Many students find themselves struggling with core academic subjects. Educationalists are divided as to how to solve this problem. Can the use of movement be part of the solution?
Dissertation submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree Master of Arts in Contemporary Dance. London Contemporary Dance School. University of Kent at Canterbury 2017.
Many thanks to…
Juwon Ogungbe for putting me in touch with Grafton Primary School. Without that contact the practical side to my MA would not have been possible.
Grafton Primary School, Andrew Turnock and James Mather for being so accommodating and giving me the opportunity and experience to work with a group of children from the school.
To the six fantastic students from Grafton Primary school who came to each of my lessons with lots of enthusiasm for my work and a willingness to learn.
My friends and family for their love and support.
London Contemporary Dance School, Mary Evelyn, Marie Forbes, Hilary Stainsby, Peter Laycock and Antigone Exton-White for supporting my work and believing in my potential.
A dissertation investigating the effects which movement can have on the learning of academic subjects within the context of Creative and Active Learning for all students, especially those with learning difficulties such as dyslexia.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 – Historical Context………………………………………………..p. 3
Chapter 2 – Creative Learning…………..…………………………………..p. 10
Chapter 3 – Practice-Led Research..……………………………………….p. 16
Reference List……………………………………………………………….…p. 30
Appendix A – Interview Manuscripts……………………………………….p.36
Appendix B- Observations…………………………..……………..…..……p. 41
Appendix C – Lesson Plans……..…………………………………………..p. 49
Appendix D – Resources………………………………………………..……p. 63
Appendix E – Individual Learner Progress…………………………….…p. 67
Appendix F – Consent Forms………..…………………………….………..p. 69
This study looks at the effects that creative and active learning have on the learning of core academic subjects. More specifically, it reveals how movement as a creative tool can be used for effective learning, concentration and memory. In this study I will also be looking at how creative and active learning methods can benefit children with specific learning difficulties like dyslexia. Through research of current literature, scientific studies, as well as analysis of my own qualitative data, I will strive to determine the role that movement has on students in primary education.
My interest in the interaction between the use of movement and academic subjects (Maths, Science and English), normally taught through traditional methods, is longstanding. As a person with a degree of dyslexia, I discovered how difficult it was to learn a subject based on traditional classroom techniques. As a result and as a professional dancer and dance teacher, I have always been interested in more practical and visual ways of learning.
The issue of how the arts can enhance teaching and learning has long been discussed and debated amongst educators, parents, students, artists and philosophers. However, current understanding of how movement practice can be integrated into teaching academic subjects across the curriculum is limited.
Under the umbrella term of ‘creative learning’ through which creative methods and activities are used to enhance learning, the term ‘active learning’ has become more commonly used. By being active in one’s learning, whether it is playing a game, singing a song or standing up to do a physical activity, movement of the body is inevitable. The role of ‘action’ in relation to ‘thought’ has been central to many theorists and researchers since Jean Piaget’s theory on cognitive development (Davis, 1995, p. 50). Different researchers have used different terms to describe movement-based learning. In her book ‘Helping Children Learn through Play’ Mollie Davis often uses the term ‘cognitive dance’. Cognitive dance is described as the academic learning taking place through pleasurable physical activity (Davis, 1995). Howard Gardner who created the theory of Multiple Intelligences, refers to the use of the body for functional and expressive purposes as ‘bodily-kinaesthetic’. Another term I have often come across is ‘embodied learning’. For the purpose of my thesis and as to avoid potential confusion, in this work I will be using the terms ‘creative’ and ‘active’ learning.
Chapter 1 – Historical Context
The system of education today seems to be very academically driven, both in Britain and elsewhere. Some subjects in the curriculum are seen as more important than others, resulting in a hierarchy of branches of study. ‘Very few schools and even fewer school systems in the world teach dance every day as a formal part of their curriculum, as they do with Maths’ (Robinson, 2010, p. 14). As described in his book ‘The Element’, Ken Robinson goes on to say that ‘At the top of the hierarchy are mathematics, science, and language skills. In the middle are the humanities. At the bottom are the arts.’ (ibid, p. 13).
My aim in this section is to understand why this hierarchy came to be and why the absence of dance and movement, in particular, is almost universally prevalent in most educational institutions. By looking back through history, we can begin to understand the development of education through the ages and how the types of subjects taught seemed to have a correlation with the different economic systems and needs of those times. (ibid). By looking into the past we can also work out universal aims for education and see whether those aims are being met today.
Historically, skilled use of one’s body was regarded as an important factor of a person’s development. When we analyse the classical era, we see that the Ancient Greeks, over two thousand years ago, considered certain disciplines as particularly important in the formation of a well-rounded and virtuous person. ‘The individual who was fully developed was someone who cultivated knowledge, was courageous, loyal, just, physically strong and supple’ (Gardner, 1999, p. 33). Great educationalists of that era, like Plato and Aristotle, believed that it was important for a Greek citizen to not only master academic disciplines, such as mathematics, physics, biology, to name a few, but also to become someone who was masterful in artistic disciplines, such as music, poetry and drawing, as well as achieving mastery over the physical body.
