusleasing.co.uk/minibus-services.php.