Addressing learning issues on the academic level is like repairing a roof when the walls and foundations are cracked and crumbling. The following diagram, The Learning Ladder, illustrates what systems need to be in place, and in what order, so that they are able to appropriately support academic learning, located at the top of the ladder, as seen in a previous post.
The Learning Ladder – how we developmentally learn (de Garcia 2014).
When we look at babies, we see that they do not yet have the neural connections into the frontal lobes of their brain to control their impulses. It is normal, at this age, for babies to be hyperactive because certain parts of the brain, the basal ganglia in particular, have not yet been developed and are not connected to other levels of the brain (Blomberg & Dempsey, 2011). Children who hop, spin and crash into walls while walking are still learning to control their balance. They are demonstrating that they too have underdeveloped brains and are developmentally similar in some ways to the active infant.
What these children are silently telling us is that somewhere along the line, they have missed some critical developmental stages, because the brain does not develop normally if a stage of development is missed (Gold, 2008). When analyzing the behaviors of poor readers, the problems that had been identified all boiled down to an unorganized nervous system (Gold, 2008). Eye dominance is one result of this organization. Studies have showed that as much as 81% of students who have learning difficulties are left-eyed and right handed. “Since the eye naturally wants to track from the right to left, it will also guide the hand from the right to left, which may cause writing difficulties or letter reversals” (Hannaford, 1995, p. 211).
--From my book: Movement Makes Math Meaningful: Away from the Desk Math Lessons Aligned with the Common Core, pages 12-13
I hold as a fundamental belief that all Children want to learn and succeed in school, although they may eventually compensate for their learning struggles by appearing not to care. To a child to whom learning does not come naturally, he has to use so much mental effort to concentrate and learn during the school day that he cannot fathom the idea of having to continue at home in the form of homework. If you have ever taken an academic class in a foreign language, you might recollect the effort it takes to concentrate. One can spend only so much time in such a focused state before all attention is lost. I can remember such a time when I took a linguistics course at a university in Mexico where I was an exchange student learning Spanish. The class was so cognitively demanding that I could only concentrate for about 15-20 minutes, after which I was really not capturing the information. My brain was simply too tired.
Children who struggle are not able to keep up with their classmates in one or more areas, which can be as frustrating to the teacher as the student. Why do so many students struggle? Many experts who have carefully observed children with learning difficulties have noticed that most, if not all, of these children also have issues with motor and balance. They have come to realize that motor development and learning go hand in hand. I have found this to be true in my own practice. A couple of years ago, when I didn’t know what else to do, I simply put jump ropes in the hands of my 4th -6th grade students and not a one of them initially could jump rope. Now, I not only test my students for their developmental level in mathematics (see Appendix D for my developmental math assessment), but I check for a variety of markers of their motor development as well. I have been noticing that students with more severe learning problems also have more severe motor issues than others.
Learning difficulties are often neurologically based, and can also lead to behavior and emotional problems. Studies have indicated that more than 80% of prisoners had a serious learning problem as a child (Ratey, 2008). Allan Bermann found that visual perception was the disability that occurred most often in a group of delinquent children, followed by auditory memory and language deficit (Phelong, 1997). If we rather than just an academic or behavioral one, especially at a young age, how many of them could we save from a lifetime of struggle?
---From my book: Movement Makes Math Meaningful: Away from the Desk Math Lessons Aligned with the Common Core, Page 11
Incorporating movement in the curriculum is beneficial because:
---This if from my book: Movement Makes Math Meaningful: Away from the Desk Math Lessons Aligned with the Common Core, pages 8-10.
It is the tradition of our education system to believe that individuals will learn best if they are presented with lots of information, in the form of a lecture or 2-dimensional written form, and seated still with eyes forward and taking notes. However, for real learning to occur, throughout our lives, hands-on learning in an environment with rich sensory experiences is optimal (Hannaford, 1995).
Even if instinctively teachers know that children need to do so, often times the classrooms are packed and teachers simply do not feel that they have the room. Others might fear chaos or a rise in discipline problems if they allow students more freedom in the classroom to move around, or simply feel that there is not enough time in the school day. However, there is plenty of evidence to support that having the children sit for long periods of time is actually doing more harm than good. In fact, it can be the very reason that discipline problems arise in the classroom in the first place.
Some movements are better than others in specifically supporting brain development. Slow, efficient, and specific movements that are designed to make sure the brain is built correctly is better than fast, disorganized movement, which is why children who are hyperactive, although always moving, still find learning difficult (Kokot, 2010). But even if teachers do know how to do this, incorporating any kind of movement in a lesson is beneficial, especially for these hyperactive learners, because they do not possess enough balance and control to sit still. Sitting still is truly uncomfortable, and their reticular activating system (RAS) of their brain needs extra stimulation of any kind to move the information on to the higher part of the cerebral cortex. Therefore, involving the senses through movement helps children pay attention and helps them recall the information by engaging the whole brain.
The research is flooding with reasons why teachers should get their students up and moving while learning new concepts.
--From my book: Movement Makes Math Meaningful: Away from the Desk Math Lessons Aligned with the Common Core, Page 8
Lisa Ann de Garcia, MA, MEd.