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.

Learning to Read: The Magic of Words on Paper

HeartsatPlay_ResourceSite_HomePage_workinaction_cross-crawlJosie, age nine and in the third grade, is an attentive student who loves sports, art, and to play outdoors. Reading came late to her, and she has never found it easy. She was tutored early on by her grandmother, Jane, who listened patiently and pronounced for Josie any new word she didn’t recognize. It was Jane who called me to set up a private session for Josie when she noticed that her reading had become more strained this school year.

When we met, I asked Josie what she liked about school. She responded in a halting, stilted way, saying that she liked playing with her friends. Josie then read a paragraph from a book she’d brought with her. I noticed that she read methodically, one word at a time, in a dull, flat monotone.  She knew most of the words, yet struggled along with little apparent enjoyment of the process.

A closer look revealed that Josie was holding the book in her right visual field. I checked her eyes for left-to-right tracking across the visual midfield, where the left and right visual fields overlap and the eyes converge for binocular integration.  Each time we crossed the midline, Josie lost sight of the target, unable to maintain her focus.

For beginning readers, the natural flow of informational learning starts with auditory perception as a child listens to people talking, or to fascinating stories being read or told. Like language, reading is first and foremost a verbal and auditory process. Relating it to prior experiences in memory benefits from integration of the auditory, visual, kinesthetic, and tactile areas of the brain and the ability to interpret such received information as meaningful.

Learning to read requires simultaneously holding what is familiar (stored in words as a verbal code) and relating new information to experiences held in memory. It’s imperative to the learner’s long-term thinking success that the wholeness of language and its meaning is not broken into small, disconnected information bits as he reads. Eye-movement patterns are necessary, yet incidental, to the mental aspect of reading, and need to be so fluid, automatic, and stress-free that the auditory-language processes can proceed without inhibition. Language and meaning must always lead, and never follow, visual input.

Yet, for many, reading is about focusing on linear input, one word or phonetic sound at a time. This is a lesser aspect of reading, and one that, in its overemphasis, teaches excessive eye-pointing and an inaccurate idea of the reading process. This fragmenting of language can affect not only the way a child learns to think, but even their everyday way of speaking, as it had for Josie.

I invited Josie and her grandmother to do some enjoyable movements with me. I played some music, and the three of us put on our Thinking Caps, rubbed our Brain Buttons, did the Cross Crawl, and explored some slow Lazy 8s and the Double Doodle. We completed with Belly Breathing. After about fifteen minutes of the activities, Josie was able to track a moving target of focus with ease and facility, both left to right and right to left, across her reading midfield.

I asked Josie if she felt ready to return to her book, and she started to read again from where she’d left off.  It was like listening to a different person. Josie was now relaxed, and was telling us the story in her own natural speaking voice, with fully animated expression and obvious comprehension of where the narrative was headed.

“What was that about?” I asked. This time, Josie was able to answer without hesitation, easily turning her thoughts into fluent and meaningful language.

Jane was amazed. “How long will this last?” she asked. I told her that, like all physical skills, if this new way of reading is fully learned and becomes a new habit, it will last indefinitely. Josie will now prefer to read by staying in the midfield instead of avoiding it.

To reinforce the new skill, I recommended as homeplay the Thinking Cap, the Double Doodle, and Lazy 8s before and after reading, so Josie could quickly orient her body to her auditory and visual midfield to assure a happy reading experience every time. When they said goodbye, Josie and her grandmother told me they were looking forward to doing the activities together at home.

 

See also Discovering the Reading Midfield

Research Nugget: Visual Skills and Reading

Reading a printed page presents its own issues, as there is much more to reading than simply looking at an object. Experts have said that the eye muscles can move nearly 10,000 times in an hour of reading; that means the eyes must be able to refocus effectively in order to take in information without backtracking. http://www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/mysteries/muscles.html

© 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.

