The Kinesthetic Classroom: Teaching and Learning through Movement has become a resource for using movement thoughtfully and purposefully in classrooms all over the world. I am both humbled and grateful for the opportunity to help create positive change in different learning environments and contexts. Though my work is far from complete, the path to this point has been both joyous and a great learning experience.
I proudly come from a family of teachers and coaches – my wife, sister, mother, father and three grandparents all chose the noble profession of education. That has had a profound influence on me and I always knew I would be teaching in some way and on some level. The many readers of The Kinesthetic Classroom or those who have experienced one of my professional development sessions or keynotes, probably do not know that I am a former band director who holds a master’s degree in music education. As a public school teacher in the American state of Pennsylvania, I was required to take graduate courses for licensure purposes. I did so through a company called the Regional Training Center. I was so taken with their vision for the classroom that I starting teaching RTC graduate courses, eventually leaving the classroom to work full-time with RTC. Fast forward a decade and I am now the company’s Director of Instruction.
I spent the first five years of my new life, with RTC, dedicated to the study of the brain and what implications the research had for the classroom. During the more than 40 times I instructed a graduate course on brain-based teaching and learning, I had participants doing brain breaks and learning concepts about the brain through the use of their bodies. It became very clear to me that movement and learning were not only engaging, they were deeply intertwined because of the brain/body connection.
I discovered that learning was not only from the neck up but from the toes up.
Reports of teachers using movement with great success back in their own classrooms started showing up on final projects. I was hooked. Enter Traci Lengel, one of the most dynamic graduate instructors in RTC’s cadre and a public school health and physical education teacher. We dug into the research and created the graduate course, The Kinesthetic Classroom: Teaching and Learning through Movement which has become one of the most popular in RTC’s history. We wanted teachers who had taken the course to have a useable resource for the classroom so several years later the book of the same name became a reality through Corwin. What was originally intended as a graduate course textbook has become a guidebook for using movement not only in classrooms internationally but in corporate settings as well. It has exceeded our wildest dreams.
Both the book and the professional development I provide is firmly based on critical cognitive learning principles such as the brain’s response to novelty and movement, its constant search for meaning, the power of emotion in learning and memory, and the need for both concrete experience and social interaction. Though this is just a partial list it was important to base our work on cognitive research. The most important thing we did was to create a useable framework for all teachers to provide flexibility and organization in their attempts to use movement in the classroom.
Movement, because of the brain/body connection, is critical to the teaching and learning process and the 6-Part Framework provides structure to the application. The levels include preparing the brain to learn, providing brain breaks, supporting exercise and fitness, creating class cohesion, reviewing content, and teaching new content. The book provides more than 170 activities for classroom use broken down by the levels in the framework.
The sum of the entire process gives educators a heavyweight method to not only enhance the teaching and learning process and raise academic achievement but improve student motivation. In fact, motivation may be the most desired benefit of creating a kinesthetic classroom. Not only does using movement thoughtfully and purposefully differentiate instruction through learning profile, it provides another sensory experience for retention (the brain stores information through sensory cues), provides more implicit learning opportunities through movement and emotion (the brain’s preferred way to learn), and meets student basic human needs (Note: Glasser’s list – survival – getting to standup; belonging – many movement activities are done in pairs or groups; power – differentiating instruction to reach more learners; freedom – the ability to move about the environment; and fun – the “fun” level rises exponentially when the 6-part framework is put into place).
Personally, as the Director of Instruction for the Regional Training Center I oversee the instructional side of the company’s graduate offerings. RTC partners with both Gratz College and The College of New Jersey to offer graduate courses and a full master’s degree in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland.
To write The Kinesthetic Classroom, Traci and I looked at much of the movement-based work in the teacher-action research from both of these programs. Though the action research project is currently optional in the Pennsylvania and Maryland Programs the inquiry and research process is a requirement for the New Jersey master’s degree and it continues to change teacher’s perspective on teaching and the lives of children in classrooms. I rarely teach graduate courses anymore, but do get to do professional development and deliver keynotes and conference presentations often, and that is my love.
What truly brings me joy is having a microphone attached to my head and leading a room or auditorium full of teachers, parents or corporate executives in a dynamic brain-break and hear the roar and laughter of the crowd knowing full well it represents change and motivation in classrooms and boardrooms in the coming days, weeks and months.