Dennison & Dennison, Hannaford, Kranowitz
Developing out of the work of sensory integration pioneer Ayres, educators Dr. Dennison and Dennison began to develop the Brain Gym system and their “Educational Kinesiology” (learning through movement) in the 1970’s. The Dennisons offer solid research to support their assertion that the Brain Gym system enhances learning and performance in all areas. Their system involves a series of fairly short, independent physical movements designed to integrate the body and mind, such as lengthening muscles and having the limbs cross the midline of the body, all of which held to develop overall cognition by increasing the brain’s neural pathways through movement. Instructions to students on how to engage in the movements are generally given verbally, but the system is also practiced by adults, who usually follow the written directions from Brain Gym documents.
In terms of approach, the exercises are designed to be presented by oral instruction and/or demonstration, at least in the early stages of learning. However, since there are a limited number of exercises, since they are fairly simple and short, and since each exercise has a name, an educator making regular use of the system would not have to verbally explain and demonstrate after a certain “training period” was over, and would have to only invoke the name of the exercise for the class to engage in it.
Hannaford is a neurophysiologist and educator. The work that Ayres began and that the Dennisons continued is evident in Hannaford's work as well, but with the benefit of the support of a growing body of scientific research, which she supplies us with in her books. My hunch that there is a growing interest in the general area of kinesthetic learning coming from many different directions seems to find support in her extensive references. Happily for me, her references include several researchers and theorists whom I have included in this study (Dennison, Gardner, Tomatis). There are others (Damasio, Hartmann, Kolb, Piaget, Restak, Sacks) I have read previously, and their perspectives part of the path which has led me to this study. Those I am not yet familiar with, I am now curious about.
Hannaford’s research confirms that “learning, thought, creativity and intelligence are not processes of the brain alone, but of the whole body. Sensations, movements, emotions and brain integrative functions are grounded in the body. The human qualities we associate with mind can never exist separate from the body” (1995, p. 11). She is a proponent of bringing the Dennison’s Brain Gym system into classroom for regular use and reminds us that “Movement is now understood to be essential to learning, creative thought, and high level formal reasoning”(1995, p. 214).
Kranowitz, like the Dennisons, has drawn much inspiration form the work of Ayres. Kranowitz has distilled information gained by Ayre’s work and made it her own. She tells us about sensory processing, wherein we take in sensory messages from the world around us through and from our bodies, process and interpret them, and organize them for effective use. She says this processing occurs when information is passed back and forth between our CNS and our peripheral nervous system. This is reminiscent of Montagu’s view of the skin as an exposed part of the CNS and the CNS as a part of the skin buried inside the body .
Kranowitz (1998) distinguishes our far or external senses (seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching) from our near, body centered or somatosensory senses (touch, vestibular, proprioceptive). Touch appears in both the far and near senses, but in two different ways. Kranowitz distinguishes between the external tactile/discriminative and the internal tactile/protective senses.
She explains that when we are infants, it’s our defensive tactile system which is most important to us. But as we grow and develop, our discrimintive/tactile sense becomes more important. We need each of these, and all of our sensory processing, to be functioning effectively for proper physical, visual, auditory, social-emotional development. Those of us who cannot respond appropriately and effectively to ordinary experiences have a Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). The way to relieve this and its related symptoms and consequences, is through sensory integration (SI). Improved sensory integration is accomplished in a number of ways, very often involving touch and body movement. This may be the movement of something on the body,such as a soft brush as it passes down the arm, the feeling of the body moving through space, such as in a hammock, or the movement of the body itself, such as crawling or rolling on the floor. All of these activities involve sensory integration. Thus we once again find kinesthetic (sense of movement) experiences facilitating learning.

W. Dore
Dore came into the field of exercise-based treatment for learning difficulties as a desperate parent. His dyslexic daughter was depressed to the point of being suicidal due to the frustrations stemming from her dyslexia. Independently wealthy due to success in business, Dore was able to fund the development and research of an exercise-based treatment program (DDAT) for relieving learning difficulties.
Based on a Cerebellar Treatment Hypothesis (CBT), the DDAT system uses exercise to retrain the dyslexic but still plastic cerebellum. Research conducted in a school where all students received the conventional in-school treatment and a subset additionally participated in the DDAT exercise based system, indicated significant improvement for students in the DDAT group (Reynolds, et.al; 2003). The system uses juggling, balance boards and a wide spectrum of movement activities. The participating students all had existing diagnoses of dyslexia, dyspraxia and/or ADHD. The improvements over the control group were in the areas of cerebellar/vestibular systems, eye movements, postural stability, dexterity, phonological skill, naming fluency, semantic fluency, reading fluency, verbal fluency, semantic fluency, and on standardized tests of reading, writing and comprehension. Once again we have evidence of movement improving readiness for learning.