Discovering the Reading Midfield

young boy readingWhen I first met Connor, age 11, he read for me one word at a time, carefully keeping his eyes in the right visual field and pointing them to each separate syllable, pronouncing it perfectly as he had been taught to do. When I asked him to relate to me what he had just read, Connor was able to repeat only one or two words that he barely recalled. He did well at breaking the printed code into discrete parts, yet had no understanding of reading as language, as a way to grasp the big picture being conveyed by the author.  I invited him to do some playful Brain Gym® activities with me before continuing.

After doing PACE, we used Brain Buttons again, along with Earth Buttons and Lazy 8s, to help Connor discover how to track, to use his eyes as a team to cross his visual midline, and to work in his visual midfield where the left and right fields overlap. It was fun! When Connor read a second time, less than half an hour later, he read with ease, enthusiasm, and full understanding.  Connor was now able to report in his own words what he had read, using intonations to add meaning as he spoke.

It’s important for parents to realize that many children can appear to read well, receive good grades, and excel at school yet be pointing their eyes primarily in the right visual field, where they separate information into small parts or bits. Reading this way, they may get tired, read slowly, get headaches, have eye strain, or lose depth perception. Like Connor, they may even need to read material two or three times in order to fully comprehend it. The pleasure of reading fluently is assumed for the future, yet for many, never happens.

Having taught adult speed reading to people who have been reading in this slow way for years, I’m aware that eye pointings per line (known as fixations) increase as students struggle to use their eyes as a team, and that the number of times a person rereads the material (called regressions) also increase. For youngsters, when grades are good, this one-sided way of reading is accepted as normal, since most people don’t recognize the visual stress and don’t question what seems to be working. Only the children who are labeled with learning challenges get special help, and even then teachers may not identify the subtle difficulty these students are having when crossing the visual midline1, let alone know that it can be easily addressed with a few minutes of doing such activities as Lazy 8s and the Double Doodle.

As stated by UK psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist2,  “the first apprehension of anything is by the right hemisphere while it remains new” but is soon “taken over by the left hemisphere where it becomes familiar. Knowledge of the whole is . . . followed by knowledge of the parts.” For reading, this means that the skilled learner takes in at a glance (through the left visual field and right hemisphere), the meaningful context and picture clues that help him guess where the story is going. He simultaneously confirms his hunch (through the right visual field and left hemisphere), by pronouncing the words.

From my perspective as a reading teacher, it’s easier for learners to read with both eyes working together on the midfield than to rely mainly on one eye for information.  In any case, reading with both eyes and a singleness of vision is more functional and less stressful. Having helped thousands of people to learn, through effortless movements, the simple, mechanical, physical skill of eye teaming, I know that most readers can readily get beyond the visual stress of word analysis  to enjoying the auditory language experience of listening to the story as they read it, which is what reading really is.

 

1David Grisham, O.D., M.S., Maureen Powers, Ph.D., Phillip Riles, M.A. Visual skills of poor readers in high school. Optometry – Journal of the American Optometric Association. Volume 78, Issue 10 , October 2007.

2Iain McGilchrist. The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World Yale University Press; Reprint edition: 2012.

© 2013 by Paul E. 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.

Learning to Move Spontaneously

Three Boys Holding Sports BallsAlthough Wyatt’s mom brought him to see me because of his learning difficulties, he wasn’t interested in working on that topic. And when I asked this nine-year-old what he would like to work on, he came close to tears.

“Today we played softball,” he explained. I can’t catch the ball, and the other kids never choose me for their team. But I don’t care. I don’t even want to play. I can never think fast enough to know what to do.”

Together, Wyatt and I formulated his goal, for him to play and have more fun with his friends. I explained that, when we’re playing, sometimes our body moves even faster than our brain and we know what to do without thinking.

Wyatt agreed to an experiment: to see if he could learn to trust his body to move without his having to think about what to do next. From a static standing position, I threw the ball to Wyatt with a moderately easy toss. First I threw it in a somewhat high arc, then in a low underhand, and finally in a straight line. He caught the ball awkwardly the first time and missed the next two catches, becoming more discouraged each time.

