Writing down notes can be a tedious venture, especially when one is a seventh grade student. Whenever I have students copy notes in class, I do my best to mix up the activities so the students are exposed to novelty and relieved from a stationary note-taking position. Last week we were exploring different terms associated with setting. Students keep an interactive notebook, so it was necessary for them to have the terms accessible in their notebooks. Rather than simply show the students the terms in a power point presentation and have them copy the terms down, I developed an activity similar to what I’ve always called Hot Tamale (although I have no idea if that is the real name of the game). I asked for two volunteers to go into the hallway. The role of one of the volunteers was to make sure the other was not standing by the door or peeking into the classroom. While the students were in the hall, I took a piece of paper with a setting term and hid it in the classroom. I put it behind the interactive whiteboard, so all students in the class could see where I hid it and to make it easily accessible to the students who would enter the classroom. I then had the class stand up and push their chairs in. I introduced a power-walking arm motion and had them practice the motion slowly and quickly. I instructed them that when x student entered the classroom, they should start the motion without making any other noises. As x moved closer to the hidden term, their motions needed to become faster. When x moved away, their motions became slower. I then had x enter the classroom. After about a minute or two, x was able to find the term. I showed the term to all students and they copied the term in their notebooks. I repeated the activity with new student volunteers about three times. The students were really excited to participate, so they eagerly would write down key terms without typical groans and boredom that often is equated with note-taking. The activity could take as long as the teacher would want it to. To speed the activity up, the motions could be more dramatic to the point where the students are not moving until x is right next to the hidden term. Of course, it is important to discuss the terms during the activity or after the activity, so students can begin to understand the purpose behind the introduction of the terms.
I heard two comments from teachers this week that were pretty thought-provoking. The first comment was phrased something like, “The system is only designed for a specific type of student.” The quote really puzzled me. I agree with it on some level and disagree with it on another. I know the system seems rigid guided by standards and assessments that can overload not only the minds of students, but also the minds of teachers, parents and administrators. If educators look solely at state assessments and the performance standards necessary to pass the assessments, then perhaps the system only caters to a specific type of student. Is the system synonymous with state standards and assessments, or is there multiple perspectives on what the system is?
I tend to believe that the greater system does revolve around these standards and assessments, but what occurs in individual classrooms tends to be, or can be, associated with a different system. Educators have been faced with the challenge of helping students of all abilities, talents, strengths, weaknesses, and learning styles be successful in the classroom. It is this challenge that allows classrooms to be different and the ability of teachers to be creative in their classrooms. Each teacher has his or her own beliefs about what needs to happen in his or her classroom to help students be successful. What is difficult sometimes is the need to adapt within the structure of the system in order to modify it for the betterment of learning.
I started using movement in the classroom when I realized what I was doing in the classroom at the time was not successful. I was trying to force students into a system that was not working for them. It was a broken environment that needed to be adjusted. I had to think outside of my box, my comfort zone, in order to help make the existing system work. Did I cave into an established way of thinking or teaching? I suppose some may think I did, but I tend to think that I moved beyond the structured walls into the details of the teaching architectural design. I modified my classroom to not only meet my needs, but the needs of my students. Is the system catered to one type of student? Maybe, but the rearrangement of the system’s boundaries can create moments of open doors.
The second statement I heard this week really irritated me. A special education teacher referenced how physical education class time has been reduced for some special needs students because they need to take more content-driven, or remedial, courses. I understand the rationale behind these types of class assignments. More class time in content specific classes should result in more learning and higher assessment scores, right? Research has indicated the that students need to move. In fact, students that are less active, perform more poorly on assessments than those who are active. So, instead of reducing physical education time for these students, they should be given physical activity in physical education classrooms and throughout the school day. Forcing them to take extra core content-based courses is bowing down to the system rather than looking at the individual learners and what they physically and mentally need to be successful.
Adding daily physical activity to a classroom is beneficial for students and teachers. When teachers use physical activity toward the beginning of a class, a tone is set that creates a sense of eagerness and anticipation for the upcoming lesson. This urgency awakens the mind allowing a stimulation to occur helping to aid students with recall as well as putting new learning into motion. When students return to their seats, they are better equipped to be focused, which also leads to a situation where new learning can occur. When teachers use physical activity in the middle of a class, students are able to take a break from difficult material, are able to refocus, or are able to reenergize their minds for practice, recall, or more new material.
