How to Make Learning a Moving Experience: Action Based Learning by Jean Blaydes, Neurokinesiologist (not dated)
It was by happy accident that I stumbled upon this DVD, and it turned out to be a strong starting point for this survey of Body-Focused Innovations in Elementary Education. At least five years ago, I won the DVD in a raffle at a staff meeting at my school, and just now finally took the time to watch it! And even though I value educational approaches that integrate mind and body, and even though I borrowed freely from her title for the title of this blog, I was skeptical.
Jean Blaydes Madigan
Who is Jean Blaydes? What credentials does she have, and what research supports her approaches? As teachers, we need to look carefully at any innovations we implement, making sure we are wisely investing our precious time and energy on behalf of our student’s learning.
AEI Speakers Bureau tells us: “Jean Blaydes Madigan taught for 27 years in the classroom, in Physical Education and as a college professor. Her excellence in teaching is recognized by awards such as Richardson ISD Teacher of the year, Texas AHPERD Teacher of the Year, and one of six National Elementary Physical Education Teacher of the Year representing 13 states in the Southern District. Jean received the 2005 PE4Life Advocacy award.”
The website for the society, “Learning and the Brain: Connecting Educators to Neuroscientists and Researchers,” introduces as one of its speakers Jean Blaydes Madigan, MEd; Co-Creator, Action Based Learning Lab; internationally-known pioneer in kinesthetic teaching strategies; consultant; winner of the Texas AHPERD Teacher of the Year, and one of six National Elementary Physical Education Teacher of the Year Awards; author of Thinking on Your Feet (2004)” (http://www.learningandthebrain.com/Speakers/Jean_Blaydes_Madigan)
Madigan also co-created with Cindy Hess the education and research organization, “Action Based Learning” (http://abllab.com/).
Summary and Reflections
Blaydes Madigan seems to offer this DVD as a synthesis and demonstration of her own exploration and study of of body-focused educational innovations. She touches on elements of brain research and the benefits of exercise, Brain Gym®, different forms of memory including episodic and procedural memory, and varied instructional approaches. What a rich place to start our investigation.
Benefits of Exercise/Primary Research
Blaydes gives an impressive list of exercise’s benefits: she explains that a lifetime of physical activity grows brain cells, and that cerebellum research tells us, “What makes us move, makes us think.” She states that memory is “retrieved better when learned through movement,” and that 85% of students are kinesthetic learners.
Just as I start to wonder about data to support these claims, Blaydes grabs my attention – she quotes Ruby Payne, author of A Framework for Understanding Poverty, as saying, “Almost all children of poverty rely on kinesthetic strengths for learning.” This point is significant for my school — 81% of the children in my school receive free or reduced lunches. And I do see improvements in their attention when I use Whole-Brain-Teaching-style gestures and movements during lessons.
Blaydes’ claims sound based on primary brain research, and I’m inclined to accept that the actual research isn’t included on the DVD. Her purpose is to help us learn how to bring the benefits of kinesthetic learning to the classroom, and it sounds like her approaches are based on popular ideas in current brain research.
Blocks to Learning and Possible Remedies
Identifying common blocks to learning (such as lack of exercise, poor diet) and ways teachers can help, Blaydes seems aligned with Brain Gym®. She recommends hydration, strengthening eye muscles with the “lazy eights” movement and puts a special emphasis on cross-lateral movements. These movements, in which one crosses the midline of the body, she explains, strengthen the connection between the two hemispheres of the brain and wake the vestibular system. While she names activities like basketball and soccer as sources of cross-lateral movement, I wonder why she doesn’t name dance – it seems like such an obvious connection to me, but maybe not everyone sees that connection the same way.
Blaydes leads students in doing the “hook-ups” exercise from Brain Gym®, as well as other movement puzzles that encourage cross-lateral movements. The video clips of students engaging in movement activities with Blaydes are compelling, and add to the overall sense of benefit that students get from learning through movement. Much of what she says feels true and looks meaningful, and I wonder about what research most teachers/schools/districts would need to see, in order to be willing to include more of these approaches into their classrooms.
“Teach Through Their Strengths”
Blaydes talks about three different kinds of memory: Semantic Memory, which involves text and numbers, which Blaydes says is the weakest; Episodic Memory, which involves where and when we learned something, which Blaydes says is the second-strongest; and Procedural Memory, which involves movement patterns and routines, such as knitting, biking and driving a car, which Blaydes says is the strongest form of memory.
Linking procedural and episodic memory to a variety of lesson concepts and topics, Blaydes leads students through multiple activities. She demonstrates a lesson involving “mind-body mapping” in which students use their bodies to anchor lesson concepts. She also has students do a drawing of themselves, and write the lesson ideas on the same parts of their bodies that they just anchored the concepts with. It reminds me of the “summary hand” technique that we use at my school, in which students use different part of their hands to remind them of the parts of a story summary. It also made me think of Chris Biffle’s “Whole Brain Teaching” lessons. I know from personal experience that WBT approaches, including gestures to anchor lesson concepts, has helped students pay attention to and remember lessons. I surely saw in Blaydes’ lessons what Chris Biffle calls “the golden thread of fun” woven throughout.
In another lesson on punctuating sentences, Blaydes leads students in moving their way through sentences. I would call it “dancing the sentences,” but again, she does not use the word “dance.” (In fact, I don’t recall her using the word anywhere in the DVD). Students do movements to represent the punctuation of a sentence as they say the sentence: jumping to show a capital letter at the beginning of a sentence, making movements for commas, and movements and sounds for each kind of end punctuation. Students are fully engaged, focused and joyful in this energetic lesson. Blaydes also gives examples of ways to use rhythm and rhythmic movement to enhance learning. She asserts that our brains are “hardwired” to like rhythms, wanting to keep the pattern going.
I was impressed by the teacher and principal testimonials at the end of the DVD, reflecting a school that has chosen to include kinesthetic learning in every lesson. (Wow!) Simon Jordan, a grade 8 Social Sciences teacher, explains a round-robin technique he uses in his classroom that involves both episodic and kinesthetic learning. He reasons,
“You have to try it to know if it’s going to work. Because if you try it and it doesn’t work, you haven’t lost anything. But if it does work, you’ve gained a lot because you’ve reached a few more children. Because I know with my co-taught classes, if I didn’t use kinesthetic lessons, those children would not connect, most of them.”
Principal Cathy J. Lassiter reports that her school had the largest gains in the city in standardized test scores in reading, writing, math and science. Blaydes’ DVD doesn’t say the year it’s made, but it seems the school is still successful. I believe the school in the DVD is Rosemont Elementary School in LaGrange, Georgia. Their website’s current principal’s message informs us, “Our school has received county and state recognition for being named a 2011 Georgia School of Excellence in Student Achievement, and a Georgia Title I Distinguished School for making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) ten years in a row. The Governor’s Office of Student Achievement also recognized Rosemont Elementary School with the Bronze Award for Highest Percentage of Students Meeting and Exceeding Standards and the Gold Award for the Greatest Gains in Student Achievement.” (http://res.troup.k12.ga.us/principals_message.php)
Mr. Jordan’s words, “you have to try it to know if it’s going to work,” seem like good advice… I’m considering what I will try in my classroom, and wondering if that is the nature of body-focused innovations… we have to be willing to try them to see the benefits in our classrooms.
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