A Broader History
A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.
--Mark Twain

Gardner’s bodily-kinesthetic intelligence seems to include a tactile intelligence of sorts. In the world of learning styles (other than the Dunns’) I often see a category of tactile/kinesthetic learner. Sometimes a distinction is made between tactile and kinesthetic learning, and sometimes they are lumped together. Why? This led me to want to explore aspects of touch in learning, and to wonder, what is the distinction between tactile learning and kinesthetic learning? Are these two completely different things? Do they overlap? Is one a subset of the other?
I began to look very broadly at how we use our bodies–as this is what our sense of movement comes through and from–to acquire, store, process and use information. As I went through this process, I encountered a number of fascinating theorists who seemed to have their own take on the central core of what I was trying to get at in my pursuit of understanding more deeply what kinesthetic teaching/learning might be. They each seemed to have their own vocabulary as well.

Alexander and Feldenkrais
F. M. Alexander was a performer who went through a long period of deep self-examination in order to find a way to overcome a voice problem he was having. His journey of self-discovery led him to understand that it’s the use of the whole self that affects the voice, and that in our bodies there is an interconnection of all things. Out of this realization evolved the Alexander system, a movement reeducation system practiced by performers and non-performers alike for whole body integrated movement.
The Alexander system is characterized by the concepts of “primary control” (the relationship between the head, neck and back) and inhibition, an action you take to prevent habitual response when moving the body. Alexander got the expression and concept of inhibition from Dewey: “Inhibition, to use Dewey's expression, postpones immediate action upon desire until observation and judgment have entered in” 1932). The influences that the relationship of Dewey and Alexander had on each other, and on the development of Dewey’s renowned educational philosophy, is perhaps an early modern example of kinesthetic teaching/learning having significant impact on general learning and education. Dewey acknowledged, "My theories of mind-body, of the co-ordination of the active elements of the self and the place of ideas in inhibition and control of overt action required contact with the work of F.M.Alexander...to transform them into realities" (Dewey, as cited in McCullough, 2004).
Alexander’s goal was to help people "direct and control the use of themselves consciously in daily activities” (1932, p. 14). This indicates that increased general awareness is being accessed through body awareness. Alexander’s discussion of the "psycho-physical mechanism of the self" (1932, p. 15), and his view that it is “impossible to separate the mental and physical (1932, p. 21), indicates his understanding of whole body and mind integration and his reluctance to buy into the illusion of separation of body and mind which is at the root of current traditional educational systems. Alexander reported that children who learned his movement technique in the school he ran had "an improved use of themselves in all their 'doings', in their reading, writing, etc." (1932, p. 14). This indicates somatic movement as a technique for improving overall general learning readiness, perhaps in the way the Dennison’s Brain Gym system is used today (see below).
Another intriguing concept presented by Alexander is the issue of physical illusion, what Alexander has called a “debauched kinesthetic sense”, that is, when what feels right is the wrong feeling (1932, p. 17). It is possible to experience a bodily-based illusion, something which feels correct, or aligned, when indeed it is not. That is, just because I feel it with my body, does not mean that it is necessarily true. Psychological studies of “induced motion” (the feeling that happens when you’re on a train, the train starts moving, then you realize, no, it’s the other train that’s moving) and “motion after-effects” (the sensation which occurs when you’ve been watching a moving scene, say a waterfall, and you look away to something which is stationary, and this object seems to be moving in the opposite direction), are “misleading feelings” which are visual, but involve the sensation of motion, linking them to the kinesthetic sense. I believe awareness of this concept is critical to anyone who wishes to use a kinesthetic approach to teaching/learning.
I have become particularly intrigued with this issue of distorted self-image and have begun to notice a phenomenon I’m calling “physical illusions,” “false kinesthetic sense” and “distorted physical sense,” and I’ve begun to notice it in my students and in myself.
An example of this is Wayne, an elderly T’ai Chi student who’s had difficulty with his hearing and, I suspect, his vestibular system. He always hangs his head to one side. I assumed there must be a neck or muscular problem and that he simply could not put his head straight. Then, one day before class, I had the idea of bringing in a bag of toilet tissue I had in the car. I handed out a roll to each student and we began to work with the T’ai Chi principle body upright. I told everyone to just do their best, that this exercise was more to help them develop an awareness of when they might not be upright or have a tendency to lose touch with that principle. It was not, I emphasized, to be considered a competition, just an opportunity for personal exploration. We balanced the tissue on our heads and all did a short, first third round. To my surprise, while balancing the tissue roll, Wayne was able to hold his head upright! Afterwards he said he hadn’t noticed that he had been holding his head to the side. This shocked me, because to me it was dramatically noticeable. What aspects of my own being have this distorted kinesthetic sense or distorted self-image?
The Alexander Technique sessions I’ve experienced were conducted very often by verbal instruction. Sometimes these verbal instructions were specific, such as, “put your right hand on your left hip and your left hand at the top of your left thigh.” But there were also instructions which was less specific, such as, “walk forward, allowing the head to lead,” or, “just see what it feels like to stand up and walk around,” and I found that this type of instruction encouraged awareness development and allowed space for open exploration of movement of the body. There was also non-verbal or verbally enhanced direction using body-to-body contact, when the teacher would put his hands on a part of my body as a gentle guide while I moved either in silence or while he verbally directed my movement.
Moshe Feldenkrais, originally a student of F. M. Alexander, went on to develop his own system of bodywork which is intended not only to improve the way we use our bodies, but which uses physical movements to help us to remove the “mask” that a conformist society forces us to live behind and even grow comfortable with, and to re-connect with our individual “organic nature.” Feldenkrais sees four components to action: movement, sensation, feeling and thought (1972, p. 10).
The purpose of Feldenkrais’s Awareness Through Movement is to help us in our effort to improve our own self-education. This goal is accomplished by the reader engaging in a series of movement patterns with certain specific goals. These goals, however, are nor so much where exactly to put, say, your foot, but how to think while you are making the movement.
We thus come back to the need to examine and improve our self-image so that we can live in accordance with our natural constitution and gifts and not in accord with the self-image that was established by chance, more or less without our knowledge.(1972, p.28)