I am an English teacher, so I am particularly interested in what this means for an English classroom. There is exciting research that points to a correlation between physical movement and academic performance on English related assessments. In one study students completed 20 minutes of exercise on a treadmill prior to completing a reading assessment. Students taking the assessment showed an increase in accuracy following the exercise (Hillman et al., 2009). In another study, students participated in 10-15 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity during core instruction. A correlation was found between participation in physical activity and academic achievement in reading and spelling (Donnelly et al., 2009; Donnelly & Lambourne, 2011). In another study, students participating in physical activity breaks during a school day prior to reading instruction scored higher on reading assessment than those who did not participate (Erwin et al., 2012).
While the summation of these studies is brief, the results are intriguing. In my seventh and eighth grade classes, I am not able to spend a full 10-20 minutes of physical activity. I can, however, spend 5-10 minutes of a lesson getting my students to move in the classroom. My goal is to get the blood pumping as many studies indicate physical activity at the moderate-to-vigorous level is what is needed to produce an increase in academic performance levels. My goal becomes more detailed as I attempt to add a content connection to form a link between the activity and what is being learned. However, if the movement is not at the moderate-to-vigorous intensity level, I am still able to help anxious, stressed, ADHD, and movement needy students in the classroom.
Ever since my undergraduate program, I have been told, reminded, or simply surrounded by comments and articles about how to set up the idea classroom environment at the beginning of the school year. I remember at first year teacher I was told to not weakness or smile the first few week, or months, of school or the students will take control of the classroom and I wouldn’t be able to regain classroom control. I actually tried it for several years even though it was against my own teaching philosophy and personality. While I find this advice a bit ridiculous at this point in my teaching career, the basic premise of establishing specific protocols is there. If students don’t know what type of behavior is expected of them, they will mold their behaviors into an existing crevice they believe exists within the classroom environment.
Dr. Jody McVittie, director of Sound Discipline (www.sounddiscipline.org), suggests that one of the most important elements of creating a positive learning environment is through establishing classroom routines. If teachers want to successfully implement physical movement activities in the classroom, it is important to establish a routine for how to move in the classroom from one place to another.
Today was the first day of school for my students. Rather than starting the day by distributing the syllabus and presenting a dry overview of the class, I completed a community building activity for part of the period and then I ended the period with an activity illustrating how to move within the classroom setting. I modified the activity from a presentation McVittie gave to my staff last week.
The desks in my classroom are arranged in clusters of four. I currently have nine desk clusters. I divided the class into two groups. Four desk clusters comprised of Group One and five desk clusters comprised of Group Two. Group One was assigned as the movers and Group Two as the observers. The activity was completed four times:
1. Group One was instructed to switch seating spots. For example, Cluster A switched with Cluster B, and Cluster C switched with Cluster D. As they moved, they were to make noticeable errors. Group Two was instructed to observe and note the errors they saw. Once the groups successfully moved, Group Two discussed what Group One could improve on (notice the positive tone). I took notes on the white board.
2. Group One was instructed to switch seating spots to the best of its ability. Group Two was instructed to observe and note any areas of improvement. After students successfully moved, Group Two, again, discussed what Group One could improve on (if anything). I took notes on the white board.
3. Group Two was instructed to switch spots. In order to increase the challenge in the activity, Group Two was instructed to make minimal errors that were not easily noticeable. Group One was instructed to observe and note the errors they saw. Once the groups successfully moved, Group One discussed what Group Two could improve on. I took notes on the white board.
4. Group Two was instructed to switch seating spots to the best of its ability. Group One was instructed to observe and note any areas of improvement. The final time was extremely challenging because Group Two wanted to outperform Group One and Group One wanted to find the slightest error in Group Two’s movement. After students successfully moved, Group One, again, discussed what Group Two could improve on (if anything). I took notes on the white board.
This activity set the protocol for how to move quietly and efficiently in the classroom. Since all students were able to successfully move in the activity, it is something that can be brought up in the future when students need to be reminded of how to move quietly and efficiently. The activity took about 15 minutes to complete and the students loved it. They were challenged, had fun, and learned the movement routine.