Wyatt and I were working on developing two kinds of intelligence that are central to Edu-K, as they’re important to a learner’s physical ease and connection with his environment. Educator Thomas Armstrong calls these the Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence and the Spatial Intelligence*. Playing catch, along with doing some Brain Gym® activities, is a great way for both children and adults to awaken attributes associated with these intelligences.

I told Wyatt he was probably analyzing too much and that, as he relaxed, he might discover some new ways to use his eyes and body together as he caught and threw the ball. I let him choose some Brain Gym activities from a poster in my office, and then he and I did the movements together to help him trust his physical responses. We did the Cross Crawl, then Arm Activation, the Footflex, Lazy 8s, and Hook-ups. When Wyatt felt ready to play, we did a post-activity so he could experience his new learning.

This time Wyatt easily caught the ball all three times. I then moved around a bit as I continued throwing it, and he moved in anticipation of catching it. I began to make the throws more challenging. He seemed to know where the ball would be without thinking. He was so excited. We danced around together, jumped up and down, and celebrated the joy of his new accomplishment.

I find that many children, and adults, too, overthink and try too hard instead of trusting their innate movement patterns. I love seeing these learners make the shift from trying too hard to spontaneously doing their best. And I’m confident that a happy and exploratory learner like Wyatt, who knows how to learn, will do well with whatever subject matter is presented to him.

*Educator Howard Gardner did pioneering work on the theory of multiple intelligences in the early 1980s. Thomas Armstrong has interpreted this work in several of his own books, including Seven Kinds of Smart: Identifying and Developing Your Multiple Intelligences, Plume, 1999, and Neurodiversity in the Classroom: Strength-Based Strategies to Help Students with Special Needs Achieve Success in School and Life, Da Capo Lifelong Books, 2011. Besides the two intelligences named here, Armstrong identifies six others.

 The Brain Gym® activities are from Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition by Dennison and Dennison, ©2010. 

© 2013 by Paul 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 in your area.

 

 

Vision, Proprioception, and Tickling

I’m frequently reminded of how vision can be grounded through touch and movement. This morning I worked with a nine-year-old boy I’ll call Todd. His goal was to enjoy reading (he hadn’t yet learned how). The first part of the session centered around his learning the Cross Crawl to help him develop a sense of his whole body working as a unit as he walked and moved about. I used Dennison Laterality Repatterning, a 10-minute-or-so movement sequence, to help him become aware of his reciprocal movement and then distinguish that from stillness and the articulation of a single area, such as the hand needed for drawing and writing. Todd quickly made an improvement in his awareness of proprioception, what Paul calls the brain cells in the muscles, and seemed to settle more into his body.

Another important shift occurred when I traced Lazy 8s and the Double Doodle on Todd’s back. At first he pulled away as though he thought I was about to tickle him. So I asked him to trace circles on my back first, and showed him how by tracing lightly on his arm. Then I traced the Lazy 8s and Double Doodles on his back, and asked if he could tell what shapes I was making. Todd clearly enjoyed this activity, as he seemed to drop out of a mental space, quiet down, and relax enough to stop his fidgeting.

Todd then drew large Lazy 8s and Double Doodles on a flip chart. After that, he read with confidence and ease, even though I had given him no reading instruction per se. His mother commented that this was the first time she had heard him read with fluency.

The sometimes relentless tickling of children by parents and siblings is not uncommon, and I want to make a plea in this regard. Young children are still developing the proprioceptive awareness that lets them relax into their muscles and gives them spatial information about how different parts of their body relate. Tickling—especially when it’s unwanted—is now widely considered an unwise practice. It disrupts the steadiness given by the proprioceptive system and leaves a child ungrounded, as you can see when children pull away. Tracing the Double Doodle and Lazy 8s on a child’s back soothes and brings awareness to the muscles, developing trust and proprioception, as happened with Todd, and guiding the visual system into a relaxed state.

© 2012 by Gail E. Dennison. All Rights Reserved

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

 

 

Pin It on Pinterest

%d bloggers like this: