By Michael Druffel and Kelly Lerash
Here’s a challenge: for the thirty minutes it takes to read this paper, step back from your desk. Stand up off the couch or away from the coffee table. Stretch out your legs. Lift your computer or tablet, and try to read this essay from beginning to end standing on your feet. If you’re a product of the typical American education system, this is likely going to be an unusual experience for you. Decades of institutional thinking have taught us that physical movement and knowledge acquisition are like fire and ice. Typically, schools assume that if your body is engaged, your mind is wandering. If your mind is active, your body should be anchored to your chair. We usually learn only with a handful of our body parts—such as our eyes and ears and occasionally our mouths, but almost never with our arms, legs, or torsos. But the standard educational model, of only teaching to the student’s eyes and ears, isn’t the only way to teach and learn, nor is it the most effective way for everyone. Engaging the whole body in the classroom can help students learn more than the traditional model allows. We believe that any classroom and any teacher can employ a few simple techniques to engage student’s bodies, and that will improve student’s understanding of academic concepts, create more interest in the lessons, and make the classroom more fun. Are you still standing?
Recently, we spent time in a middle-school math classroom in Harlem, New York. The classroom’s floor is linoleum tile—the kind you expect to see in a middle school, checkered like a chessboard and flecked with years of scuff marks. The walls are painted pastel purple and yellow, and dotted with with student artwork and motivational posters. Thin metal bars crosshatch the windows, which don’t open more than five inches. This is a stereotypical classroom recognizable to most who spent time in the American educational system. Yet despite the classroom’s standard appearance, the teaching and learning techniques were anything but standard. The two motivational teachers use a cutting-edge system simply by requiring students to use their bodies. The teachers used three movement-based techniques to create a learning atmosphere as sophisticated as a classroom which is equipped with DSR (clickers), as pioneered at the University of California, Berkeley. They 1) taught students to associate math vocabulary with simple hand motions; 2) conducted class polls by asking students to stand or to stomp their feet to show support for an answer choice; and 3) instituted a policy of snapping their own fingers or stomping their feet in a rhythm that students would echo back to maintain order and attention in the class.
During a seventh grade geometry class that we observed, these same teachers wanted students to learn how the cross-sections of geometric prisms relate to their base. To get to that conceptual standpoint, the teachers needed students to understand the concepts “horizontal,” “vertical,” “parallel,” and “perpendicular.” They tied the vocabulary words to hand gestures, creating an improvised sign language. Every time students said the word “horizontal,” they made a single horizontal chopping motion with their right arms. When they said the word “vertical,” they made a vertical chopping motion with their right arms. Similar motions accompanied the words “parallel” and “perpendicular.” At the beginning of the lesson, a few of the students mismatched hand gestures to words, but as the lesson progressed, they became more and more accurate. By engaging the students’ entire body, the teachers made every student into a teacher.
To explain how the base of prism related to its cross-section, the teachers used multiple choice questions combined with embodied response from the students. For example, the teachers would ask, “Is this cross section perpendicular or parallel to the base? If you think it’s perpendicular, stomp your feet twice, now. [They pause and listen.] If you think it’s parallel, stomp your feet twice, now. [They pause and listen.]” The teachers gave the students thirty seconds to find someone who disagreed with their answer choice—who had stomped for a different answer—and to try to convince the other person. Then they asked the question again, and the classes accuracy improved. Essentially, they had constructed an embodied clicker system with students able to see how others voted, contemplate the answers, debate, and rethink. This model of guessing and reflecting transformed a standard class into a Freirian class—all students using their bodies to join the conversation and co-teach the math lesson.1
To our surprise, the class never got out of hand with the stomping, standing, and debating. In fact, it was orderly from the time the 13 and 14 year-old students took their seats to the time the dismissal bell rang. The teachers maintained classroom order by having students snap their fingers to signal that it was time to regroup. When the thirty seconds to debate expired, the teachers called out, “Snap your fingers twice if you can hear me.” A third of the class snapped. “Snap your fingers if you can hear me.” Two thirds snapped. By the third time the teachers said this—in less than five seconds—the class had finished its discussion and quietly faced the teachers. With three embodied teaching strategies, the teachers created an active learning classroom that used all the students as teachers—teaching vocabulary, teaching math problems, and restoring quiet—through three basic movements.
Benefits in Any Learning Environment
For the remainder of this paper, we will explore the benefits of using an embodied style of learning and teaching not only in the K-12 classroom but in any learning situation, including in the college classroom, and even in advanced graduate study. We were pleased to be able to insert a movement break into every two-hour class session in our own graduate course, “American Literature, American Learning,” and even began writing these brief breaks into the class agenda. It allowed for natural breaks in thinking, focus in direction, mood, meta-cognition, and other pauses, and refreshers that enhanced the class. In this paper, we will focus on the research supporting the importance of movement in learning. We’ll focus on physical health, improved learning outcomes, and even ways that embodied learning helps combat racism and sexism in the classroom.
Kinesthetic learning (or embodied learning—we use the terms interchangeably) can be applied to any classroom from elementary school to college, and we believe it can benefit all types of students. We’ll try to offer some suggestions about how to implement different strategies in a classroom and offer solutions to potential problems. We think kinesthetic learning carries all the benefits of digital student response systems and more. It can be done anywhere with any kind of space. We hope we’ll be able to convince you too. Stomp twice if you can hear us.
There are a variety of self-reporting assessments that can assess the primary learning style of an individual. Researchers Griggs, Barney, Sederberg, Collins, Keith, and Iannacci (2009) conducted a study of 167 students in variety of disciplines around their learning styles and how it affected their classroom competencies and study habits (57). The researchers asked students to complete an online Multiple Intelligence assessment developed by Dr. Howard Gardner, which divided the student’s learning styles in eight categories: self, social, body movement, nature, musical, language, logic/math, spatial (57). The top three strengths for a majority of students were self, social, and body movement, which contradicts the typical college learning environment of lecture and note-taking that is predominantly used in the majority of college classes (57 and 60). This study suggests that for students to perform at their greatest abilities, the classroom atmosphere needs to be adapted to better suit their learning styles. The lack of interaction and movement in the current techniques used in the education of students is not compatible with the students’ strengths. VARK, another multiple intelligence questionnaire used to determine learning styles, categorizes learning as visual [V], aural [A], reading/writing [R], or kinesthetic [K].
In a study by Sinha et al (2013), "Learning Preferences of Clinical Students: A Study in a Malaysian Medical College," the majority of the 176 participants at Melaka-Manipal Medical College were multimodal, meaning that multiple learning disciplines applied to them, and kinesthetic was the highest preference in most categories (61). Additionally, in the mono-modal category, or one preferred learning style, kinesthetic learning was the strongest learning style (62). This information shifted professors lecture style from “teacher-centric” classrooms to “student-centric” classrooms, the latter meaning that learning was more focused around the students doing the heavy lifting of content instead of teachers lecturing (62). The study found a correlation in learning style accommodation and final grade, meaning if the teacher adapted the coursework to better accommodate the learning styles of the students in their classroom, course scores were higher (62). For students who are kinesthetic learners to be successful, they need more hands-on learning and movement to be incorporated into the classroom.
Obesity is a growing problem in the American school system, according to Benes et al: “43 million preschool children worldwide are estimated to be overweight or obese and 92 million are at risk for being overweight” (1). While high body mass index (BMI) contributes to such physical problems as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and some cancers, high BMI in children also correlates to poor academic performance and carries over into young children’s adult life (1). Why is obesity a growing problem? Many students are not getting enough physical activity (PA). PA reduces sedentary time, which is any time a person is not sleeping or participating in movement. Currently, many high school-age students are not participating in enough, if any, PA during the school week. Less than 30% of students are participating in the recommended PA levels and up to fourteen percent are not reporting moving at all (1). People who do not incorporate PA in their day put themselves at risk of potential health problems that are challenging to overcome if not addressed at a young age.