The purpose of education for them was based on the idea of ‘freeing the mind from ignorance’ as well as ‘making you a fuller and more cultured person’ (Palmer, 2001, p. 19) or, as Howard Gardner says, in the book ‘Frames of Mind’, ‘the purpose of education (paideia) was to ensure that as many people as possible achieved such rounded excellence’ (Gardner, 1999, p. 33). In other words, mastery of the body and the arts was just as important as academic subjects. However, although in theory their aim was to involve as many individuals as possible, it was only the elite few who had the privilege of going to go to an Academy or Lyceum; usually only small groups of boys.
Although these classical views on the virtuous person remained constant throughout the centuries until the Middle Ages (Gardner, 1999, p. 33), one can see why dance and creative disciplines began to disappear from formal educational systems.
The medieval Christian Church veered between condemning dance by linking it to sin and incorporating it safely within religious ceremony (Brinson, 1991, p. 58). As Barbra Ehrenreich in her book ’Dancing in the Streets’ illustrates, when the church doors closed shut on festivities in the late Middle Ages, ‘in town after town throughout the Northern Christian world, the music stops.’ (Ehrenreich, 2007, p. 96). The possibility of any form of celebration, which at first had been driven and controlled under the watchful eyes of the church, was now banished from the streets and public squares.
As medieval England developed, so did the need for a more educated population, although at the time schools were very small and still only available to the elite few. Education became centred around Christian values, with its purpose being to get people ready to become leaders of the Church. This meant that Religion took a central role in the curriculum and often devoted considerable attention on how to memorise materials faithfully and learn information off by heart. The art works produced in this era took on a religious focus. Examples can be found in paintings of artists such as Donatello, Giotto, Filippo Brunelleschi and Fra Angelico. (Boundless, 2016).
The Renaissance period brought us out of what became known as the ‘Dark Ages’, and major changes start to appear. Humanism became a substitute for education, which shifted away from the heavily influenced Medieval religious curriculum and began to bring back the values and teachings of the Classical Era. This meant that education was aimed much more towards secular purposes, bringing back the educational objectives, which were to create good and well-rounded citizens. Humanist schools combined Christianity and classical texts to produce a model of education for all of Europe. They restored the arts back to a central position in the general culture: painting, music, poetry and the eloquence of the human body in terms of etiquette for the royal courts of the era, although, within the objectives of education, physical exercise or dance appeared not to be subjects worth institutionalising. (Boundless, 2016).
The Age of Discovery or the Age of Exploration – from around the end of the 15th century but which extended until the 18th century –, brought another change to our economy and understanding of the world. As explorers like Vasco Da Gama, Christopher Columbus and Alvares Cabral, to name a few, discovered new lands, and extensive overseas exploration emerged as a powerful factor in European culture, we started to see the beginnings of globalisation, which led us to view the world in new and exciting ways.
The Enlightenment Period, stretching over the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, had as its fundamental principle the commitment to logic and critical reasoning as opposed to myth and superstition. Apart from the aim of preparing for the future or the ‘learning for life’ (Porter, 2000, p. 341), education in that period was also seen as a way of ‘distinction between the civilised and the savage.’ (ibid, p. 339). This era brought us intellectual advances which led to the growth of scientific insights and to spectacular developments in practical technology that gave rise to new forms of thought in scholarship, politics, education and the Industrial Revolution (Robinson, 2010, p. 37).
Like Ancient Greece, throughout our two-thousand-year history ‘education was a largely private affair’ (Gardner, 1999, p. 37). Only the elite few, mostly men, could go to university while girls received some form of education, if they were lucky enough to come from a wealthy and enlightened family, first through close relatives and, later, through the use of governesses who played an important role in their formation.
‘Most systems of mass education came into being relatively recently’ (Robinson, 2010, p. 13). The Industrial Revolution brought us a new world of jobs and the demand for the masses to be educated grew. According to Howard Gardner, the American common school – the first public (state) school in the world – was created in the middle of the 19th century (Gardner, 1999, p. 37). Schools in Europe and America were developed to meet the needs of the Industrial Revolution. ‘Maths, Science, and language skills were essential for jobs in the industrial economies’ (Robinson, 2010, p. 13). In other words, academic subjects were at the forefront of the education curriculum because that was what was needed to prepare young people for the economic system that was taking shape at the time.
Despite the restoration of classical values during the Renaissance, neither dance nor physical exercise was integrated into education. Only later, as industrialisation created the necessity for physical recuperation among factory workers, were sports encouraged as a national pastime and as a means for fitness. (Brinson, 1991, p. 59). As the British Empire expanded, it encouraged the educational institutions to use sports in the curriculum as a means ‘to produce the qualities of discipline, leadership, competition, determination to win, arrogance and conviction of national superiority on which the Empire was based.’ (ibid). However, dance was still considered unnecessary as there was no place for it in the new economic landscape.
In our more recent history there have been many changes and reforms in the education system. Since standardized testing was introduced, it has played a major role in the curriculum. In my opinion it has caused a huge misjudgement as to what intelligence is, causing many learners to feel as though they have failed for not meeting expectations. ‘For nearly seven decades, most American colleges have used it as an essential part of their screening processes.’ (Robinson, 2010, p. 41). In my view, these standardized tests have favoured academic subjects at the expenses of the creative ones.
As public schooling grew in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the ideas about knowledge and intelligence dominated the education sector. According to Ken Robinson ‘The new science of psychology was on hand with new theories about how intelligence could be tested and measured.’ (Robinson, 2010, p. 38). The growing demands of the industrial revolution created a necessity for ‘quick and easy forms of selection and assessment’ (ibid).
