Most of us who have been in education for sometime have more than likely heard this phrase: “The mind can only absorb what the seat can endure.”
While this statement is a bit of an oversimplification of a complex topic, there has been a lot of brain-research* done that links physical movement to increasing engagement and academic performance. I don’t want to spend much time dwelling in the research or theory, but if you are interested in accessing the research, I have listed a few names you may want to begin with below.
[*For information on Brain Research and it’s connection with instruction consider work of Eric Jensen, David Sousa, Laurie Materna.]
Despite substantial evidence that movement is effective with helping students learn, we often expect students to be at their best while sitting still the majority of the day. This is not an attack on any current practices, or a call to have students move around just for the sake of moving. This is a challenge to empathize with students who spend the majority of an 8-hour day sitting. How can we adjust many of the practices we currently use to add a little movement?
This weeks Just Try-It Tuesday Challenge: This week challenge yourselves to get your students up and moving at least once per hour. Use any of the tips below, or create your own activity then reflect on the results.
While there are many ways to add movement in the classroom, I am going to focus on two general categories:
Move to Discuss: Small group and whole-class discussions occur in just about every classroom every day. With small adjustments, we can add movement to these discussions to engage and energize students.
Move to Review: Checking for understanding is a common best practice in most classrooms. There are many ways to assess students progress on a learning target. This category focuses on kinesthetic learning activities that require students to practice a skill or deepen understanding of content.
Move to Discuss
Having kids move to discuss is a simple way of incorporating movement into the classroom. Having students move around to discuss answers to interesting questions is a great way to engage and energize a class. There are many variations and structures to achieve this, but the bottom line is to have students stand up,move somewhere, and discuss content.
This can be done in any stage of a lesson to preview content and generate interest, to allow students to process content through out a lecture, or to have students reflect on what they have learned at the end of a lesson.
Variations: Line-ups, inner circle outer circle, Stir the Class, Partner appointments…
Line-ups/ Inner Circle Outer Circle: These structures involve students pairing off in either two parallel lines facing each other or in two circles (one inside the other) facing each other and rotating at different intervals.
Stir the Class/Appointments: These just involve students roaming the room and finding partners they are not sitting by. Stir the class is more random, while appointments involve finding a per-determined partner (probably best for classes that need more structure).
Many teachers ask great discussion questions during class. The problem is a lot of the time those questions are typically only answered by students who volunteer the answer or, even worse, answered by the teacher after an awkward silence. Asking students to stand up and move to discuss is not only a good alternative to the typical classroom – it provides a great setting where you can observe what students really do and don’t know.
A teacher’s role in this activity shifts from being the provider of information to the provider of feedback. Here teachers can roam and offer precise feedback on the behaviors of students and/or the quality of response. While students’ role changes from simply receiving information to a more active role where they are held accountable to do something with the content.
Move To Review:
This is similar to the above but involves factual content rather than open-ended discussion questions. These variations should work well when you want students to receive multiple exposures to knowledge they have been taught or receive more repetitions of a skill they should already be able to perform.
Variations: “Who can do it -Grid”, Sorting or categorizing, Role Play/ Dramatizations…
Who can do it Grid: This involves creating a grid with questions and/or tasks. Students wander around the room and find “peer experts” to help with each task. Only the owner of the template can write on the paper – this ensures that each student is required to process each task.
Sorting and Categorizing: Students stand up around a work-space and work together to create a poster or use manipulatives to sort content into appropriate categories. (types of fig. language, main topics and supporting details, topic sentences and supporting details, main topics and examples…) To monitor learning ask students to explain their rationale for their sorts.
Role Play or Dramatizations: One way to incorporate movement into quick formative assessments is to have students develop short skits, role -plays, or tableau vivants to demonstrate understanding. This not only to helps break up the monotony of traditional paper pencil tasks, but also provides students a unique way to show their learning – but is a way for students to use creativity to explain their understanding of complex topics.
When considering these activities, each could be achieved more quickly with a simple worksheet or paper/pencil quiz. At times ,I would even argue that worksheets/quizzes would be appropriate. Moving to review is about giving students different ways, often more rigorous, to provide evidence of learning.
You can ask students to complete a simple matching or fill in the blank vocab quiz, or you can ask them to create a poster in which they sort vocab words into appropriate categories providing a rationale. Both have merit, but replacing paper-pencil activities by adding movement the latter removes the ceiling for students and provides an opportunity for them to do some critical thinking.
- Prepare high level, open-ended discussion prompts or tasks ahead of time.
- Avoid literal or factual questions when your goal is to promote discussion.
- Avoid open ended abstract questions when your goal is to check for understanding of factual knowledge or practicing a basic skill.
- Make sure students are aware of the topic and process they will use to discuss (more on clear directions here).
- Make sure students understand when to start and stop an activity (using timers and attention signals helps with this).
- Incorporate a method that will hold each student individually accountable for what was discussed (follow up questions, written reflection, …)
- Teach, model, practice social skills required to effectively work in groups.
- Avoid typical group work by adhering to Cooperative Learning Principles.
- Follow these activities with short, whole- class debriefing sessions to identify misconceptions and build shared understandings.
If you are looking for a way to increase engagement, rigor, and energy in your class, tweaking your lessons to include a little movement might just to the trick. You can add movement in your class to allow students to discuss important content with their peers. Or you can replace traditional worksheets/quizzes with activities that give students other avenues to provide evidence of learning. Just Try-It!