Movement should be integrated into the classroom to help combat some of these inactive tendencies and to benefit students’ health in their youth and into adulthood. According to Wester, Russ, Vazou, Goh, Erwin (2015), “Increases in PA are associated with improved health through reducing risk factors for chronic diseases, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease” (692). PA is also proven to improve muscular strength, bone strength, self-esteem, anxiety, and depression (ibid.). Furthermore, movement integration (MI) activities that reduce sedentary time in the classroom “positively influence body mass index, reduce weight in girls, increase health-related fitness, improve on-task behavior, enhance cognitive function, increase academic standardized test scores, increase enjoyment and positive affect, and increase perceived competence and effort in the classroom” (693). Children and adults are often not moving enough outside of the classroom, which can cause long-term negative effects on their health.
According to Morgan, Barnett, Cliff, Okely, Scott, Cohen, and Lubans (2013), people who do not develop their fundamental movement skills (FMS) at an early age could delay their motor abilities (2). FMS are developed and maintained through PA regularly throughout a person's development (ibid.). Studies have shown that if there is PA throughout many lessons per week, the person is more successful at maintaining FMS (12). Therefore, it is crucial for educators to incorporate some sort of movement into their lessons to ensure all students are developing their FMS. Speaking of FMS, be sure to stretch your knees while standing for such a long time!
Movement in the classroom is important in a variety of classroom types and settings, but it might be even more pertinent for schools and classrooms serving a low socioeconomic (SES) population. According to Mitchell, McLennan, Latimer, Graham, Gilmore, and Rush (2011), children from low SES homes perform at a lower decile in FMS (e232). Additionally, children from a low SES background perform lower than children from a higher SES background in locomotors skills (e233). If a school places mandatory interventions PA, there is improvement in motor abilities (e233). Therefore, it is critical for all to be moving in the classroom, but teachers need to be be aware of the students they are serving to ensure they are meeting all of their PA needs and addressing their learning needs. PA in the classroom can be used to better serve a variety of learning styles.
Improved Learning Outcomes
Another measure of multiple intelligence and learning styles in the classroom, both relevant to students' different ways of learning and processing information, is having individuals complete a learning styles inventory. Woeste and Barham performed a four-year study of learning styles of the students in their classroom “have been approximately 15 percent auditory, 40 percent visual, and 45 percent kinesthetic” (2007, 63). The majority of people in their classrooms considered themselves kinesthetic learners, or learners who learn better with physical activity. Woste noticed that by implementing new tactics based on their findings with two lab students, one who identified as a kinesthetic learner and the other who identified as a visual learner, and by moving lab discussions to the lab which allowed the kinesthetic learner to have a hands on approach to the topics they were discussing, that “this approach works so much better” (64). Further, when the students needed to present their research, Woeste and Barham had them roleplay the questions before hand, incorporating kinesthetic learning practices. When the students presented their work, the kinesthetic learner used a variety of movement and hand gestures which he had practiced; they helped him with his presentation and put him more at ease in delivering his findings (2007, 65). Woeste and Barham conclude, “The focus has shifted from concentrating on the constructs of intelligence and processing of information to an increased interest in the students’ active responses to the learning task in the learning environment” (65). This research demonstrates that when professors take the time to understand their students’ learning styles, the outcomes improve for both parties.
Turner, Narayan, Whicker, Bookman and McGann (2011) conducted another study using VARK to assess pediatric residents to better understand their learning preferences and to best use their prolonged hours in order to optimize their time (494). The study found that kinesthetic learning and interactive learning are by far the preferred learning styles for these pediatric residents they include “interactive learning, irrespective learning including simulation-based education, standardized patient interactions, interactive case-based discussions and hands-on patient encounters (494-495). This study concludes that if the curriculum is modified to best fit the needs of its learners, trainee education will be improved and a new educational paradigm will be created (495). In the study it appears that medical students overall learn better with hands-on methods and that they will better serve their patients if they are taught through hands-on learning and will have a better conceptualization of the processes they are executing when they have the opportunity to actually do them.
We know that people possess multiple intelligences. Teachers need to understand the learning styles and the multiple intelligences of the learners in their classrooms. Particularly at the undergraduate college level, students enter the classroom at different levels and competencies. To reach all students, the professor must be able to communicate with students who possess a variety of different types of intelligence (Woeste and Barham, 63). With general education classrooms housing more and more types of neurodiversity and with higher education classrooms including greater numbers of special education students, teachers must teach to the variety of learning styles in the classroom. But this is not just a special education issue. According to Cummings (2016), “Children and adults learn best when taught through their strongest learning modality or combination of modalities” (307). To best educate a person, it is ideal to teach in their primary learning style and follow up with their secondary preferred learning style (ibid.). Based on this, we believe that kinesthetic learning is one of the multiple intelligences teachers should use to reach students. Often, however, kinesthetic learning is not added into the curriculum, harming a large number of learners who could otherwise flourish if their learning preferences were met.
Another self-reported learning style assessment is the Learning Styles Profile, created by the National Association of Secondary Principals, which reports learning styles as auditory, visual, tactile/kinesthetic, analytical, and global. Rebecca Finley Snyder found that despite GPA, 81% of high school students she surveyed considered themselves kinesthetic learners, “they learn best by actually doing things in class, not just by listening and watching. They need to be actively involved in constructing their own knowledge about the subject they are learning” (18). She also found that male students, particularly, self-reported benefited from kinesthetic learning and working with others (18). The studies mentioned above demonstrate that high school students prefer to have hands on learning as opposed to lecture style learning. If there were more kinesthetic learning options for them, they would likely be performing better and enjoying their classroom experiences more. For example, when introducing a new concept in a history class, you can use a gallery walk: students can walk around the room to explore and learn about a variety of material via posters with pictures and written information. This not only gets them out of their seats, but it also gets them to physically engage with the material.
Yet despite the clear physical and educational benefits of kinesthetic learning, most classrooms do not embrace movement as a way to learn. Unintentionally or not, this leads to other problems besides a less effective classroom. The focus on a mind distanced from its body actually can perpetuate unfair structures of racial and gender inequality. Hui Niu Wilcox (2009) notes that in Western thinking, White males are the only people noted purely for their “brilliant objective minds” (106). Wilcox argues further that women and other minorities are thought not capable of understanding science on the same scale because they are too closely tied to their bodies (106). Only the White male is able to move in the classroom unmarked by his body. Because of this privilege, only the White male is seen as the ideal subject for non-embodied learning. His Cartesian duality makes him the only subject who can leave his body at the classroom door and flourish in a system that dismisses embodied forms of knowing.
Wilcox also asserts that “the key to dismantling such a system is to develop alternative models of knowledge production that challenge the interconnected dualism and hierarchies (mind/body, male/female, white/other), and that recognize the body’s capacity to know. The body is not just another thing or object to be controlled and studied. It is in and through our bodies that we experience the world and develop consciousness (106).” White male privilege is reinforced in the classroom by having students sit and listen as the primary means of absorbing information. This system needs to be transformed into bodily movement, she argues, to change the balance of power (106). Further, educators need to explicitly use embodied pedagogies in their classroom; embodied pedagogies can be dance music and theater performance (106). These activities will help women and other minorities who have felt oppressed in the classroom become a more powerful force, not only in the classroom but in other environments where they feel marginalized (107). Further, Wilcox contends that “a learning space that acknowledges students as bodily beings can become dynamic, invigorating, joyful, and even healing” (116).
Movement in the classroom is not only important to ensure that a variety of learning styles are being reached, but it also allows for classroom dynamics to be shifted in a way that allows other, previously educationally oppressed groups to be valued and celebrated in classrooms. To incorporate bodily movement in the classroom, it is not so much that educators must be comfortable with movement themselves, as it should be a shift in mindset for all. Even more importantly, educators should be taught how to make a moving classroom beneficial for all.