One of these new ways of assessing intelligence was the IQ test, which was developed in 1904 by Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon. The IQ test was relied upon by the education systems as a way to ‘quantify intelligence…and identify who among us is truly intelligent and deserving of exalted treatment’ (ibid). According to Ken Robinson, Alfred Binet ‘designed it exclusively to identify children with special needs so they could get appropriate forms of schooling’ (ibid). In other words, it was not intended to identify degrees of intelligence. It only tested one kind of intelligence which meant that those who learned and expressed themselves differently were disregarded as lacking in intelligence, which, in those days, was reason enough for different degrees of punishment.
The Education Act 1944, also known as the Butler Act, brought about big changes for the education system. It was an answer to increasing social and educational demands created by the war and the widespread pressure for social reform. It also brought an end to the traditional all-age (5-14) elementary sector, by distinguishing between primary and secondary. The Butler Act also abolished fees on parents for state secondary schools, meaning that finally education could be available for the majority not only the elite, as I discussed above. (School Reporters, 2014).
Under the Education Act 1988, the National Curriculum was implemented in all state primary and secondary schools in England and Wales. It was put forward as a way to ensure each learner was given the same standard of education. From here a new wave of standardised testing began to arise. (ibid). That brought about the GCSE examinations, which were also introduced in the UK in 1988, replacing O-level and CSE examinations. Although GCSEs today offer a wider range of subjects to choose from, those core subjects like Maths, Science and English have always been compulsory, while the arts and humanities are optional choices.
By 1991 the first round of new nationwide SAT examinations was introduced. Carl Brigham, the inventor of SAT, conceived the test for the military. According to Ken Robinson ‘the SAT is in many ways the indicator for what is wrong with standardized tests: it only measures a certain kind of intelligence.’ (Robinson, 2010, p. 41). Similarly, as we have seen in the GCSE exams, it is mandatory to take tests in reading, writing, mathematics and science. All other subjects have been left out which seems to indicate that they are considered of less importance.
We also see this kind of hierarchy of subjects in more recently introduced examination boards, such as EBacc (Department of Education, 2016). EBacc was introduced to England in 2010. As stated on the Department of Education website, the intention is ‘that all pupils who start year 7 in September 2015 take the EBacc subjects when they reach their GCSEs in 2020.’ (ibid). EBacc, similar to the other examining bodies mentioned above, also favours the academic subjects which are made up of English, Mathematics, History or Geography, the Sciences, and a foreign language. GCSE and SATs, which will eventually be joined by EBacc, are still being used today and children’s futures depend on the marks they obtain based on the criteria of those examination systems.
Considering all of the above, we now have a clearer understanding as to why, throughout our history, the traditional school curriculum has given more importance to Maths, English and Science than to the Arts.
Not that Maths, English and Science should not be considered important, but the way the curriculum has been designed, as Ken Robinson claims, does not prepare us for working life in contemporary society. ‘Some of the most important capacities that young people now need to make their way in the increasingly demanding world of the 21st-century are the powers of creative thinking.’ (Robinson, 2010, p. 14).
Creative thinking involves new ways of teaching and learning. Here is where the methods of teaching those academic subjects come into perspective.
Howard Gardner says in his book ‘The Disciplined Mind’ that schools teach in a ‘uniform manner’, meaning that ‘they have taught and assessed all individuals in essentially the same way’ (Gardner, 1999, p. 37). For example, as a result, those who think visually and learn in a more practical way may never get a chance at succeeding in an academic subject ‘just because the teachers only presented the class in one non-visual way’ (Robinson, 2010, p. 13). As Ken Robinson also said ‘Academic ability is very important, but so are other ways of thinking.’ (ibid, p. 14). He goes on to argue that the journey of education through the ages resulted in school systems having a ‘very narrow view of intelligence and capacity’ (ibid, p. 13), which places value on particular sorts of talent and ability and neglects others that are just as important by applying the ‘one-size-fits-all’ model. (ibid, p. 14).
Howard Gardner broadened our understanding of human intelligence beyond the established linguistic and logical intelligence by identifying seven areas of intelligence in his 1983 book, ‘Frames of Mind’. According to Susan Griss, although bodily-kinaesthetic is recognised as one of the multiple intelligences, ‘it is one of the most undervalued in our schools’ (Griss, 1998, p. 2). Gardner’s theory argues that students will benefit from being exposed to a broader vision of education, where teachers use different methodologies, exercises and activities to reach all students, not just those who excel at linguistic and logical intelligence. This method of teaching he calls pluralisation.
Creative learning seems to take on this concept because it appears to cater to a greater number of different types of intelligence.
Chapter 2 – Creative and Active Learning
(Modern methodologies vs. traditional teaching methods)
As we have seen in the previous chapter, the subjects considered to be core subjects are Maths, Science and English. When trying to get all students to take an interest and succeed in an academic subject, a great concern that many modern teachers face is planning a class that can cater for as many different types of learners as possible. As mentioned earlier, the traditional methods of teaching cater mostly for those who exhibit linguistic and logical intelligences. Creative learning, on the other hand, seems to successfully tackle Gardner’s theory about pluralisation because it appears to cater to a greater number of intelligences than traditional methods.
My aim in this section is to explore how modern methods such as creative and active learning can affect children’s ability to learn; in other words, whether it is more or less effective compared to traditional methods, and whether it can be improved by adding movement activities within the classroom.
