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.

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.

Extrinsic Discipline or Intrinsic Self-Control?

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photography-children-fighting-image15773947

A 12-year-old middle school student I’ll call Aaron had several times been sent to the principal’s office for hitting his classmates and otherwise causing disruptions in his sixth-grade classroom. After repeated warnings, Aaron had been suspended for two weeks. This incident was related to me by  a Brain Gym® Instructor, who learned of the episode shortly after it happened, when she was invited to teach the Brain Gym program in the boy’s classroom.

In each of the hour-long sessions, the instructor led the youngsters through the PACE  activities, ending with Hook-ups. She added a new Brain Gym activity each visit—for reading, handwriting, and other academic skills—and the kids did these while either sitting or standing next to their seats. At the end of each session, she asked the students which activities they liked, and why.

The Brain Gym Instructor said that Aaron at first just sat in his chair passively and observed, refusing to do the activities or to share. She said that she emphasized to the children that they could use the activities, especially Hook-ups, to develop choice-making skills and the ability to stop and think, rather than  losing self-control and being at the effect of their stress or anger.

As the six weeks of sessions went on, Aaron began joining in to do the movements, and eventually started commenting on various activities. During the last session, he said, “I like doing Hook-ups. It helps me stop and think, and I don’t get angry over nothing.” Aaron’s teacher told the Brain Gym Instructor sometime later that, as the school year continued, Aaron went on to become a model young citizen at the school, one who took pride and pleasure in helping others to learn the Brain Gym activities.

Through the years, I’ve heard hundreds of similar reports, from parents and educators alike, and in some cases even from formerly difficult children themselves. One teacher said that the Brain Gym activities had replaced use of the rod at her school. In some juvenile detention centers, Hook-ups has been offered for years as an alternative to “take down.” Many classroom teachers have told me that they use Hook-ups to address discipline problems, freeing them to do the quality teaching for which they entered the profession.

I believe that children are naturally loving and cooperative. It’s been my experience that few people of any age enjoy losing control of their feelings or actions. Most people would rather have self-control and talk things over, instead of lashing out (either physically or verbally) without thinking and then having to deal with the unhappy consequences of their actions.

While it isn’t a subject area in most schools, the nurturing of self-discipline underlies the whole development of a child. What if Aaron had continued being punished by being blamed or shamed in front of his classmates, or even spanked or otherwise physically reprimanded? Would he then have learned self-restraint and how to calm himself? It’s unlikely.

In many public and parochial schools, the practice of hitting students is still seen as an acceptable form of discipline; in many states, it’s actually still legal for teachers and school administrators to paddle children. The latest report by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights showed that in 2006 (the last year data was available) more than 200,000 students received some sort of physical punishment at school. Fashion designer Marc Ecko has initiated a campaign to end school spankings, or, more precisely, corporal punishment. Ecko makes a good point: in all 50 states, it’s illegal to hit a prisoner or an animal, but in 19 states it’s allowable to deny children due process before they go over a teacher’s knee.

For more information, see Ecko’s Unlimited Justice website.

Photo credit: © Greenland | Dreamstime.com, used with permission.

© 2013 by Paul 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.

Movement and Balance Contribute to Neuroplasticity

November 1: I was glad to have flight time to review the notes for my keynote presentation at the International Kinesiology College Conference in Barcelona, Spain. Juan Carlos Monge, head of the Vida Kinesiologia Institute there, put together a dynamic program and also served as my translator.

My course and presentation went well. I talked about the Brain Gym®activities in light of new findings on neuroplasticity, and discussed how scientists used to think that the brain ages, but now find that purposeful movement grows new brain cells. The audience of 200 rose in a standing ovation when I concluded by saying, “The thinking in neuroscience about the brain was once, Use it or lose it. Now the prevailing thought is, Keep learning and grow it!”

As always, I found these days of traveling and teaching to be rich and nurturing. Even though I’m an advocate of movement I have, in the past, sometimes yielded to those who want the left-brain information and sit too long in the audience without moving, pens in hands, waiting for information. This time we all walked our talk after I said, “Look at us. Are we alive? One test of whether something is alive is whether it moves. By that test, I’m wondering!”

At that point, before giving any new material or explanations, I played music and got everyone up out of their chairs for an elaborate, freeform experience of the four PACE activities from the Brain Gym® 26. I modeled integrated movement and the audience all joyfully followed along; swirling, jumping, kicking, cross-crawling, double-doodling, Energy Yawning, and laughing along with me. When we all sat down again after Hook-ups, our happy, attentive brains were clearly more awake. We all agreed that we now felt alive and ready to learn. (Click here for some research about dancing and brain function.)

To see a YouTube video of great photos of the International Congress of Kinesiology, (II Congreso Internacional de Kinesiologia in Español), go to

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=zyqJoXjnHrw.

© 2012 by Paul 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.

 

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