Implementing kinesthetic learning in the classroom can be daunting. It is scary to attempt unfamiliar teaching methods, especially when teachers and professors are given very little instruction in how to use them. Most educators don’t have a model for this style of instruction, particularly if they were not taught how to use movement in their own classrooms while in undergrad coursework. Yet we believe it is important to try and there are a variety of ways to incorporate movement integration (MI) and physical activity (PA) into the classroom. Getting students moving in the classroom is vital for their learning and helps combat potential medical issues, while at the same time increasing their learning retention. With a variety of learning styles and diversity in the classroom, it is important to adapt to the vast range of learners. With such a high number of self-identified kinesthetic learners, Woeste and Barham show us that it is appropriate and necessary to incorporate movement and activity into the classroom. The following are some strategies to improve any lesson—whether math or English, middle school or college—by including movement in the classroom: stretching breaks, stand up / sit down, four corners, music and movement, poetry, and a human timeline.
The most basic way to add movement to a classroom is to add a stretching break midway through class. Even a brief stretching break can expose students to more physical activity, stretching is a worthwhile use of class time. In fact, as Sumathi Reddy reported in the Wall Street Journal, experts recommend that for every half an hour of sitting, we should stretch for two minutes. Even this brief break, Reddy writes, is believed to lower the chance of chronic diseases caused by excessive sitting. Thus, a five-minute stretch break in an hour-long class is a healthy choice. Experience has also shown that students can only focus for so long, and a stretching break can help refocus attention. A skeptical teacher might dismiss this as a waste of time, but the time used to stretch can be made up if students are made awake and alert by the break. The added blood flow can also make students quicker and more eager to answer questions. This is especially true in long college classes.
Stand Up / Sit Down
“Stand up / sit down” is one of the easiest ways to use movement to enhance learning. Like the middle school teachers we observed, a teacher using “stand up / sit down” simply asks students a multiple choice question and instruct students to stand for the answer they like. After the students see which of their colleagues agree and disagree with their opinions, the teacher gives them a set amount of time to discuss the issue with one person near them. The teacher then has the class regroup and repeats the exercise to improve accuracy. As mentioned before, this exercise is effective because it cuts to the heart of Freire’s strategy of turning students as co-teachers. By making each student’s opinion embodied, students can learn from each other. They learn what their classmates believe and why they believe it. Besides the utility of this Freirian engagement, “stand up / sit down” can be used in any type of classroom. The activity is just as applicable in a college calculus class (“Stand up if you think the function is continuous; stay seated if you think it is not”) as it is in a high school literature class (“Stand up if you think Gatsby really loved Daisy; sit down if you don’t”). While some educators might think the multiple choice format stifles critical thinking, we disagree. We think that the fact that students get to debate and interact with each other directly, without the usual mediation of the teacher, actually encourages critical thinking. The teacher’s biases are not engaged in the discussion and all students get a chance to learn from their colleagues.
Again, some educators might be nervous to implement this strategy because they are afraid that they will lose the class’s focus. This is a valid concern, but careful planning will prevent or greatly minimize the risk of a class getting out of hand. If teachers employ the snapping or stomping strategy used in the example at the beginning of this chapter, they can more easily regain the class’s attention. The key is for the teacher to discuss the activity with the class, clearly stating that students will have a given amount of time to discuss the question, after which the teacher will snap or stomp. Using a timer or a stopwatch will make it easier for the teacher to maintain order. As the students discuss, the teacher pays attention to the timer, waiting to snap or stomp when time expires.
“Four corners” works like “stand up / sit down.” The teacher asks students a multiple choice question and instructs students to answer by moving to specific corners of the classroom corresponding to specific answers. One way to effectively use this strategy is to group the students using notecards. For example, a middle school biology teacher could teach animal classification by passing out cards to each student containing the name of one of four animals: horse, turtle, tuna, and sparrow. Each corner could be labeled “mammal,” “reptile,” “fish,” or “bird.” The teacher would then tell the students to move to the corner that matches their animal. If everyone is in the right place, all the cards will match. Like “stand up / sit down,” this could be used in any class. College English classes could match lines of poems to the proper meter (“if you have an iambic poem, go to the iambic corner”). Middle school math classes could match angle degrees to terms like “acute,” “obtuse,” or “right.” “Four corners” can also be used in any classroom, regardless of technological options. The key is that once all the students are in the proper corner, all their cards match up.
