Reading Is the “Hearing” of Written-Down Language

In our Brain Gym® work with early reading, we like to say that reading is the “hearing” of written-down language. Similarly, William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well (2015), points out that “Writing is thinking on paper.” Based on my 45 years as a reading specialist and movement educator, I agree, and would add that writing and reading go hand in hand. The more comfortable children are with writing (and thus with thinking and expressing themselves), the better readers and learners they’ll become.

Writing and storytelling develop thinking skills and guide children to a love of reading.

Writing and storytelling develop thinking skills and guide children to a love of reading.

Early in my teaching experience, I realized that a big part of what makes us human is the desire to tell stories and otherwise express our experiences. Language is something not to take apart, but to put together—something by which we create connections with others.

This is why, in working with thousands of youngsters of varying abilities, I’ve never sat next to a child and listened to her decode symbols or sound out words as a reading process.  For me, teaching children to passively analyze words and symbols rather than actively hear and think about the meanings they represent would be making the code more important than the language it signifies.

I first discovered this in the 1970s during my doctoral studies, when I was introduced to the work of Russell G. Stauffer, a professor of education at the University of Delaware. Stauffer cogently pointed out in his book The Language-Experience Approach to the Teaching of Reading: “Creative writing may be defined as a composition that reflects a child’s own choice of words, ideas, order, spelling, and punctuation.”

Children can learn to "think on paper" by illustrating and talking about their experiences, and by reading their own made-up stories that a grownup has written down for them, or that they write down for themselves.

Children can learn to “think on paper” by illustrating and talking about their experiences, and by reading their own made-up stories that a grownup has written down for them, or that they write down for themselves.

For many years, at my learning centers, younger children would be busy making books—drawing pictures and then dictating autobiographical stories that I would write down for them. Sometimes they would listen, to books or to other descriptive literature and poetry, as I read aloud. The older children (eight and up) might be mastering cursive script while writing down, for themselves, their favorite words or their own imaginative stories.

As I studied with developmental optometrists, I began to understand my purpose as that of helping learners become comfortable enough in their physiology to seek out new challenges. So, before each lesson, or if a child felt stuck, we would do a few Brain Gym activities* such as the Cross Crawl, Lazy 8s, and the Double Doodle to activate whole-body movement, centralized vision and eye-teaming, hand-eye coordination, and other physical skills.

Paul E. Dennison, Ph.D., reading specialist and cocreator of Educational Kinesiology and the Brain Gym program

Paul E. Dennison, Ph.D., reading specialist and cocreator of Educational Kinesiology and the Brain Gym program

Day by day, I observed and facilitated. I saw that each of these children was actively exercising a flow of visual, auditory, tactile, and gross-motor as well as fine-motor abilities. As they wrote and read, they were learning to listen to their own thoughts and the thoughts of other writers—“hearing” the written-down language as they read it back, and so reading it with comprehension and expression. Each hour brought pleasurable challenges and ahas as they constructed ways to integrate these skills through practice and exploration.

Today, Brain Gym activities are used internationally and cross-culturally. One important use made of them is to teach those physical skills that invite a confluence of listening to the words of others, speaking one’s own thoughts, expressing oneself through pen on paper, and reading the written language of published authors as well as the writings of other students.

 

*The Brain Gym activities are described in Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition, by Paul and Gail Dennison, ©2010, Edu-Kinesthetics, Inc., Ventura, CA. 

Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, Maryanne Wolfe, © 2007, HarperCollins.

I Already Know How to Read: A Child’s View of Literacy, Prisca Martens, 1996, Heinemann. This valuable little book offers Marten’s insights as a professor of language education on her three-year observation of her daughter Sarah’s self-initiated exploration of reading and writing from ages two through five. This view can help us recognize the ways children (in our modern world, surrounded by written media) are naturally literate, and how they will “invent” writing and reading on their own, when given the opportunity. Informative reading and writing samples present Sarah as a natural inquirer who actively constructs symbols.

The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, © Iain McGilchrist, 2012, Yale University Press.

