Molly McCloskey

Best Questions: Integrating Movement

Despite the rumors, school improvement is hard. It's not about a single passionate leader. It's not about "fixing" teachers and teaching or parents and parenting. It's not about poverty. It's not about money. And it's not about standards. It's about all of them. And more.

In this column, I'll take on the real deal of school improvement—for all schools, not just certain kinds. And for all kids. Because it's not about quick fixes or checking off the instant strategy of the moment. It's about saying, "Yes, and...", not "Yes, but..." no matter what our circumstances are. It's about asking ourselves the best questions.

When I first started writing this column, I suggested to you that there is a set of questions that can be applied across each of the whole child tenets to guide actions in schools. For the healthy tenet, for instance, they look like this:

  • Are our kids healthy?
  • How do we know?
  • What have we done to make it so?
  • What have we taught them to keep it so?

They really are pretty simple, but as we say each month, the answers necessitate deep reflection on the way we learn, teach, and lead.

This month's topic is one of those challenging reflection issues because it's one of those things that all teachers know but that few really do. I think most teachers would say that kids are healthy in their classrooms. (Note: I'm not talking about illness or environmental factors, but about whether the classroom experience is healthy). But when we dig a little deeper, we realize that is not necessarily the case at all.

For instance, we know sitting still is hard. We know even as adults that we make up reasons to walk away from our desks or step out from a meeting just because we need to move. We know that we pace when we are trying to solve a problem, rock when we speak in front of crowd, and struggle to keep from tapping our own pens while a speaker drones on.

How much harder is it for the kids we serve who, for a variety of developmental reasons from attention span to large muscle growth spurts, literally are incapable of sitting still for extended periods of time? Have you ever watched a 6-year-old try to make it through an hour-long assembly? Or seen a 10th grade football player squeezed into a desk built for someone who weighs 120 pounds try to survive a 90-minute class lecture? The fact is that although these students may make it to the end, their physical discomfort and need to move prevents them from focusing and limits the learning that actually takes place.

We know this. But we torture them anyway. Unless, of course, we're really good. Because the best teachers understand that physical activity must be integrated into the learning experience, not just left for P.E. class or recess or after-school sports. (The fact that even these are under attack is the subject of another column! Good grief!) The best teachers deliver lesson plans that move kids from their seats to standing, to working with a group, to sitting on the floor, and to any number of other actions. They know that a great way to do a think-pair-share is to play music and have kids dance through the class before finding their partners. They know that kids can learn from a kneeling position (as long as it's safe) as well as they can from sitting in a chair with their feet on the ground and that it's the learning that is important. They know that adolescents will cluster around computer screens and white boards to work together without ever sitting down. They know that a five-minute stretch break (dare I say "let's dance" break?), gains back more in high-quality instruction time than pushing through ever could.

What can you do today to integrate more movement into your class?

Comments (1)

Ruth Beauchamp

November 23, 2011

This is so important!  After 10 years of teaching teachers and during 1000s of classroom observations watching children suffering in their seats and teacher’s frustrated with students struggling to sit still, I researched what was out there to incorporate movement in the classroom.  I did not like what I found.  As a former P.E., health and life skills teacher, I synthesized all that I know about movement and learning and classroom management and did something about it.  Last December, I launched recessitate.  Now it is in over 1000 classes and homes around the globe.  Please take a look. I would love your feedback.

Teachers….your students need to move.  They need to talk to each other.  Create those moments in YOUR classroom or your students will for you when it is not convenient for you.  Don’t make them wrong for that.  You are the conductor of the classroom.  Make it a beautiful, joyful place to learn.  Wishing each of you a very joyful holiday season and school year!

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