Music and Movement
Music and movement can be combined with literacy to create a dynamic classroom. Sara Winstead Fry and Georgia Newlin (2010) present their ideas in Using Music to Engage Children in Literacy and History by explaining how to use music and movement in history lessons to bring children’s understanding of their historic readings come to life (12). In a game called Freeze / Shapeshift / 360, Fry and Newlin suggest playing time/culturally appropriate music to set the tone while children are reading, then the teacher yells out a scene from the reading that they should begin to mimic, cuing “Freeze.” After calling “Shapeshift,” the teacher announces another scene that students should act out. Finally, the teacher can say “360” and students will spin around to see what others look like (12). For example, if students were reading about the Cuban Missile Crisis, the teacher could play Cuban music from the 1960s to set the time and place in students’ minds. Once students had commenced reading, the teacher could announce that students were to act as though they were part of the military blockade preventing any missiles from going into Cuba. After a minute or so, the teacher could announce 360, in which students could rotate their feet in a circle without changing their position, so others could see what their classmates were posed as. Next, the teacher would announce “Shapeshift! You are in a negotiation meeting between the United States and the Soviet Union;” the students would immediately begin shifting themselves to fit the scenario.
Another kinesthetic learning activity is called Tableau, introduced by Fry and Newlin (2010). This activity is very similar to Freeze / Shapeshift / 360, but students work in small groups to create the image they are acting out. Before the activity, students should talk about specifics, but during the activity the image the student create should be silent with a focus on facial expressions, physical body expressions, and a clear direction of where the audience is expected to look (12). These activities are effective because they encourage students with multiple learning styles and multiple intelligence styles to be successful in the classroom. They also work to reduce the amount of sedentary time, a shift that can have health benefits over extended periods of time. Hey, reader, Shapeshift! Are you getting any strange looks from other patrons of the coffee shop or from your roommates?
Kinesthetic learning is a very effective way to teach a difficult subject like poetic meter. In her article “Moving Poems: Kinesthetic Learning in the Literature Classroom” (2002), Virginia Zimmerman describes her lesson plans for teaching poetry to college students. She starts each lesson by collaborating with her students to create a movement for stressed and unstressed syllables. This could be steps and hops for unstressed syllables or kicks and punches for stressed ones: students can decide. The students then read the poem out loud, matching the movements they devised to the syllables in the poem.
As students become more comfortable, the teacher can add more restrictions, team activities, or competitions/races to challenge the class further. For example, a class could move to the quad or gymnasium and play Capture the Flag using the poetic movements the students devised: one side could only hop in iambs, the other could only skip in trochees. While a game like Capture the Flag might appear purely silly and not intellectually rigorous, we believe it is actually a very effective pedagogical tool. When students dodge and juke, they will inevitably break the metrical pattern. The teacher should call attention to these moments of chaos, pointing out (in a good-natured way) the students who cheated the metrical form. This could then lead to a discussion of how metrical poetry will break the form at points of emotional intensity. Having cheated the pattern themselves, students would then be more aware of when poets do it, and will be able to do powerful close readings based on insights gained from metrical chaos in an otherwise orderly poem. Alternatively, the assignment could be to create a dance that shows the meter while also showing the mood of the entire poem; this is more challenging, but also allows students to rise to the challenge of demonstrating their deep understanding of a poem. Thus, kinesthetic activity allows people to get out of their seats and move, but it is also a very clear visual for the instructor to see their understanding of meter. The immediate feedback can benefit both students and teacher and help ensure everyone is doing their best learning.
Interactive kinesthetic learning does not always require getting out of the classroom to go to a park or intricate planning by the instructor; it can be a simple activity like having students create a human timeline. History teachers can give notecards to students describing historical events and, as Wolfe describes in her article “Human Timeline: A Spatial-Kinesthetic Exercise in Biblical History” (2009), “ask the students to line up so that their cards are in chronological order, with the earliest events at the left and the latest at the right” (33). This lesson can be adapted, Wolfe continues, by having students space themselves according to how much time is between each events, having extras as chronological order placers, not allow speaking, or making them dance through the timeline (35). This type of activity can be translated into many different forms. It can be used in a literature class to depict changing literary periods, in an art class to visualize different artistic periods, or even in a biology or chemistry class, in which the cards could describe stages of a reaction. This activity gets people out of their seats without feeling intimidated. It is a low-level interaction that allows a large population to participate without the intimidation or fear of doing it wrong. Timelines can also be used as an icebreaker to get a group of people moving and getting to know each other. For example, a teacher could have students line up according to their birthdays. To make it more challenging, have them line up silently.