This is learning by way of movement, as the person being instructed in Feldenkrais is often not asked to learn principles or rules, but is only told to follow the directions for movement of the body. I found that in going through the process of following a succession of movements in an exercise, which often takes forty-five minutes to one hour, one experiences not only new levels of physical awareness, but new ways of seeing and experiencing the world as well. I was amazed when I first experienced it that such sparse and simple instructional input yields such an immediate and broad increase in awareness. Feldenkrais seems to have been talented not only in the workings of the body but in how to affect the body (and the carrier of it) in a very non-invasive way.
Feldenkrais discusses the importance of changing the self-image in order to change our actions, and of recognizing the habits we fall into and the importance of changing these. There’s a sort of un-learning in order to learn going on here, which relates to Alexander’s concept of inhibition. “Awareness is consciousness together with a realization of what is happening within it or of what is going on within ourselves when we are conscious (1972, p. 50). Feldenkrais’ method functions through open exploration and individual interpretation of the verbal instruction. Perhaps this is what Ann Green Gilbert is talking about in the third type of her three kinds of problems: those which have an infinite number of correct answers (1977, see below).

Ashley Montague
Anthropologist, philosopher, activist, humanist and author Montague is perhaps best known for his challenges to the artificial human construct of race, but also conducted scholarly inquiry into many aspects of the human condition, such as aggression, gender, crime and love. For my study, I explored his research on touching. Montague is interested in "the mind of the skin." He asks us to view the central nervous system (CNS) as a part of the skin buried inside the body and, conversely, the skin as an exposed part of the CNS. To me, this hints of an attempt to move to a whole-body approach to the subject of touch and awareness, connecting parts rather than isolating them. Subjectively, exploring this simple yet elegant perspective in my day-to-day life gives my every gesture a very different feeling. Is this in itself a kind of kinesthetic teaching/learning, where the theorist presents a body-related concept which an individual can explore through the body, a process which can possibly give rise to a new experience and understanding of being in the body?
One thread I keep going back to in my study is the hints our language provides about what we really know about kinesthetic teaching/learning and kinesthetic experiences. Phrases like “I just followed my nose,” "I know you like the back of my hand," "my heart tells me" and "I have a gut feeling" imply that some part of our cultural collective unconsciousness is well aware of how the body plays a key part in what we know and how we learn. Montague is disappointed to find a lack of skin references in the poetry of our culture, but takes us through the way we address the mind of the skin in our language, such as with phrases like "rubbing someone the wrong way" or "abrasive" personalities. A cultural contrast to this may be found in Durckheim’s Hara. In it, the use of the term hara (the Japanese word for "tummy") in the Japanese language is discussed extensively, and it's clear that Japanese culture has a high level of respect for the kind of knowing that comes from the body, and in this case, specifically the center of the body (1956).
Montague is down-to-earth and practical: the skin deserves a significant part of our attention because it's nearly twenty percent of what we are (1978, p. 7). He also gives us hard science, such as citations of experiments on rats who were cuddled and petted while other rats in exactly same conditions went without this. The "gentled" rats grew faster and learned more quickly. Of this, Montague says, "the living organism depends to a very large extent upon the stimulation of the external world for its growth and development" (1978, p. 238).The cuddled mice were also more willing to explore a strange environment, better able to learn a conditioned avoidance response, had heavier brain weight, greater development of the cortex and subcortex, greater liveliness and problem-solving ability, greater curiosity, and less emotionality in stressful situations. Isn’t this what we wish to achieve when we work with learners? Does some element of kinesthetic teaching/learning involve our need to explore the relationship between learning and the body?
