Learning Is A Full-Body Activity
A fantastic essay by one of my favorite cognitive scientists, Sian Beilock of the University of Chicago. Beilock notes that although research on learning suggests a tight coupling of body and mind, this relation is often ignored:
“Take mainstream education in the Western world. Despite the fact that the information we encounter is taken in by different senses—the eyes, ears, or even touch, psychologists and educators often characterize the storage of this information as abstract symbols on our mind’s hard drive. The logic, then, is that it doesn’t really matter how the information gets in. Lesson plans are designed as if the body is unnecessary, with students permanently affixed to their desks.
This stationary view of education is really mind boggling if you reflect for a moment on the way in which we tend to learn in the first place. Take language as an example. Learning language involves a lot of activity. A mom might hold up a cell phone, hand it to the toddler and point and say ‘phone’ or model waving ‘hello’ by literally waving. Most of the words that kids learn are tied directly to the objects the word refers to and, more often than not, the kids get to hold and manipulate the objects they are learning about. But, in most standard classroom reading lessons, teachers aren’t connecting what kids are reading to the world. Even when using picture books, teachers are often focusing so closely on what the words sound like that they seldom point to the pictures that depict the objects and events the words refer to. Reading is taught in a stripped down fashion, devoid of the body.
Why is this a problem? One reason is that this doesn’t seem to be how our brains work. When we read, we tend to activate the same sensory and motor brain areas involved in doing what we are reading about. When people make small body movements in the fMRI scanner, say moving their feet, fingers, or tongue, they activate regions in the sensory and motor cortex involved in moving these body parts. Most interesting, when people read words associated with the leg, mouth, and arm (‘kick,’ ‘pick’ and ‘lick’), they activate these same sensory motor brain areas. Both moving your foot and understanding the world ‘kick’ are governed by similar areas of the motor cortex. It’s hard to separate the reading mind from the doing one.
Teaching words divorced from the objects and actions they refer to just doesn’t reflect how the brain is organized. Our body and mind are tightly connected. The body is an important part of the learning process.” Read more here, and tell me what you think!