Working with Students with Physical Limitations
Obviously more demanding physical activities like Capture the Flag are not for all students. Some students have conditions that make engaging in complicated movement difficult or impossible. Recognizing the physical limitations of their students, some teachers could be tempted to abandon kinesthetic learning entirely. At the same time, exercise is for everybody, at whatever level of ability. Everyone needs movement and far too often, people with physical disabilities are deprived of situations where appropriate movement is enjoyable and beneficial. Of course, teachers should never force students to do something the students can’t do or find excessively uncomfortable. But just because some students have physical limitations, it doesn’t mean teachers have to throw out all attempts at embodied learning. If students have conditions that prevent them from running to play meter tag, for example, teachers can focus on simpler forms of embodied learning, like the idea of pairing new vocabulary terms with hand gestures. If students have a hard time stomping their feet as a sign to return focus to the teacher, teachers can instead employ a clapping or a finger-snapping sign. Because students with disabilities may lead less active lifestyles, it’s even more important that educators structure PA into the classroom. The Government of Hong Kong's Leisure and Cultural Services Department recommends a series of stretching motions through a variety of videos that target specific muscle groups. Educators can pick appropriate exercises from these videos for their students. Even though these exercises are created with people who have disablilities in mind, they benefit everyone in class. Still, teachers should always calibrate their lessons to their students, and this can include replacing difficult physical activities with less difficult ones.2
Just as educators can be apprehensive adding movement to their classes, so too might some students might feel apprehensive or embarrassed to move in class. This is understandable. For decades, our educational system has taught students to ignore their bodies while learning. Bodies are unfairly stigmatized. Naturally, students who have spent their lives in the American educational system might balk when their teachers encourage them to learn using their whole bodies. But apprehension is no reason to abandon the project. It might be scary to try kinesthetic learning at first. To solve this problem, a teacher must clearly explain that the class will try something new, but the teacher believes movement will help the students. If the project doesn’t work with a particular group of students, a teacher can abandon it. The important point is to get students to try it. If students try playing “stand up / sit down” and someone strenuously objects, a teacher can discontinue it. But teachers should try new strategies—especially strategies that have the benefits that kinesthetic learning does—and should not be afraid to gently force students out of their comfort zones.
The Teacher’s Comfort
It might not only be the students who are apprehensive to try a new activity. Teachers themselves might be nervous to experiment with a new method in a class. Yet teachers can also overcome their apprehension; all it takes is careful planning. If teachers are nervous about the timing of a lesson or about how to present the instructions to the students, they can role play with colleagues or discuss their ideas on an internet forum like HASTAC. By reaching out to other educators, teachers can build their confidence and work out kinks in lesson plans ahead of time, so that when it’s time to introduce kinesthetic lessons to the students, the lessons will run more smoothly. As long as teachers have spent ample time preparing the lessons, movement-based activities will likely run smoothly. Some teachers might object to the extra time it takes to prepare new lessons. However, we argue that the benefits to the students are worth it. And a well planned lesson requires less work in class. If a teacher has timed out how long an activity should take, they need not focus on those issues in class and can be more present for the students. If teachers are still nervous about trying a new strategy like embodied learning, we recommend using exit tickets in class, first introduced to us by Cathy Davidson. Using an exit ticket is this easy: at the end of class, teachers can pass out notecards for students on which students can offer feedback. This strategy will help teachers improve their movement-based lessons and boost confidence.
