Although I’ve taught in more than 20 countries during the past 35 years, mid-July of this year I experienced my first trip to Moscow. In the 1980s biologist and educator Carla Hannaford of Hawaii first took the Edu-K work to Russia. She was followed there in the 1990s by educators and Brain Gym® instructors Joan Spaulding of Colorado and the late Dorothy H.L. Carroll of Pennsylvania, who taught hundreds of students. Psychologist Svetlana Musgutova, a resident of Moscow at the time, became a Brain Gym International Faculty member and continued to develop the community there for many years. Today, the major leaders of Edu-K once living in Russia have moved on to other locales. So Elena, my sponsor for this trip, requested that I bring my latest thinking to the Brain Gym Instructors and new enthusiasts there.
I found Moscow to be a sprawling city with a multitude of beautiful botanical gardens. On my first day there, Elena and her daughter, Knesia (also my translator), took me walking in the beautiful Tsaritsyno, the Queen’s Garden. On day two my dear friend of many years, Renate Wennekes from Germany, a Brain Gym International Faculty member, arrived to co-teach with me. That evening, we four enjoyed dining on the Moscow River cruise ship and sharing stories about our experiences teaching through movement.
Another evening Renate, Elena, Knesia, and I enjoyed seeing the rousing Russian National show “Kostroma!”* which includes vigorous Cossack dancing—something I’ve always loved to watch. Yet another time we walked around the city center seeing Red Square and the Kremlin, along with its red walls and towers. I was delighted to see St. Basil’s with its unusual architecture of four palaces and four cathedrals—many topped by golden or multicolored cupolas—which I had long heard about.** Wherever we went, I met people who were vigorous and robust, and who seemed typical of suburbanites everywhere, busy pursuing their day-to-day lives.
Active Independence or Passive Compliance
For me, the real excitement of this journey began when I gave a public introductory talk at the Alpha Hotel. I noticed a woman whom I’ll call Ruth, sitting with friends in the center front row of the conference room. Through translation during the question and answer period (the participants spoke little English), I learned that Ruth was a 2nd grade teacher who had been using the Brain Gym activities with her elementary school students. Ruth expressed anger and frustration as she asked me why doing the activities hadn’t helped one seven-year boy in her class. This student, she said, refused to read his history assignment because it was on the topic of war. Even after he did the Brain Gym activities, he still refused.
I explained that the purpose of doing the Brain Gym activities is not to control someone’s behavior. Instead, it’s to give individuals the tools they need to become . Each of the specific 26 activities teaches a physical skill needed for classroom learning, such as sitting, head-turning, hand-eye coordination, and accurate use of tools—for example, how to best hold a pencil for writing and how to access eye-teaming skills when holding a book for reading. I elaborated that when the stressors around the mechanics of functioning are addressed, the natural mental acuity needed to learn is more available. I told Ruth that I think it’s wonderful for a seven-year old child to feel that he can choose what he will or will not read. This shows an active independence instead of the passive compliance we see in many schools and societies. Ruth nodded in understanding and agreement.
The Joy of Eye-Teaming
The next day, with Renate assisting, I began teaching my two-day course: The Dennison Approach to Whole-Brain Learning. I especially enjoy sharing this introduction to my Edu-K work with teachers, as they recognize the challenges to learning and can appreciate seeing people overcome them. It’s thrilling to watch students as they discover their learning profile and then use simple Brain Gym activities to access the learning midfield and make immediate and significant improvements in reading, listening, and writing skills.
One experience was especially meaningful for me. During the opening circle for the course, the participants introduced themselves, again through translation. When I asked who would like to improve their reading, Ruth (from the previous day) eagerly volunteered and told the group that, as a child, she had been told she had a lazy left eye and could do her best with her “good” eye. I had Ruth read aloud. She slowly and precisely read the Russian text left to right, focusing from her right visual field and carefully pronouncing every word. Afterwards, I asked her to say something about what she had read. She could not verbalize any of the content. I checked her ability to track, which requires crossing of the visual midline and seeing in the midfield where the left and right visual fields overlap. She was unable to access this skill.
I encouraged Ruth to choose from the Midline Movement category whatever Brain Gym activity she felt called to. Together, she and I did about 30 seconds of Belly Breathing as the first part of the Learning Menu. Suddenly, Ruth joyfully exclaimed: “I cannot believe it; I can see with my left eye again!” We continued the menu by doing the Lazy 8s and the Cross Crawl.
As a post-check, I asked Ruth to track across her visual midline and focus in her midfield, which she was now able to easily do. She then read a new text, with ease and fluency. She was able to put the text into her own words without difficulty. I could see that Ruth was able to move her eyes smoothly over the words while listening to herself say them–that is, she was able to think while looking, and so access her comprehension.
Ruth said, “Now I understand what you mean by the physical skills of learning. Now that I can see without straining my eyes, I can hear myself thinking and I can trust my eyes to see the information I need.”
Although during the course the translation into Russian had sometimes sometimes presented a challenge, I felt that for most of us that day the language of movement transcended any linear thinking.
*See a segment of this dance on YouTube.
**See our facebook page for a photo book from Paul’s trip.
To discover more about Paul’s approach to teaching, see Brain Gym® and Me: Reclaiming the Pleasure of Learning, by Paul E. Dennison, © 2006.
See also Discovering the Reading Midfield
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.
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