Photo Credits:
ID 55829126 © Dmitry Kalinovsky | Dreamstime.com
ID 61438275 © Wavebreakmedia Ltd | Dreamstime.com

© 2016 by Paul E. Dennison. All rights reserved.

Brain Gym® is a trademark of Brain Gym® International/the Educational Kinesiology Foundation. Click here for the name of an instructor near you. 

You might also enjoy:

In Celebration of Handwriting

A Message Across Time

Why I Love Teaching Double Doodle Play

Double Doodle Play Brings Emotional Harmony Following a Stroke

Reading Is a Miracle

Paul E. Dennison, Reading Specialist and Developer of Educational Kinesiology and Brain Gym®

Paul E. Dennison, Reading Specialist and Developer of Educational Kinesiology and Brain Gym®

In my 45 years as a reading teacher, I’ve never sat next to a child and listened to him decode symbols or sound out words. And that’s because, for me, this would be making the code more important than the language it represents.

At my learning centers, the children were always busy making books—telling stories that I wrote down for them that they then drew pictures for. Sometimes they would listen to these books, or to other descriptive literature and poetry, as I read aloud. Or they might be learning cursive handwriting while writing down their own life stories for themselves. These children were actively exercising their visual, auditory, motoric, and tactile skills, and constructing ways to integrate these into their own functioning.

A big part of what makes us human is our desire to tell stories and otherwise express ourselves. Language is something not to take apart, but to put together—something by which we create connections with our world. Through our planet’s long history, our ancestors drew pictures that later became an alphabet, in order to record, recall, and communicate their experiences. Reading is the miracle that resulted from these marks and symbols. Codes were created and agreed upon that could later be decoded by others in order to pass on the culture to the next generation. Every child who learns to read and write recreates this miracle.

Yet humankind has long assumed that reading capability is inherent to all children. We forget that reading isn’t a natural function to which we’re born, but one that must be learned. A child identified as having dyslexia, a perceived difficulty in learning to read, doesn’t have a medical problem—he has simply not yet experienced the relationship of language to his own drawings or marks on the paper. He hasn’t yet discovered how to invent his own reading and so create his own miracle.

Reading, the decoding and neural encoding of written alphabetic symbols for their meaning, is a human invention that reflects how the brain rearranges itself in order to process written speech. “Human beings were never born to read,” writes Maryanne Wolf, a Tufts University cognitive neuroscientist and child development expert, in her remarkable book Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, who goes on to explain how reading evolved over millennia—from the decoding of cave drawings, to symbols that became an alphabetic code, to the complex sentence forms that we read today.

Wolf understands reading as we do in Edu-K—as the creation and mastery of a lexical symbolic code that represents experience for later recall or re-imagination. Reading, a totally man-made ability that has helped create the human brain of today, entails much more than focusing on linear input, one word or phoneme at a time. Wolf suggests that “the evolution of writing and the development of the reading brain give us a remarkable lens on ourselves as a species, as the creators of many oral and written language cultures and as individual learners with different and expanding forms of intelligence.”

The brain has no center or location for the function of reading as it has for seeing, listening, moving, and touching. The miracle of reading requires the interconnection of many separate and specific neural locations. Through an engaged exploration of symbols, each child teaches himself as his brain automatically makes these connections.

Not all children learn in the same way, and learning to read seems easier for some than for others—just as methods to teach reading work better with some learners than with others.

Xavier, age 8 and in the third grade, appears bright and curious, yet was not keeping up with his classmates at school. When his parents took him to be privately evaluated, he tested as being more than a year behind grade level in reading, writing, and spelling. On a referral, they brought Xavier to see me. Reading for me at my office from his school reading book, he pointed to one word at a time and sounded it out, pronouncing each syllable carefully as his classroom teacher had instructed him to do. When asked to recall and relate what he had read, he was able to remember only one or two isolated words.

An 8-year old boy discovers how drawing, writing, and moving to learn can help him read more easily.

An 8-year old boy discovers how drawing, writing, and moving to learn can help him read more easily.

During his session, Xavier chose from a wall poster the Brain Gym activities he wanted to do. Together we did the Cross Crawl, Lazy 8s, the Calf Pump, the Footflex, Arm Activation, and the Gravity Glider. In the process, his parents and I watched him shift from a passive posture to a more active way of carrying himself and speaking.

To help make reading more meaningful, I invited Xavier to make friends with 15 of his own favorite words. His parents and I shared his excitement as he thought of the words and I wrote them down for him on index cards: elephant, popcorn, airplane, zebra, and so on. Xavier agreed that every day he would trace the letters for each word with his fingers as he said the word aloud and thought about its meaning. By the time he said goodbye that day, he already recognized the words elephant and zebra by sight.

After two weeks of tracing his words and doing Brain Gym activities with his parents, Xavier returned to my office ready to read for me again. I could see by the way he sat and held his book that he was now experiencing a better sense of balance. He was now able to move his eyes to track horizontally across his visual midfield without excessive head movement. He was reading fluently, in the same way that he spoke, rather than focusing on separate phonemes, without effort and with enthusiasm and full comprehension—my definition of reading comprehension. We celebrated a miracle, as Xavier was now able to report back what he read in his own words. How, his parents wondered, did a few simple movements and activities help Xavier to read so much more effectively?

Because learning means adding the new to the old, the natural flow of learning to read begins with the recognition of what we already know. It requires simultaneously holding what is already familiar (stored as a verbal code) and relating new information, coming in, to that associated experience. Reading is first and foremost a flow of communicative language. Visual skills such as pointing the eyes to each word are, though important, incidental to the mental process of reading, and need to be so automatic and stress-free that the auditory-language processes can proceed without inhibition. Meaningful speech must always lead—never follow—the visual analysis of the code.

Effective reading of the code for meaning requires, just as it did for our forebears, the skillful integration of the auditory (say it), visual (see it), kinesthetic (write it), and tactile (feel it) areas of the brain, as well as the ability to interpret such received information as meaningful by relating the new to prior experiences.

When students like Xavier seem dyslexic, analyzing a linear progression of disconnected sounds one word or syllable at a time, and not yet able to immediately recognize those symbols within an expressive language context, they’re lost in the details of deciphering the code and are not even hearing the content. In my work with children diagnosed as dyslexic, I emphasize that reading (and, in fact, all of the language arts skills, including writing and spelling) be experienced on the visual midfield, where the left and right brain hemispheres can be accessed at the same time, for both immediate recognition of the new and the subsequent, almost simultaneous, neural breaking of the code to make it into familiar language.

The miracle of reading requires an instant recognition of new information in a meaningful context, followed by confirmation of the symbols or code, not the other way around as it’s usually taught. Thus the natural flow of learning requires a fresh perception within a context of previous experience. We learn the symbols so well that we hardly ever notice them.

As stated by psychiatrist and writer Iain McGilchrist in his book The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, “the first apprehension of anything is by the right hemisphere while it remains new . . . soon taken over by the left hemisphere where it becomes familiar. Knowledge of the whole is . . . followed by knowledge of the parts.”

Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, Maryanne Wolfe, © 2007, HarperCollins.

I Already Know How to Read: A Child’s View of Literacy, Prisca Martens, 1996, Heinemann. This valuable little book offers Marten’s insights as a professor of language education on her three-year observation of her daughter Sarah’s self-initiated exploration of reading and writing from ages two through five. This view can help us recognize the ways children (in our modern world, surrounded by written media) are naturally literate, and how they will “invent” writing and reading on their own, when given the opportunity. Informative reading and writing samples present Sarah as a natural inquirer who actively constructs symbols.

The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, © Iain McGilchrist, 2012, Yale University Press.

Editor’s note: Through his review of the literature of approaches to teaching reading, Paul is well versed in the work of Russell G. Stauffer: The Language-Experience Approach to the Teaching of Reading©1970 and Teaching Reading as a Thinking Process,©1969, Russell G. Stauffer.  

*In Edu-K we keep phonics separate from experiences with reading. For more about our whole language and move to read approach, see: 5 Minutes to Better Reading FluencyIndependent Reading: A Path to Self-Initiated LearningDiscovering the Reading Midfield

To read the Italian translation of this article, La Lettura è un Miracolo, click here.

© 2013 by Paul E. Dennison. All rights reserved.

Brain Gym® is a trademark of Brain Gym® International/the Educational Kinesiology Foundation. Click here for the name of an instructor near you.

Make Double Doodle Pumpkin Faces for Halloween Fun

 

Use to hands at the same time to draw a Halloween pumpkin!

Use to hands at the same time to draw a Halloween pumpkin!

Two hands, two markers . . . let’s draw Double Doodle pumpkins! Part of the fun is being surprised by the kind of face you create on your jack-o’-lantern. Will it be funny, sad, mad, or scary? Will you give your pumpkin face some teeth, eyebrows, a stem hat, a downward mouth, or a ghoulish grin? Well, get your giggle on . . . bring a pout or your biggest growl and get ready to be amazed!

Here are two Halloween Pumpkin faces drawn within minutes of one another by a 6-year old. You can see the fine-motor skill he's developing as he experiments.

Here are two Halloween Pumpkin faces drawn within minutes of one another by a 6-year old. You can see the fine-motor skill he’s developing as he experiments.

Getting in the groove.

Getting in the groove.

To begin, fold your paper vertically, choose your colors, and then let your hands start flowing smoothly from the top of the pumpkin’s stem (just on the fold mark, and slightly to the right and left) down and up a few times, to make the stem, then across the top of the pumpkin, down the sides, and together at the bottom, as you see in the opening photo.

If you’re new to the Double Doodle, please click here for more detailed instructions; the pumpkin faces are most easy for those age eight and up, although adults might help guide younger hands. (A big thank you to the 9-year old who drew the top pumpkin in our pumpkin banner, below left!)

A Double Doodle pumpkin and his pumpkin head friend (drawn by an 8-year old)—ooh . . . which face is the scariest?

A Double Doodle pumpkin and his pumpkin head friend (drawn by an 8-year old)—ooh . . . which face is the scariest?

Now that you have your symmetrical contour, place your markers where you want the eyes and draw mirror-image shapes (see samples, below, some of which we cut out and pasted asymmetrically on orange poster board). Follow with the nose and mouth. Add lines and other features as you wish. You might enjoy tracing over your lines with different markers to layer additional colors, or scribble in with crayons, finger-paint style, as we did here. Decorate as you like. Notice how your hands enjoy moving effortlessly together like this—a kind of movement quite different from doing a one-handed drawing.

A youngster focuses on the pumpkin's indented ribs, running from its stem at the top to a single point at the bottom.

A youngster focuses on the pumpkin’s indented ribs, running from its stem at the top to a single point at the bottom.

A 6-year old finds a more simple way to suggest the pumpkin's ribs.

A 6-year old finds a more simple way to suggest the pumpkin’s ribs.

And there’s no need to think of this by the rules of ordinary drawing; the Double Doodle doesn’t fit the same criteria. This is more about the fun, zest, color, and surprise of the shapes, and how each can be uniquely your own, than about it looking like someone else’s picture. So enjoy any quirks or unexpected squiggles that you make.

This free-flowing design of bat with pumpkins was drawn by a 10-year old.

This free-flowing design of bat with pumpkins was drawn by a 10-year old.

IMG_3407Once you’ve completed your pumpkin face, you might want to add a leaf or two. Many types of pumpkins have heart-shaped (cordiform) leaves. For autumn, add some yellow, green, brown, or maroon colors, and maybe a serrated edge and some prominent veining (as in the leaves on the banner at left) to make the image more leaf-like.

For inspiration from nature: Do a scavenger hunt outside to see how many different kinds of cordiform leaves you can find! Besides the pumpkin leaf, you can also find the heart-shaped leaf in viola and hosta plants, as well as in the periwinkle and morning glory, to name a few. They’re seen in great variation in lime, linden, and redbud trees and many other plants. (This form is opposite to the hand-shaped palmate outline, with lobes radiating from the base, seen in a maple leaf.)