Traditional teaching methods have been the backbone of our education system as we saw in the last chapter. They were put in place for the economic interests of each era, but times are changing and there are those who believe the education system must change too. However, these changes face opposition: in a study by the Sutton Trust on ‘What makes great teaching’, the authors claim that there is not enough evidence to prove that modern methods such as ‘presenting information to students based on their “preferred learning style”’ or ‘allowing learners to discover key ideas by themselves’ (Coe, R., Aloisi, C., Giggins, S. and Major, L. E., 2014), can improve attainment of information. However, as I have discovered through my own research and observations, modern practices such as Creative and Active Learning, have proven to be successful.
Grafton Primary School, a community-based school located in North London, prides itself for being known as a creative school. I had the pleasure of observing some classes there, where I also got an insight into creative learning methods in action. A good example of a creative class that I observed was a Year 4 Science lesson, where the topic of study was ‘Sound’. The class was planned in such a way that the lesson objectives were achieved and understood by all the pupils. This was so because the teacher used many different teaching devices to explain the same topic. As a central reference throughout the class, they were asked ‘to make a sound does something need to move?’ (Appendix B – Lesson Observations 5), which they tried to answer at different stages of the activities. The more they explored, the clearer their answers became.
One of the exercises was to explore several colourful music instruments and objects which could produce sound placed by the teacher on tables around the room, such as triangles, tuning forks, plastic tubes, coat hangers with strings, makeshift guitars made with cardboard boxes and rubber bands, etc. The children were asked to think and vocalise their answers as well as write them down on a post-it note. And, finally, they played a listening game, where they listened to a sound on the interactive whiteboard and then put their hands up to shout out the answers. The children were completely engaged throughout the lesson due to the exciting and playful atmosphere created in the classroom, making them interested and keen to learn. (Appendix B – Lesson Observations 5).
Professor Robert Coe from Durham University, one of the authors of an article in The Guardian Newspaper said ‘Assessing effective teaching was difficult because exactly how pupils learn remains a mysterious subject.’ (Adams, 2014) – In other words, according to him there is no clear evidence.
In contrast, Geoff Petty, who has conducted a range of studies specifically about Active Learning, states that ‘All research shows that we learn by doing’ (Petty, 2002, section B). In his paper ‘Active Learning Works’ he presented a study, which was carried out to compare active learning with traditional methods. Professor John Hattie and Robert Marzano used careful statistical methods to average the findings of many thousands of the most rigorous studies on active learning. Their findings showed that ‘active learning adds a grade and a half to achievement’ (Petty, no date, Active Learning Works). According to Geoff Petty, by using active learning methods in the classroom they can ‘create better recall by students, develop high order reasoning skills in students and are more enjoyed by students’ (Petty, 2002, section B). Those who defend traditional teaching methods often view creativity in the classroom as mere “entertainment” and argue that using movement activities in class might be distracting for the children. (Petty, no date, Active Learning Works). However, it seems that more schools and organisations are slowly beginning to adopt more creative and active ways of teaching, although many teachers argue that they have ‘too much to cover… active learning would be great if they had the time’ (ibid).
Math Dance, an organisation based in the U.S., created by Eric Stern and Karl Schaffer, designed exercises combining movement with mathematical concepts which they have taught for over 20 years. In their TEDx talk they claim that, ‘using movement in the classroom works and is far from a distraction’. (Stern and Schaffer, 2012, 3:31).
It is my impression that children learn better when being active in their learning. Ken Robinson states that ‘…many students only become engaged when they’re using their bodies.’ (Robinson, 2010, p. 14). Similarly, Susan Griss also states at the very start of her book that ‘Children use their bodies to play, communicate, and express emotions’ (Griss, 1998, p. 1). Both of these statements seem to confirm my impression.
Many consider that through moving and keeping active, children can improve their abilities for learning, such as concentration and memory as well as being generally more confident, healthy and happy. In a research collaboration between Hampshire Dance and Trinity Laban, the evaluation report found that ‘physical activity linked to increased mean academic achievement, improved mental health and self-esteem’ (Sanders, 2013, p. 123).
Unfortunately, due to our advancements in modern technology, with gadgets easily available and usually in the hands of many, children today are not physically as able as in the past. According to Professor Pat Greedy and Dr Rebecca Duncombe in the article ‘Research finds 4-year olds are not physically ready to start school’, ‘new research has revealed that children mobility levels are said to be at an all-time low’ (Duncombe & Greedy, 2016). A child’s physical development level impacts their balance and coordination and ability to do simple movements like ‘sitting still, holding a pencil, putting on their shoes and reading’ (ibid, 2016, para. 6). The lack of these movement skills can affect children’s ability to learn in class as they are essential for progress throughout school.
There have been many schools in England who have taken up more physical activities for their students because of studies like these.
Nicola Slawson (Slawson, 2015) wrote about the pupils of St. Ninians Primary School in Stirling. The school began an activity called the ‘daily mile’ where students from the school walked or ran a mile each day. This resulted in an improvement in the children’s fitness, behaviour and concentration in lessons. It has since been introduced in schools in London, Gateshead, Wales and other parts of Scotland, while others are planning to launch the initiative during the upcoming academic years. In Stirling alone, 30 schools have already started or are to start the ‘daily mile’ (ibid).
