Visible & Tangible Learning

img_20170212_175430A subtle way to learn

The Silent Way material is made in such a way that it facilitates visible and tangible situations. If used well, those props aim at creating mental imaging. Without the Silent Way material, one can also create such situations, for instance by miming or using gestures.

As Caleb Gattegno used to say: “Living a life is changing time into experience”. Young and Messum explain that when “I am present to what I do and this is contributing to my experience, it can be retained”. We differentiate the concept of “memory” and “retention” to observe how things are learnt. In addition, the contribution of “sleep” to learning is another important point to consider.
Caleb Gattegno described that memories can be retained without any conscious attempt or effort. He also described two aspects of retention namely recognition and evocation. I can recognise something I have seen before and I can recall something using mental imaging. Now memorisation, for him, is different as it involves an arbitrary information such as a person’s name. Memorising is prone to forgetting. Therefore the difference is important between the two processes: retention is an attribute of the mind, it’s natural and is the true source of memory whereas memorisation is a forced device to obtain retention in the case of arbitrary associations. (Young & Messum, 2011 : 161). Learning is based on retention.
It’s crucial to be aware of this difference to be able to prepare relevant learning engagements that trigger learning rather than promote drilling and rote memorisation.
This slides further explain the teaching implications of visible and tangible learning:

Connecting to the ‘tinkering mindset’

Nowadays, we have a comeback of “STEAM” subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) and many schools have “makerspaces” which are workshops where students can practice carpentry and other craft, computer science and engineering skills.

I think that the point is not to have a top-notch makerspace with expensive robots but to focus on what it means to develop a “tinkering mindset”. During his time, Gattegno was an innovator and a person who refused to deny the world around him. For example, he embraced technology by producing many TV programmes to teach reading. He was mind-blown by how technology and computing could be valuable resources to help accelerate learning and to make learning more accessible. Beyond everything, he was a tinkerer, a person who created by design, by testing and observing, iterating and improving and by sharing to make his findings available to others.

As an EdTech Coach, I am a firm believer that we cannot avoid the role of technology in education. While a lot of the time, technology is portrayed as a problem for learning in the  classroom but if you dig deep, the problem is never the technology, it’s the pedagogy. We need to look at what a user of technology CAN do to make teaching or learning more meaningful. I continue to follow the Silent Way approach, the subordination of teaching to learning when I integrate technology into the classroom. Here are some authentic examples of students’ work:

  • Using Minecraft to build worlds and learn vocabulary
  • Scanning QR codes during a scavenger hunt to solve clues
  • Video making to showcase learning: French prosody, 3 tense climates
  • Voice typing in a Googledoc to practice pronunciation independently
  • Viewing GIFs created by the teacher to practice sounds
  • Creating stories, sharing through Storyboard, Google Tour Builder, …
  • Using chat or a back channel to communicate in class (Socrative, TodaysMeet)
  • Using Flipgrid to reflect on their learning regularly
  • Reading online
  • Sketchnoting and drawing
  • Creating quizzes on GoogleForm or EdPuzzle instead of answering them
  • Understanding how Google Translate works instead of banning it
  • ….

My expectations remain the same when it comes to teaching French online or offline: am I subordinating teaching to learning? Are students creating? Are they receiving feedback to learn from their errors?


Young, R. & Messum, P. (2011) How We Learn and How We Should be Taught, Duo Flumina, London. pp 204.