For design fun: Double Doodle some heart-shaped leaves and tear-drop-shaped seeds, like the pumpkin seed, as a design around the outside. Color in the face shapes on your pumpkin in finger-paint style.

Delicious to know: Chewy pumpkin seeds are nutritional powerhouses (abundant in minerals from magnesium and manganese to copper, protein, and zinc) high in fiber, protein, and antioxidants. They make a great snack! When you carve a pumpkin, simply wash and drain the seeds, and dry them for about 30 minutes. Then mix in a tablespoon of oil for each cup of seeds and roast them on a cookie sheet in a 250° oven for 10 to 20 minutes (stirring every five minutes or so) until they’re golden brown. Sprinkle them with salt, or with cinnamon and a little ginger and allspice.

 

For more complex Double Doodle Halloween images, click here.

To see other examples of how Double Doodle Play can be used for drawing and painting, click here.

Parents and educators: Scientists continue to study the puzzling genetic and environmental factors that determine handedness. In the Edu-K work, we’ve been finding for more than 40 years that using two hands together like this helps people learn to do more fluid mark-making, regardless of whether they’re right- or left-hand-dominant. See if handwriting is easier for you after doing a few minutes of the Double Doodle.

In a Psychology Today blog, coach, author, and world-class endurance athlete Christopher Bergland reminds us that “Researchers remain perplexed as to why the human brain seems to be more asymmetric than the primate brain and why the ratio of right- to left-handedness in humans is 9 to 1. Primates are evenly split 50-50 between left- and right-handedness.

Bergland concludes that humans should “ideally engage both hands to maximize brain function and performance . . . you want to create symmetry and become close to ambidextrous by fortifying the link between the right brain and left brain of both the cerebrum and the cerebellum.*”

*“Are Lefties More Likely to Become Champions and Leaders? The History and Neuroscience of Why Left-Handed People Have an Advantage.” Published on August 12, 2013, by Christopher Bergland in The Athlete’s Way

The Double Doodle and other Brain Gym® activities that support sensorimotor skills are described in detail in Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition, 2010, by Paul E. Dennison and Gail E. Dennison. 

Many sensorimotor skills  are taught experientially, through movement and play, in the courses Brain Gym® 101: Balancing for Daily Life, Double Doodle Play: A Window to Whole-Brain Vision, and Visioncircles: 8 Spheres of Perceptual Development. Click here for the name of a Brain Gym® Instructor in you area. Brain Gym® is a trademark of Educational Kinesiology Foundation/Brain Gym®  International. 

© 2013 by Gail Dennison. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

A Soothing Double Doodle Heart for Kids of All Ages: A Short Tutorial

A Double Doodle HeartThe Double Doodle, one of 26 Brain Gym® activities, is a drawing made using both hands. You can do a Double Doodle in the air, on paper, or even on someone else’s back (it’s calming, relaxing, and comforting!). There are many kinds of Double Doodle*, but most of them are created by drawing a symmetrical design, with the hands mirroring each other side by side.

The heart-shaped Double Doodle design shown here is a simple and easy doodle with which to start exploring the fun and benefits of making mirror-image marks. If you are new to the Double Doodle, I suggest standing and using a large sheet of paper—on a flipchart or taped down vertically on a tabletop. In Brain Gym, when possible we connect with a whole-body (proprioceptive) context for using our hands and eyes. So before beginning, do a few repetitions of  the Cross Crawl. By letting your arms swing freely as you move, you can use the Cross Crawl to relax your arms and hands for a more free-flowing Double Doodle.

Next, center your body in alignment with the vertical midline of the page (if you need to more clearly distinguish the midline, you can make a vertical fold in your paper).  Now place both hands near the vertical midline of the paper. Notice how your hands are now automatically centered with your body and also with the page. Now let your hands move slightly up and out, as if to make two large circles, then down, in, down some more, and around, circling in the opposite direction to finally come to rest in the inward spiral. Let go of any need for yours to look like this one. Most often, Double Doodles are unique to the individual. Let your drawing surprise you!