However, although the existing physical education curriculum addresses our physical development through functional movement as well as expressive movement like dance, according to Penny Greenland ‘the lived experience of the body is completely missing from the current curriculum’ (Greenland, 2000, p. 48-49). She argues that, ‘human beings are essentially playful, physical beings who need to live in their whole bodies, not just their heads’ (ibid, p. 3). In other words, sitting passively and listening doesn’t seem to be enough, we should use our bodies to learn.
With so many theorists and thinkers making a link between the effects of active movement and learning, instead of placing physical exercise alongside academic subjects, what if teachers used kinaesthetic language to teach not only at primary level but at all levels of the curriculum?
Through my research and observations so far, I have seen how teachers reach out to students who learn in different ways. More and more creative elements are being used in contemporary education. Although many of these creative classes consist of active participation, in my view there are still not enough movement-based activities in the classroom, usually referred to as kinaesthetic learning.
There has been very little research done on movement-based learning in the classroom but what has been recorded so far seems promising, such as the following.
Erik Stern and Karl Schaffer, the creators of Math Dance in the U.S. as mentioned earlier, argue that ‘classes need not exclusively involve sitting at desks’ (Stern and Schaffer, 2012, 9:53). One of the many exercises which they developed tackled the concept of combinatorics. This concept is concerned with counting combinations, where they asked students to experiment using handshakes. In another exercise, they used movement to explore the mathematical concept of symmetry, where the students were instructed to face each other, and mirror each other’s movements. One had to move while the other had to copy. According to them, movement-based classes, specifically for mathematics, help students in three areas: ‘The embodiment of the problem, which is memorable; the creation of physical and enthusiastic energy in the classroom; and the use of choreographic and mathematical thinking which are composed of similar building blocks.’ (ibid, 3:20). These areas entice the students to develop mathematical perceptions such as: ‘…noting change, remembering sequences, asking if things are bigger or smaller and checking to see if a pattern is constant.’ (ibid, 3:42).
According to Geoff Petty there is now a ‘large consensus amongst expert researchers on learning and on the brain’. He confirms that, ‘we do not learn by passively receiving and then remembering what we are taught… Instead, learning involves actively constructing our own meanings.’ (Petty, no date, Constructivist Teaching).
Yet another example of the successful effects of creative and active learning classes on pupils was clearly evident when I went to observe a Maths Dance class in London at Eaton Square School. Maths Dance (no relation with the U.S. company mentioned above) is a company set up in this country by Panorea Baka. She also created a way of learning by combining movement and mathematics. In the class, which I observed in November 2016, the Year 5 students were asked to solve a puzzle with the objective of solving it in the least amount of moves. When the students tried it on paper they couldn’t solve it within the required number of moves, but when they tried to solve it with their bodies they immediately managed to reach the objective of the exercise, by solving the puzzle in the least amount of moves.
Siobhan Davies Dance, a contemporary dance company also based in London, has worked with many primary schools in the UK by supporting and encouraging teachers to use movement in their teaching practise. The company’s Primary Resource Packs have been accepted and recognised as being successful in extending children’s learning across the curriculum (Siobhan Davies Dance, 2014).
Viera Boumova wrote a thesis on Traditional vs. Modern Teaching Methods where she made interesting comparisons between the two. Unlike traditional methodology, according to Boumova, modern methodology is much more student-centred whereas traditional teaching methods are more teacher-centred. She states that the teacher’s main role in modern teaching methods is to ‘help learning to happen,’ which includes involving students in what is going on ‘by enabling them to work at their own speed, by not giving long explanations, by encouraging them to participate, talk, interact, do things, etc.’ (Boumova, 2008, p. 29).
Although there seem to be quite a few positive examples as I have mentioned above, traditional educators still use the argument that methods such as creative and active learning do not have enough evidence to support what they describe as mythical theories about teaching and learning. This is why it is vital for researchers to carry out more studies that can collect enough evidence to prove that education can be different and can achieve successful outcomes for both teachers and students. My study aims to contribute to this field.
Chapter 3 – Practice-Led Research
In this chapter, my objective is to present my findings in a way which is representative of the style used in traditional science experiments. Given that the nature of this section is an experiment and the subject at hand is Science, I believe this format to be the most appropriate.
My aim in this experiment is to test whether active learning can aid students in their process of learning and retention of information, as well as detect what effects movement, in particular, has on the children’s understanding of an academic subject.
I predict that my classes will facilitate the children’s learning because the activities I will use will be memorable, therefore enabling the learners to retain the information long-term.
I also hope to see that the movement exercises in particular will enable the learners to understand more of what was being taught at the time.
I predict that my activities will help keep all the learners engaged at all times, and that they will find the process of learning more enjoyable.
I predict that the children will become more confident in expressing their opinions.
I also expect that my experiment will allow for a much stronger intercommunication between the students as a result of the possibilities of teamwork and interaction.
This being an experiment designed not only to help “normal students” but more specifically to cater for those with learning difficulties such as dyslexia, my expectation is that they will be empowered by this different method of active learning, because they might be better suited to learn through the use of their bodies/ kinaesthetic learning rather than reading and writing.
I also hope that the exercises from my classes could be used in a typical classroom setting instead of a hall so that more teachers would be able to use similar exercises in their own classes.
One final prediction is that teachers will find that not all my activities will be possible in a “normal / traditional class” environment, such as getting up to do a warm up or moving around the space, due to health and safety risks of the number of children in a class and the fact that the space has too many objects that could be in the way or cause an accident.
