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Movement as an Instructional Strategy
Henry Willis Grant

Vexed by a visual impression of lack of physical movement in the EFL classroom, we decided to do a quick survey of how much student movement was going on in the average classroom of a specific language institution teaching both adolescents and adults. In this workshop we saw the results of the survey and analyzed why students should be involved in physical movement. With this information, the workshop participants finally engaged in discussing the variety of activity types available to promote physical movement in the classroom.

How much student physical movement tends to go on in the TEFL classroom?

The physical movement of students of 18 teachers was checked, in the middle of the academic semester, on 3 to 4 different occasions within a 45-day period, in the following manner:

once within the first 25 minutes of a class,
once in the middle 25 minutes of their classes and
twice in the last 25 minutes of their classes, in spot checks.

1. On 45 occasions (68.2 %) of the total of 66 spot checks, the students were in lockstep. Head movement was looking up (at the teacher / board / OHP projection) or occasionally glancing down (looking at the textbook / workbook / notebook or desk...). On an additional 2 occasions (3% of the cases), the class was in lockstep listening to an audio CD with some more movement involved since it included quick notes or checking. In all lockstep would add up to 71.5% of the spot checks.

2. On 9 occasions (13.6 %) students were working individually looking into a book, notebook, task-sheet etc. In all, 84.8% was in lockstep or in individual work in a textbook, workbook task-sheet or notebook.

3. On 2 occasions (3 %) students were sitting in pair-work, on 2 occasions (3 %) sitting in groups of 3, on one occasion (1.5%), sitting in groups of four, on 2 occasions (3 %) involved in a game, on 2 occasions (3 %) sitting in the lab, and on one occasion (1.5 %) mingling (cocktail party mode).

Summarizing: In all, a seemingly reasonable amount of movement was involved on 15 % of the occasions. However, only 5.5% of these occasions involved considerable movement such as mingling and games. On the other 7.5 % of the occasions students were working in pairs or small groups and on 3%they were in the audio lab. In 81.8 % of the spot checks, however, student physical movement was practically negligible.

Since all of these teachers had had access to information on the importance and the mechanics of Classroom Dynamics and on Teaching Teens in their teacher training and teaching development process and on the importance of grouping in the communicative approach, the question which remained was: why was there so little physical movement? and why were there so few out of lockstep activities?

The results of this survey and this question were brought up in a teacher’s meeting. The general feeling was a sense of disbelief and the need to review our practice. The only possible reason suggested by a couple of teachers was of lack of time due to the tightness of the schedule. However, immediately after the meeting, there was a clearly noticeable increase in the number of pair/group work and out of lockstep activities – without having changed the program.

It would seem to us that besides a possible tight program, what happened was something very similar to when teachers record their own lessons and are surprised to see how much Teacher Talking Time goes on in their own class. It would seem that, in fact, most of us think that we keep our students engaged in more activities than , in fact, we do, and that video-taping our classes might bring some very positive results.

Why should students be called on to exercise physical movement in the classroom?

We have identified 13 reasons:

1. To minimize restlessness related to physical elements of blood flow problems such as pins & needles. Allowing them to stand , walk around, at least once during class can eliminate this cause of distraction.

2. To minimize restlessness related to distraction due to either cognitive or psychological elements.
There are moments when students seem to have reached saturation point. Their mental anxiety seems to result in fidgeting or restless movements., requiring that the teacher respond with a stirring activity or some break in rhythm.

3. To help concentration by breaking the morning low, after lunch stillness, hot weather laziness or some other form of lethargy or drowsy apathy which results in lack of motivation to focus. Body movement has an activating effect not only on the body but the mind and emotions as well. Maley & Duff talk about invigorating the lethargic and directing student’s thoughts and feelings through drama technique exercises.. (Maley & Duff, 1982)

4. To help information recall. According to Susan Goldin-Meadow (Apud Moffett, N. 2001), gestures tend to help information recall. In a study of 40 children and 36 adults (published in the November, 2001 issue of Psychological Science), she noted that subjects performed 20 percent better on a memory test when permitted to gesture with their hands while explaining how they had solved a math problem. Those asked to keep their hands still as they explained did not perform as well.

5. To add emotional meaning to what is being done in class and open doors for learning through passion: when students study by doing, it becomes something they have lived through rather than something they have only heard or mechanically responded orally to. Lack of gestures on the part of the student may all too easily lead students to feel closer to an object or a piece of classroom furniture rather than a live, vibrating human being. After all, ‘the body is more than a container, a wrapping – it is half of our being ‘ (Ferreira, 1987)

6. For better Classroom Dynamics. The movement of grouping can help maintain group fluidity and help the teacher construct better classroom dynamics. (Jill Hadfield, 1992)

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