Notice how the brief and expansive upward and outward shape of the movement gently balances the downward and inward spiral. Using large motor movement in gravity like this, the shoulders and elbows easily relax as we let our hands flow alongside one another in their natural movement: down the page on the flip chart, or toward us on a flat surface—the entire motion taking only seconds to complete. Notice also how doing the Double Doodle engages your large muscles in a smooth motion (there is almost no motion at the wrist), without the strain or tension on fingers and wrists so often associate with drawing or writing. Many people feel their eyes relax, as well. Even though the spirals at the bottom of the heart go in opposite directions, they seem to help one another flow, and here on the right is the counterclockwise motion that starts the letter “o” that children often struggle to make.

After drawing the shape, people often want to begin again at the top, or sometimes to draw it from the bottom up, in which case you’ll most likely complete the final stroke with your hands opposite your sternum. From here, for a moment, there’s nowhere to go, nothing to do. It’s a good place to pause—a place of completion and new beginning. For fun, I added small tapping marks around the shape.

This simple heart shape that you’ve just drawn, with its spiraling base, is common to much American folk art. To make it more elaborate, you can add flourishes, additional spirals of various sizes, or a slightly larger shape to mirror and encompass the first. And now that you know how to make this basic heart template, you can also adjust it in size or shape to create many other heart-shaped structures.

A Little Background on the Double Doodle

Paul first learned to do bilateral drawing in the early 1970s when he read developmental optometrist G.N. Getman’s book How to Develop Your Child’s Intelligence, an insightful classic that is still available and full of great suggestions for parents. Paul began using “bilateral drawing,” as Getman called it, with the students at his Valley Remedial Group learning centers. He found that the activity helped learners develop essential skills of tactility (you can experience that by tracing your completed drawing with your fingers), hand-eye coordination, and directionality, as well as visual discrimination for reading.

Directionality means knowing one’s orientation in space—knowing where up, right, left, and down are in terms of the center of one’s own body. As you can see and experience, the body’s midline isn’t something imaginary, any more than the midline of a page is an approximation. And the exactitude of the body’s midline, immediately identified through movement, supports the accuracy of the bilateral motions of the eyes needed for reading and writing, supporting as well all the turning motions of the head.

When Paul later met Dr. Getman, they discussed what was then 30 years of optometric research on learning that had yet to be implemented in the classroom (it’s now been 70 years, and this research is still largely overlooked today). They also talked about how children’s perception depends on their movements that define their orientation, location, and differential manipulation, and how learning disabilities in basic school subjects are wholly preventable through the effective teaching of movement of the body, eyes, and hands. And when you did the Double Doodle, were you aware of moving in new ways by letting one hand mirror the movement of the other? Today, research is further investigating how novel, voluntary movement supports cognition and neuroplasticity.

When Paul and I began selecting the Brain Gym® activities to use in our 1986 book: Brain Gym®: Simple Activities for Whole-Brain Learning, we had already been teaching our own free-form variety of two-handed drawing, as described above, that we called the Double Doodle (Getman’s original bilateral activity was more structured). Classroom learning tends to emphasize one-sided movement of eyes and hands, yet we see every day how doing the Double Doodle for even a few minutes helps learners experience two-sided (bilateral) integration with hands and eyes working together in synergistic collaboration.

*The Double Doodle is one of 26 Brain Gym activities from Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition by Dennison and Dennison, ©2010. The introductory course Double Doodle Play: A Window to Whole-Brain Vision offers a full day of exploration built on mirror-image mark-making and painting. The Double Doodle and other Brain Gym activities are taught in Brain Gym 101: Balance for Daily Life. 

** See Research Nugget: Visual Skills and Reading.

© 2013 by Gail Dennison. All rights reserved.

Brain Gym is a trademark of Brain Gym® International/the Educational Kinesiology Foundation. Click here for the name of a Brain Gym or Double Doodle instructor near you.