For the different activities of my classes I used a range of resources, such as cards, an actual functioning circuit board, music for movement exploration, flip board, mini whiteboards, YouTube clips, pens and paper.
Preparation and research
My first step was to find a school that would allow me to take a group of students to work with. I was fortunate enough to be introduced to Andrew Turnock, the Associate Headteacher of Grafton Primary School, a community school in North London. Andrew very kindly agreed that I could work with a group of children at his school and recommended I work with James Mather’s Year 4, which they call Orange Class. After having spoken to James, who mentioned that Year 4’s next topic in Science was to be about electricity and circuits, I decided that this was to be my chosen subject area.
I decided to opt for a small class of six children, specifically a combination of learners with and without learning difficulties, who were struggling in science.
A small class meant I was able to allow certain situations that in a bigger class might become chaotic. Examples: In a conventional class children are often told to sit properly in their chairs, while when I noticed that one of the pupils was sitting with one foot up on the chair, I didn’t change his position because he was able to engage and concentrate perfectly in this position (perhaps this is the best position for this particular student to be in when taking in information); one other student would get very easily distracted, and I found that every now and then her attention was on something other than what I was teaching. Again I didn’t correct her; instead, I tested her by asking questions to do with the subject at hand and to my surprise she would always answer correctly.
Another point for having a small group was to see how far I could stretch the use of movement. Although I intended for the movements to be done with the children standing up and moving and travelling around the classroom with the tables pushed to the sides, I was aware that, had it been a larger class, this would not have been possible. Therefore, I created an alternative exercise which used the same ideas and formulas but which allowed the children to do the same things sitting at a table, i.e. by making the movements smaller and more gestural. This can be found in the Notes column of the lesson plans.
In order to put together an appropriate lesson plan for a Year 4 Science class, I made sure to follow the National Curriculum guidelines. By looking at the National Curriculum for Ks2 Electricity, I had a sense of what content I needed to cover in my sessions. These were the points put forward:
Pupils should be taught to:
- Identify common appliances that run on electricity.
- Construct a simple series electrical circuit, identifying and naming its basic parts.
- Identify whether or not a lamp will light in a simple series circuit, based on whether or not the lamp is part of a complete loop with a battery.
- Recognise that a switch opens and closes a circuit and associate this with whether or not a lamp lights in a simple series circuit.
- Recognise some common conductors and insulators, and associate metals with being good conductors. (National Curriculum, 2013).
Fortunately, I was able to have access to primary school lesson plans from Maths Dance Company and Siobhan Davies Dance, which inspired me to apply a similar format to my own lesson plans: explanations and discussions would take place at the beginning and end of the sessions while movement exploration was held in between. (Appendix C – Lesson plans).
Through my experience of working with Maths Dance and their classes on the ‘Tower of Hanoi’ puzzle, I developed ideas for the exercises to be applied in my classes. In those classes, I was able to see how movement could fit into a lesson of an academic subject. Many of my movement ideas were inspired by exercises that had already been created by Maths Dance. For example, in one of the dance exercises, the children were asked to freeze in either a small, medium or big shape to represent the discs of different sizes that make up the Tower of Hanoi. If a full tower (which consists of one big disc, one medium disc and one small disc) was represented by their frozen shapes, then they could come together to connect and create a human version of the tower, but if the students chose the same shapes, e.g. all were a big disc, then they would have to carry on walking around the space. Similarly, in one of my exercises I asked the children to freeze in a shape that represented different components of an electrical circuit (a wire, a bulb or a battery). If the children’s choices created a complete circuit then they could come together to connect and create a human circuit. If they chose similar shapes, e.g. they all chose to be a bulb, then they would have to continue to move around the space, until they froze again.
Inspired by Howard Gardner’s books on Multiple Intelligences theory and pluralisation, I was very conscious of the fact that I would need to teach this subject through several modes in order to get through to the different learners that I would find in my class. This is why I incorporated many different forms of explanation to pass information to the children. I included: rapping, drawing, writing, listening, discussions and games as well as movement exercises, so if a student didn’t understand the subject through one activity they would hopefully understand through another. I also made sure to give the children opportunities to work by themselves as well as in a group. Whenever I asked them a question or assessed them at the beginning and end of the class, I encouraged each pupil to answer in a way that was most comfortable for them; for example by either writing, acting, dancing, drawing or vocalising the answer.
Through my previous observations I had a sense of how Grafton School, as an institution, worked and what devices were used to keep the children engaged. Games were used in all the sessions I watched, and it was evident through the children’s enthusiasm that they really enjoyed learning in this way. In her book ‘Learning Through Play’, Tina Bruce says ‘Play, like creativity, helps children to make connection in their learning.’ (Bruce, 2011, p. 4). Therefore, I made sure to use games and competitions in my lesson plans. For example, each child received three cards with symbols on them: one was a light bulb, another a battery and a third one an electric wire. I would say a word (‘bulb’, ‘battery’ or ‘wire’) and the children would select and hold up the card with the symbol they thought matched the word.
One of the major problems I had during my own education was trying to understand why we had to learn certain subjects. I found that if I couldn’t relate what I was learning to anything in my practical life, then the subject would become tiresome and without meaning. In my classes at Grafton School I made sure to avoid this. So, in lesson number one (Appendix C) the very first thing I did was to bring the children into a dark classroom. I asked one of the children how we could make the room brighter so that we were able to see. One of the children ran to the light switch to turn on the lights. That was the starting point for my topic on electric circuits. As the action of turning the light switch on is an everyday habit, the children were able to make a connection to the subject I was going to teach.
My classes took place once a week on a Friday for four weeks from 1.30pm-2.30pm in the school library. The space was set up similar to a classroom but with fewer chairs and tables. I felt that, from the start, the six children were enthusiastically engaged with what I was doing. In my four classes, I covered the components of a simple electrical series circuit, how a light bulb can be made brighter or dimmer, conductors and insulators, the dangers of electricity and an assessment.
At the beginning of each class I would ask the children to recap what they had learned the previous session and, at the end of each one, what they had learned that day. I created a rap about electricity, which was sung in every lesson. Each child was given a line to rap individually and the chorus was sung by the whole group (Appendix C).
Before any movement exploration took place, I made sure to go through simple warming up exercises to get their bodies ready for movements. I also included a quick cool-down activity through stretching exercises so as to bring the children’s energy levels down to normal, ready for their next class.
For the first lesson, Friday 10th March 2017, I used the card game, (see Appendix C, Lesson Plan 1. See also, Appendix D, Lesson 1), to get the children familiar with the electrical circuit components (bulb, battery and wire) and their names. The children were able to identify the large colourful pictures on the cards and associate them with the words. Through a movement exercise, the children were also asked to explore different ways to illustrate the words (bulb, battery and wire) through ‘frozen’ body positions in response to the three words being called out. After exploring, the children then decided between themselves which positions worked and set a specific movement to each word. In another movement exercise, they were asked to recognise whether or not a bulb would light up based on whether a circuit was complete or incomplete. For this, the children had to take the shape of a component (which they created) and connect to one another to create a human circuit.
When they connected, they would make specific movements to indicate the light bulb was on, and that electricity was running through the circuit.
An activated light bulb was indicated by waving their arms above their heads. An active circuit was indicated by the ‘wire’ waving their arms horizontally, etc. When the circuit was incomplete, the children would disconnect from each other and stop moving, to show that electricity was no longer running through each component. A YouTube clip (https://youtu.be/HOFp8bHTN30) was also used as a way to round up all the above. This was a fun visual for the children. As the clip was playing, I would stop it to ask the children what they thought would happen next (to test their learning), I would then press play and the children excitedly waited to see if they had given the correct answer.
The second lesson (Friday 17th March) was about recognizing that bulbs can be made brighter or dimmer in a series circuit by changing the number or types of components, i.e. bulbs or batteries. To show this, I used a movement game where the numbers 1, 2 and 3 suggested levels of energy through the children’s movements. When each number was called out, the children had to respond accordingly. I also used cards with pictures of different numbers of bulbs and batteries. When I called out a word (brighter or dimmer) the children had to pick a card, which they thought corresponded to the word and explained why. Finally, I used an actual electrical circuit board to illustrate the whole process.
The following session (Friday 24th March), we covered conductors and insulators. The children were given a range of objects to investigate which materials conducted electricity. They then had to write on a post-it paper the name of the material they were testing and stick it on a board divided in two columns: ‘conductor’ and ‘insulator’. In this lesson a card game was also used. For the movement exploration, the children had to recreate the human circuit, this time with a gap. When an object was placed in the gap, the children had to react by moving or staying still according to whether or not that material conducted electricity.
The fourth and final lesson took place on Friday 31st March. We returned to all the areas covered in the previous sessions using again movement, card games, drawing competition, with a quiz at the end, as a form of assessment (Appendix D – Recourses, Lesson 4, Quiz). For this assessment, I gave them options to give their answers through various modes: writing, drawing, acting, dancing, etc.
A final meeting between the six pupils and me (on Friday 12th May 2017) was organized after the half term when I came back to Grafton Primary School to interview the children once more to test their long term retention. It had been exactly six weeks since I had last seen them, and to add to this, they had hardly begun the topic of electricity in their usual Science class with James.
I asked each student the exact same questions as I had done in lesson 4 (see: Appendix C, Lesson Plan 4 – Quiz), but this time I encouraged them to verbalise their answers as I wanted to check whether the non-verbal methods I used before had worked. I believe that once you have gained full understanding of something then it should feel natural or become easier to verbalise one’s ideas. This way, I was able to really judge how much information the children had retained and properly understood based on their verbalisation of the answer.
My results came from the following:
- The ‘Individual Learner Progress Sheet’ which recorded their progress after each lesson (Appendix E: Individual Learner Progress). This record also shows the children’s confidence through their verbalisation and ability to participate in the rap.
This table shows how each student progressed from lesson to lesson. The children were assessed and marked out of ten, on their understanding and retention of new information as well as their confidence in communicating to others their own thoughts and ideas. It is evident that all the students, except Ryan, progressed from week to week. Nada, Imran and Jessica were confident and showed high marks from the beginning of the experiment. By the last session all the students show signs of improvement.
- The quiz, which was taken twice to compare their understanding of information as well as their long-term retention of information.
The table shows the results for the first quiz, which was taken on the 31st March 2017 and the results for the second quiz, which was taken 12th May 2017. The quiz had seven questions therefor the children were marked out of seven. I was pleased to see that the children got most of their questions right. This is evidence that they learnt and retained information from all the lessons. To my surprise when I gave them the quiz the second time, I found that their answers were more accurate even though they had had a six week gap since the last quiz. I believe my methods and activities were memorable which enabled the children to answer the questions of the quiz.