Touch is just one of our senses, and just one of the many ways we may experience sense of movement in our bodies, and therefore just one of the ways we can use movement to engender learning. Another theorist who explores this and other senses in relation to learning and human development is Ayres.

A. Jean Ayres
The interrelationship between sense of movement and learning ability was vividly brought to my attention at a seminar on The Child in Motion: Why Movement is so Critical for Health, Attention, Learning, and Emotional Regulation presented by Drs. Lynn Balzer-Martin and William Stixrud. Much of the lecture focused on the work of Ayres, whose basic premise is that "each child's brain is designed to follow an orderly, predictable, interrelated sequence of development that results in the capacity for learning....Each developmental step is in some way dependent upon a certain degree of maturation of previous steps" (1972, p.4). The word “interrelated is key; Ayres formulated the theory of sensory integration (SI).
Taking the perspective that learning is a function of the brain, SI theory names the organization of sensory information in the brain sensory integration, and holds that disordered sensory integration can result in learning disorders, and that such disorders can be ameliorated through improved sensory integration.
Ayres reaches several conclusions as a result of her work regarding how integrated development of the senses plays a critical part in education and learning. In Sensory Integration and the Child she states, “In man, all of the sensory systems communicate with each other , and they function together inside of us much more than most of us realize. Schools make the mistake of trying to develop the child’s visual and auditory systems independently of the other senses. Parents can partially rectify that mistake by allowing their children to get the tactile, vestibular and proprioceptive experiences they want and need” (1979, p. 39).

Anne Green Gilbert
“Movement is the key to learning” (2001, p. 44), says Gilbert, who, as a third grade teacher who hated seeing her students sitting at desks all day, unmotivated and disinterested in school. She used her experience as a dancer and dance educator to begin a movement program in her class room, then noticed that not only were the students happier and more interested in school, their spelling improved as well.
Grounding her work in the theories of Jean Piaget, Gilbert emphasizes the importance for children to engage in “concrete operations” and reminds teachers that they are not to be critics of children’s movement experiences, but catalysts for them (1977). Her non-judgmental approach allows children to proceed with learning at their own rates, and allows enough space for children to engage in a more self-directed learning environment.
I am particularly intrigued with Gilbert’s note that there are three main kinds of problems, 1) those which have one specific correct answer, 2) those which have a few correct answers and 3) those which have an infinite number of correct answers. She talks about this third kind as allowing the most freedom for students to explore and learn.
Most of Gilbert’s educational movement experiences rely upon the teacher facilitator to deliver instructions verbally. Often the children use only their bodies to explore and express concepts, but sometimes props such as cards, yarn or balls are used. Some of her problems have an infinite number of correct solutions, which is a wonderful concept. Gilbert also emphasizes the importance for students to discuss their experiences after-the-fact and share reflections for more complete processing of the information gathered.