The Movement Continuum
This month's theme is about integrating movement across the school day. It's a theme that aims to look at not only why physical activity should be incorporated into and across the school day, but also how it can be.
Regarding the why, the research is pretty solid. There are cognitive benefits associated with physical activity, including improved memory, concentration, attention, and academic performance. All of these (and other) benefits were succinctly summarized by Charles Basch back in May 2010 with his publication Healthier Students Are Better Learners: A Missing Link in School Reforms to Close the Achievement Gap.
Yet there are also other benefits beyond the cognitive that influence what goes on in the classroom and across the school, including reduction in aggression (Basch, 2010; Bowes, et al, 2009), improved connectedness (Bond et al., 2007) decrease in depression (Roshanaei-Moghaddam et al, 2009) and—dare we even have to say it—improved health. Yes, there is evidence to show that participation in physical activity can improve your health (Basch, 2010).
However, the second part of the month's theme is a little more nuanced: how schools incorporate physical activity across their day. Schools fall somewhere along a "movement continuum." On one end, this continuum has schools that don't believe that physical activity (PA) has any major or beneficial role to play in schools, and also includes schools that see its only purpose as providing a break from classwork.
As we move further along the continuum, we see schools that understand the benefits of physical activity but vary in how they implement or incorporate it. Many schools nowadays have looked to incorporate activity breaks into their classes. To give students (and staff) a time to re-energize and refocus themselves before getting back to work. These may be five-minute games, stretches, or movement periods. Whatever they are called or however they are done, these breaks from typical classroom activity are beneficial to the learning process. Whole child partner organization the National Association of Sport and Physical Education has a selection of links to activity breaks that show how physical activity can be incorporated into and across the school day.
But can we move further along this continuum?
At the far end of the movement continuum, we have schools that include movement into the way they teach and the way the kids learn. Whether we are predominantly linguistically intelligent or logical-mathematically intelligent, we all, to some degree, are bodily kinesthetically intelligent (Gardner's Multiple Intelligences). And many kids are predominantly kinesthetic learners—that is they learn by doing, by being active in what they are learning.
These schools don't just use movement to provide a break from learning, they use movement for learning and plan it into lessons and activities accordingly.
So how can schools incorporate physical activity into a range of lessons?
Thomas Armstrong in his chapter "Teaching Strategies for Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence" in Keeping the Whole Child Healthy and Safe: Reflections on Best Practices in Learning, Teaching, and Leadership suggests that activities that incorporate physical interaction, physical stimulus, and robust body activities are the best pathways to help children learn.
Examples of how to teach various topics to children with bodily kinesthetic intelligence:
- To teach addition and subtraction, give them multiple boxes and a set of balls. Make them move the balls around in the boxes, to illustrate addition and subtraction.
- To teach them dimensions (length, width, area, volumes), teach them hand gestures that signify what they are. For example, an area of a triangle (1/2 width x height) has 3 hand gestures—for 1/2, use one hand sideways to cut the other hand's palm in half, for width, put your palms together and move them apart horizontally, for height, put your hands together one on top of the other and move them apart vertically.
- Have your child do a role play about science concepts—for example, evolution from prehistoric animals to apes to humans, or a butterfly's lifecycle from caterpillar to cocoon to butterfly.
- Have your child learn about atoms, electrons, protons, and more by drawing an atom, the nucleus, and a nucleus's orbits on the floor. Let your child move around on it to learn the role of all of the particles.
Susan Gris in "Creative Movement: A Language for Learning" (Educational Leadership, Vol.51 Iss.5) explains how
Movement improvisation offers an alternative avenue to understanding for many students, especially those who learn well in a bodily-kinesthetic mode.
And discusses how dance can be incorporated into lessons to reinforce learning:
[C]hildren can explore geometric shapes by stretching their bodies and long pieces of elastic and discovering the relationship of one shape to another. To help with fractions, children can make complicated rhythm charts that govern the timing of their dancing—for example, eight runs take the same time as four skips or two body swings, or one circle ending in a pivot turn. By linking different combinations of these movements, children can practice adding mixed fractions.
However it is achieved, promoting, providing, and incorporating physical activity across the school day has benefits greater than just improving health. It improves cognition, memory, attention, behavior, and when embedded into lessons, improves learning and understanding.
As stated by ASCD author Eric Jensen in the chapter on movement and learning in his book Teaching with the Brain in Mind (2nd ed.),
It's truly astonishing that the dominant model for formal learning is still "sit and git." It's not just astonishing; it's embarrassing. Why do we persist when the evidence that lecture alone does not cut it is so strong (Dolcourt, 2000; Slavin, 1994)?