- Finally through the comments given by the children as well as their teacher, James, who saw bits of the class, this table shows the activities that the children thought were most effective and memorable.
The table above shows which activities were most memorable for the children. The table is laid out to show how many children, out of six, voted for each activity. The movement and the story were the most successful, while only two chose discussions as being memorable. This outcome is interesting because movement is the tool least used as a way of learning in most schools.
In general, from the results shown in the charts, the experiment indicates that it was successful overall. When I interviewed the children, one point they brought up was the fact that I used different activities throughout the lesson. The children liked this because, as one put it, the fact that there were several activities meant if they could not understand the subject through one activity they could understand it through another. Therefore, I believe the use of different activities that use a wide range of learning styles is beneficial for a class that has different types of abilities and learning styles.
As we can also see from the results table of the most memorable activities for the children, movement was one of the top ones. This seems to indicate that movement exploration leaves a memorable mark on children’s minds. This kind of kinaesthetic learning has been tested out by practitioners such as Davis, author of ‘Helping children to learn through play’, who have been inspired by Piaget’s theories. According to Davis, ‘it is difficult to understand why movement features so little in educational texts.’ (Davis, 1995, p. 50). The results above suggest that movement does indeed have an impact on children’s learning to some extent.
As far as engagement is concerned, from having taught the lesson and seen the children throughout this period, I could see that they were fully engaged in the lessons. When Marie Forbes came to observe the class, her comments confirmed that the children were indeed engaged, and from looking at the video footage of lesson 3 and 4 one can also see that this was a constant fact.
In the area of the children’s confidence in expressing their opinions, one clear sign of progress was through their performance of the rap. In the first lesson, only one student was able to keep in time with the beat and was not shy in saying loudly and clearly the words given to him. One student in particular explained to me that she didn’t want to say anything by herself so I teamed her up with a partner so that they could say the words together. By the fourth and final lesson all the children were able to perform their lines on their own and keep more or less in time with the beat. We also had many discussions during the lessons and I was able to see who spoke out more and who shied away the most. When I interviewed the children, one of the girls said ‘I think it helps people with difficulties because it gets people to talk to each other more if you don’t normally really talk, and you get to speak, and you get to say what your opinion is.’ (Appendix A – Interview manuscripts). Another expectation which, in my view, was fulfilled was that the experiment allowed for a much stronger intercommunication between the students as a result of teamwork and interaction. Her comment confirms my prediction about how the children would gain more confidence in expressing their opinions.
In my classes, I had children with mixed abilities, some who had different degrees of dyslexia and some with no learning difficulties. But all of them mentioned having experienced difficulties with reading and writing to one degree or another. One of the children said ‘I think it would be good for other people because they can find out how other people might be learning and if other people find it difficult they can kind of talk to each other so we’re helping each other to understand.’ (Appendix A – Interview manuscripts). I find this interesting because it is true that in most traditional classes all children try to learn by reading and writing – some excel this way and some do not. By contrast, in my classes, even if one child doesn’t normally excel through movement or singing a rap, in the same way that others don’t necessarily excel through reading and writing, he or she will get to see how others might learn and excel, therefore they get to share the experience of the success of others.
I also hoped that the exercises from my classes could be used in a typical classroom setting, instead of a hall so that more teachers would be able to use similar exercises in their own classes. With the number of children that I worked with, my exercises proved to work in the classroom setting although I am aware that with a larger class this might not be possible. This is why I came up with alternative versions of activities which can be done sitting at desks using smaller movements.
One final comment I would like to make is the fact that I had set up this experiment hoping to be able to compare the performance of my group of children with the rest of their colleagues who would be learning the same topic through their usual methods of learning with their teacher. Unfortunately, by the time I was writing the conclusion of my experiment, the class with their usual teacher had only just started to tackle the same topic, therefore I was unable to compare the two groups. If I were to take this study further, I would plan to teach two groups of the same size myself, one using my active learning methods with movement and the other with a more traditional method; then I would be able to draw more conclusive comparisons as to which method works better.
After five months of research and experiment, it seems to me that my expectations were satisfactorily fulfilled. The Historical Context chapter was vital in my research as a way of understanding why in our educational systems today we have come to value subjects like Maths, English and Science as core subjects, for example, as well as the methods through which they are taught. Unfortunately, it is my opinion that students like me are discouraged from being academically successful because of these traditional ‘one-size-fits-all’ methods. Fortunately, though, through the work of theoreticians like Howard Gardner, new ways of transmitting information in the classroom which are more student-centred have become increasingly common.
Through the experiment I carried out, most of my predictions proved to be right although some unpredictable things occurred so that my results could not be completely reliable in terms of comparing creative and active learning to traditional methods. There were several things that I would change to obtain more effective and precise results. One was that my class could not be compared to the other class, as I had hoped due to the fact that the other class had not begun the topic of electricity yet. If I was to carry on with my research, as I mentioned before, I would teach two classes, one with the active and creative methods and the other without, in order to resemble a more traditional system. To make sure it was a fair test, I would teach both classes, both of them with the same number of children with mixed levels of ability; they would both be learning the same topic, have the same objectives and be assessed in the same way.
In future, I hope to go further with this study, by carrying out my research in more schools so that more results can be gathered to create concrete evidence which can finally prove to those who oppose such methods that creative learning can work and further, that learning and going to school can be something children look forward to, rather than get nervous about.