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Teaching Tips | March 15, 2017

Embodied and mindful teaching

This blog post was written by Alyson Greenfield of Hunter College’s English Department.

When I first came to teach at Hunter in the English Department in the Fall of 2016, I had just produced a collaborative event for Teachers College, Columbia University and Gibney Dance, focusing on movement and dance in the classroom. I was struck by something Adele Ashley, Lecturer at Teachers College and Co-Founder of Literacy Unbound, said when we had a conversation prior to the event about expectations of students. Ashley mentioned that we expect students to sit and listen for long periods of time and we worry about asking them to do things that are “outside of their comfort zones,” but we don’t think about how uncomfortable many students may be simply sitting at desks.

This conversation and event inspired me to use movement as a tool for helping students digest information in the English 120 class I was teaching. In the fall, all English 120 students were assigned to read an essay by Santos Ramos entitled “Building a Culture of Solidarity: Racial Discourse, Black Lives Matter, and Indigenous Social Justice.” Many students expressed that they were overwhelmed by the material of the essay. Even after trying to unpack the material through engaged class discussion, there still seemed to be a large gap in complete comprehension.

During the next class I decided to have students express their thoughts about the article through movement. I got the class up and into a circle, as might happen in an acting class or any other class where movement is expected. I told them I would be asking them questions that they would answer through movement instead of words—first with partners and then with the group as a whole. I explained that I hoped this exercise would help them to embody their reactions to the material. I mentioned Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences and explained that people learn best through different methods—one of them being the Bodily-Kinesthetic method we would be trying out.

While some students did simple movements like thumbs up, or thumbs down in response to the questions I posed, others took advantage of this particular form of expression. One student showed his trajectory of understanding through a sequence of movements which began with him wiping a dramatic tear away from his eye, then sweeping his arms out in front of him while looking longingly in the distance, and ending with his arms wide open and a smiling face.

To my surprise every student in both of my English 120 classes participated- and this was only the 3rd day of the class! It turned the classroom into a different space- a space of possibility for how to process and communicate information that encouraged me to keep on employing “unconventional” methods in hopes of enlivening the classroom and student experience as a whole.

To hear more about methods for engaging students, make sure to RSVP for the upcoming ACERT Lunchtime Seminar, “Embodied and mindful teaching: How to use arts pedagogy in the classroom.”

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