I first became interested in multi-modality education in the 1960s while teaching at the Malabar School in East Los Angeles. I quickly realized that, for my third grade students for whom English was a second language, movement and the senses provided a universal language, a communication that crossed cultural and social differences, as well as differences in abilities.
In the 1970s I was introduced to Montessori education, and my experience of Montessori learning has continued to be one of the most influential elements of my work. Dr. Maria Montessori recognized that children have an innate intelligence, as well as specific needs at each stage of their development. She saw that they are natural learners, becoming bored when the learning doesn’t address their developmental needs or, worse, when they’re robbed of the joy of self-discovery.
I sought to find a way that, by including short breaks for some easy-to-do activities, such child-honoring, intrinsically rewarding experiences could be called upon in the traditional classroom setting. The way that I found to do this, a methodology on which I base my Edu-K workshops, can be simplified into a few key intentions:
1. Connect with learners’ needs and gifts of the moment, as they can best express them.
Goal setting, with a few minutes of people sharing needs and values within a group, boosts the motivation for everyone (even if not everyone shares). The teacher might engage directly with a learner to support his individual goal, or might connect with him within the larger group; in either case, I find that incentive, learning, and creativity are commensurate with such self-expression.
2. Teach learners to notice their own stress and sensorimotor experience as the measurement of their needs and learning; offer simple activities (such as the Brain Gym® 26) that learners can choose from as they feel so called.
Learners, whether individually or in groups, can quickly discover how to self-monitor their levels of tension and physical, emotional, and sensory ease and address their challenges of the moment, by either sitting, standing up by their desk, or stepping over to a workstation to do an activity. For example, they can notice when they feel stressed and then use an activity like the Cross Crawl to relax whole-body tension, Lazy 8s to relax their eyes, or Hook-ups to quiet or clarify thoughts or feelings. As learners become self-calming and able to cultivate appropriate social behavior, they’re not disruptive when moving about freely in a classroom.
3. Allow for group discussion, cooperation, and interaction to anchor new learning and support learners in transferring the learning to new areas.
When talking, conferring, and discussion is encouraged, learning shifts from competition to playful collaboration: the emphasis goes from comparing, shaming, flattering, belittling or praising, based on a hierarchy of skills, to collaboration with an emphasis on unique interests, contributions, doing one’s personal best, and collective celebration of both group and individual wins. It shifts from external rewards and punishments to the resolving of conflicts through peaceful and independent means; children often begin mentoring and supporting one another.
4. Support learners in achieving a level of self-teaching and having the freedom to choose their own projects. Over time, they can reclaim the ability to initiate their own behavior, just as they once did in infancy and early childhood. Self-organization can extend to caring about the classroom environment.
Learning is a search for structure; discontinuity is a search for growth. People feel empowered by a sense of structure, order, and routine. Once they experience the joy of monitoring their own learning at a base level, they naturally want to challenge themselves at new levels. There’s less need for busy work, distractions, or entertainment, less need for worksheets, star charts, progress charts, or work and job lists. There is then more space for the teacher to nurture the learner’s abilities, and less need to increase the workload. Learners naturally want to help maintain such a space of ease and safety. When they can move with less strain and tension, they become more interested in helping out. As the joy and ease of the learner-centered classroom takes precedence, everyone naturally participates in maintaining their own elements of the ordered learning environment, and there’s less need for the teacher to require and uphold social order.
I find that by adding these few elements, a classroom environment can expand from one of passive students who think school is only about rote learning—about taking in and mechanically reproducing information—to one of active, hands-on participants whose school experience is about seeking ways to explore and innovate.
In my role as the teacher, I can then put my attention on how to best interact with each person to draw out their gifts. I can more readily be kind, patient, and heart-based by understanding teaching and learning as a collaborative venture.
These guidelines of effective classroom management are included in Edu-K’s Five Principles and Five Steps, as described in the basic course manual Brain Gym® 101: Balance for Daily Life.
Note: During the last century, educational theorists John Dewey, Lev Vygotsky, Jean Piaget, Jerome Bruner, Maria Montessori, and others have reported on the benefits of experiential, hands-on, student-centered (as distinct from subject-centered) education. Psychologist Carl Rogers, in his many books, including Freedom to Learn, described the value of this approach in the classroom. More recently, educators Howard Gardner and Thomas Armstrong have written about the need young learners have for learning through everyday life experiences.
To discover more about Paul’s approach to teaching, see Brain Gym® and Me: Reclaiming the Pleasure of Learning, by Paul E. Dennison, © 2006.
© 2013 by Paul Dennison. All rights reserved.
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