Learning and physical engagement work together. As we’ve shown, most people say that they learn best by moving. Adding movement into a lesson plan doesn’t have to be a burden. It can be as simple as having students stretch in class and asking them to stand up more. But this basic movement redistributes the teaching load in class. Able to learn from each other’s bodies—by standing or moving their arms to express answers—all students take up the task of teaching and reinforcing concepts. It makes learning easier and more fun. And as you’ve learned by standing and reading yourself, you can engage your body and mind at the same time. Snap once if you are convinced it is worth trying kinesthetic learning in your classroom, twice if you aren’t.
Benes, Sarah; Finn, Kevin E.; Sullivan, Eileen C.; and Yon, Zi. 2016. “Teachers' Perceptions of Using Movement in the Classroom.” The Physical Educator, 73(1): 110-135.
Cummings Persellin, Diane. 1992. “Responses to Rhythm Patterns When Presented to Children through Auditory, Visual, and Kinesthetic Modalities.” The National Association for Music Education, 40.4: 306-315.
Griggs, LeeAnne, Sally Barney, Janet Brown Sederberg, Elizabeth Collins, Susan Keith, Lisa Iannacci. 2009. “Varying Pedagogy to Address Students Multiple Intelligences” Human Agriculture: Journal of the Sociology of Self Knowledge, VII: 55-60.
Fry, Sara Winstead and Newlin, Georgia. “Using Music to Engage Children in Literacy and History.” Kodaly Envoy, (2010): 12-14.
Mitchell, Brooke, Stephanie McLennan, Kasha Latimer, David Graham, Janine Gilmore & Elaine Rush. 2011. “Improvement of Fundamental Movement Skills Through Support and Mentorship of Classroom Teachers." Obesity Research & Clinical Practice: e230-e234.
Morgan, Philip, Lisa Barnett, Dylan Cliff, Anthony Okely, Kristen Cohen, and David Lubans. 2013. “Fundamental Movement Skill Interventions in Youth: A systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Pediatric. 132. 5: 1-20.
Reddy, Sumathi. 2015. “The Price We Pay for Sitting Too Much,” The Wall Street Journal. 28 Sept.
Sinha, N., Bhardwaj, A., Singh, S., & Abas, A. 2013. "Learning Preferences of Clinical Students: A Study in a Malaysian Medical College." International Journal of Medicine & Public Health, 3(1): 60-63.
Snyder, Rebecca Finley. 1999. “The Relationship Between Learning Styles/ Multiple Intelligences and Academic Achievement of High School Students.” High School Journal, 83(2), 11.
Turner, David, Aditee Narayan, Shari Whicker, Jack Bookman, & Kathleen McGann. 2011. “Do Pediatric Residents Prefer Interactive Learning? Educational Challenges in the Duty Hours Era." Medical Teacher: 494-496.
Webster, C.A., L. Russ, S. Vazou, T.L. Goh, and H. Erwin. 2015. “Integrating Movement in Academic Classrooms: Understanding, Applying and Advancing the Knowledge Base." World Obesity: 691-701.
Wolfe, Lisa. 2009. “Human Timeline: A Spatial-Kinesthetic Exercise in Biblical History.” Teaching Theology and Religion, 12.4: 366-370.
Woeste, Lori and Beverly Barham. 2007. “Undergraduate Student Researchers, Preferred Learning Styles, and Basic Science Research: A Winning Combination." The Clearning House, 81.2: 63-66.
Zimmerman, Virginia. 2002. “Moving Poems: Kinesthetic Learning in the Literature Classroom,” Pedagogy, 2.2: 409-412.
While the teachers mostly asked students to stomp their feet, occasionally they would ask students to express their answer choice by standing up or sitting down. Whether standing or stomping, the important thing is that teachers used the students’ bodies to express their answers. The visual power of the moving body turned every student into an example for his/her fellows, allowing each student to learn how his/her colleagues felt and turning the class into a Freirian group of co-teachers.
For further information about making kinesthetic learning suitable for students with disabilities, see http://www.lcsd.gov.hk/en/healthy/fitness/persons.html http://www.nchpad.org/14/73/Exercise~Guidelines~for~People~with~Disabilities http://www.rehab.research.va.gov/jour/99/36/2/cooper.pdf