Steve Briggs, a previous Principal of Beaumont College, Lancaster was an inspiration to many, including myself. I listened to him talk about creating “a rich density of non-contingent reinforcement”. I just agreed and thought what a great idea… but inevitably thought, what is he on about? Of course, what he was seeking was perfection in ‘environmental communication’; a world that would give learners sensory feedback and clues to enable them to know where they are going, where they are at any point on a journey; when they have arrived at their destination and what is going to happen when they get there. This, of course, applies to a ‘learning journey’ as well.
Communication is the most important skill a practitioner in a centre or school needs. However, this has to be continually backed up by the environment. How does the space tell the children where they are going and when they have arrived? Simply walk down your corridor with your eyes closed and feel, not with your hands, but with all the other sensory skills you have. You have sensory memory, vision, hearing, touch, smell, vestibular and proprioceptive skills. Where are the sensory clues if you do not know where to find them? The idea of ‘non-contingent’ should mean that you don’t have to find the sensory clues – they are just there.
So, where are the sensory clues in your centre or school? Are they there?
Yes, they are, but in some classrooms, there are too many. But wait… this does not mean that you are suddenly going to be ripping down all the wall displays! No, it’s about creating clear spaces in classrooms to give learners a break from the visual clutter around them. Sensory clues do need to be subtle, because just like a sensory room, this information needs to be “increased for some, decreased for others, in isolation for some and in combination for others.” (Paul Pagliano 2012)
Some spaces need to be a blank canvas waiting to be enhanced with meaningful light, sound and touch, giving clarity to learners on both their learning journeys and when travelling around the school.