You might also like:

Double Doodle Play Brings Emotional Harmony Following a Stroke

Why I Love Teaching Double Doodle Play

Five Double Doodle Flowers for Spring  (a tutorial)

Double Doodle Holiday Play  (a tutorial)

Children’s Double Doodle Halloween Drawings (1 min video)

Halloween Magic with Two-Handed Play!

Make Double Doodle Pumpkin Faces for Halloween Fun (a tutorial)

 

 

 

Playing “the School Game”

Paul_HonfleurI met Jack, 16 and a high school junior, in October of last year. when he was feeling ready to give up on school and quit. On the phone, his father told me that Jack hated school, was falling down in his attendance, and was struggling just to get passing grades.

Later that week, Jack walked into my office with his dad, shoulders slumped and looking discouraged. After the introductions, I talked with Jack about what he liked and didn’t like about school. He said that he didn’t do well because he was afraid of his teachers and didn’t think they liked him. I asked Jack what he would do if he didn’t have to go to school every day. His eyes lit up as he promptly said he would work for his uncle, building houses, and he smiled when I suggested that school is just a game we play so we can graduate, get a diploma, and eventually, as adults, do the work that we enjoy doing.

Jack said that it was his dream to design houses like the ones his uncle built. We came up with a goal for him to trust himself to succeed in his own way.  So, for his pre-activity, I suggested that he draw a house as he imagined it. His three-dimensional perspective was amazing. “Wow, I see you really could be an architect!” I said, adding, “I’m sure you realize that school tests measure information retrieval, not drawing ability or imagination. When you get to graduate school, your gifts in this area will be recognized. Right now, I want to help you discover how to stop trying so hard, let go of your anxiousness, and just do your best to hang in there and play the school game.”

I explained that, when we’re afraid and feeling down, we are more likely to move in compensatory ways—even taking on postures that don’t help us to feel good or support our best learning abilities. Moving in new ways, I said, can shift how we feel and learn. Together we did some Brain Gym® activities: PACE, Lazy 8s, the Double Doodle, and the Lengthening Activities. After the balance, Jack’s growing self-esteem was evident in his improved physical alignment and focused vision as he now laughed and made eye contact.

A few months later, Jack came for a follow-up session. He had been doing his PACE activities every day, as well as the Footflex, to help him stay on track with his goal. He was now doing better in his classes, felt more comfortable with his teachers, and said that it helped him to remember the reward that “the school game” would offer him after he graduated.

As an educator who stays current on the research in neuroscience, I know that students are able to learn better when they can self-calm and be at peace within their environment the way Jack learned to do. Being in such harmony means feeling safe—feeling that we belong, that we have a place in life and are valued.

Unfortunately, the focus on standardized requirements has pulled many public schools away from whole-child teaching and learning. Fear of the negative results of measurement and evaluation has too often changed the school environment from a place of engaging mentors and stimulating learning activities to one of burdensome homework and anxiety about test performance. Less time is spent on interactive art, music, and outdoor activities that honor a diversity of learner skills and interests.

The Brain Gym® program, when offered for even a few minutes a day, has been found to help students let go of stress and fear, move purposefully toward their goals, and attend to the joy of learning that is the natural focus of every child.

 

To discover more about Paul’s approach to teaching, see Brain Gym® and Me: Reclaiming the Pleasure of Learning, by Paul E. Dennison, © 2006.

Note: Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D., the director of the American Institute for Learning and Human Development and the author of 15 books including Neurodiversity in the Classroom:  Strength-Based Strategies to Help Students with Special Needs Succeed in School and Life, argues that there is no ‘normal’ brain or ‘normal’ mental capability, and that it’s a disservice to learners to assume that their differences involve only deficits. Armstrong instead describes learners in terms of their diverse gifts and intelligence, which he refers to as neurodiversity. 

© 2013 by Paul Dennison. All rights reserved.

Brain Gym® is a trademark of Educational Kinesiology Foundation/Brain Gym® International. Click here for the name of an instructor in you area.

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