Academic Skill Building
Kinesthetic learning for specific academic skill building and coverage of content areas is what jumps to most people’s minds when they think of kinesthetic learning. Following in the footsteps of Ann Green Gilbert, educators are developing curriculum which are of great benefit to students who have a difficult time with verbal or written instruction, or who have a need to move in order to process and integrate information effectively and successfully.
DeGeest & Wills (1992) noted that in the area of teaching through the use of creative movement, “research studies on the topic...are minimal if not nonexistent.” Their examination of how students responded to a movement based curriculum as opposed to traditional teaching methods showed that most students (75%) showed improvement when words were studied through creative movement, and the total class average improved by nearly 10%. In addition, students retained the information 10.9% better when words were studied through creative movement. In teaching shapes through creative movement, DeGeest and Wills estimated a gain in knowledge acquired which was four times that of using books and worksheets. Other findings in this study include the fact that many students found creative movement an enjoyable way to learn.
It’s important to note that not all children preferred the creative movement approach to learning, and although it proved to be effective for all students, not all responded equally well to it. But, visual and auditory teaching methods also generate a range of responses in students, and clearly should not be favored over a more kinesthetic style. A well-rounded teaching technique cannot afford to neglect or overlook movement as a tool for learning
In terms of approach, the creative movement lessons developed and tested by DeGeest and Wills were taught using oral instruction, discussion of the subject with the group, oral instruction with music, environmental manipulation or arrangement (such as drawing an oval with masking tape on the floor), and visual demonstration and imitation of body shapes. These were combined with group work, improvisation, and creative interaction to create a variety of activities.
Educators Hohl and Smith collaborated with dance educators to develop an elementary curriculum which incorporated dance and found that “movement brought a depth of understanding that went beyond what students had achieved with more traditional activities. It is the difference between reading about Italy and actually visiting the country. It is the act of doing, being and experiencing”(1996). While summarily impressed, Hohl and Smith were also surprised and disappointed to learn that there was almost no existing research which documented the advantages of using creative movement in education. Their resulting research project was one of the first to provide quantitative proof of the advantages to using movement in elementary education.
Additionally, important inferences may be made from this study regarding the identification of exclusively kinesthetic learners. Students were interviewed about their learning style preferences prior to participating in the study. When the results of the research were evaluated along with these learning style preferences, evidence emerged that there is a population of learners which does not respond well to auditory or visual teaching techniques but which does respond well to kinesthetic teaching techniques. It may be concluded that this population may be identified as kinesthetic learners. In the absence of exposure to kinesthetic learning, these students may falsely appear to be slow learners or resistant learners. When kinesthetic learning is made accessible to these learners, their achievement levels change dramatically, and fall within normal expectations. Therefore, the study indicates that kinesthetic learners need to be understood as a unique set of students whose needs cannot be met in a classroom which does not incorporate kinesthetic learning activities.
The approaches to kinesthetic learning that Hohl and Smith used appear to be mostly oral instruction to elicit movement from the students. As the students became familiar with using creative movement to express the academic content, they were also encouraged to develop their own movement expressions for the related concepts. Supplemental materials, such as flash cards, scarves, chalkboard, paper and pencil, math log books and video tape recorders were used along with additional teaching methods (writing, discussion, group work, viewing videotaped demonstrations).
Westreich (1999) emphasizes the need to recognize kinesthetic learning as a distinct type of learning and kinesthetic learners as a distinct type of learner. Her research shows that failure to identify these learners and present information to them in a way which is compatible with their learning style can make the difference between passing or failing in subjects such as mathematics (1999, p. 2). Her instructional strategy
builds on stimulating the kinesthetic intelligence to enhance cognitive abilities in areas of mathematical thinking, analysis and critical thinking....to enhance skills such as reading, writing, spelling, pronunciation and annunciation (and)....to improve behaviors that are the result of Attention Deficit Disorder and Hyper Activity Disorder. (2004)

Westriech is one of the few educational theorists who distinguishes kinesthetic learning from tactile learning (the two are often lumped together in discussions of learning styles, see previous paper), and defines kinesthetic learning as learning which is gained through stimulation of the kinesthetic sense.

Westreich’s approach to kinesthetic learning can be gleaned from her lesson plan for teaching the sums of angles in polygons as described in Teaching Sums of Angle Measures: a Kinesthetic Activity. Here Westreich walks teachers who are not familiar with kinesthetic learning through a progressive series of math lessons on angles. To begin, Westreich includes a preliminary activity which is key to the success of the later lessons. In this, the students work in pairs and are asked to make a variety of angles with their arms, hands, legs and feet. They are encouraged to explore and discuss this and the related issues of how to create rays and verticies with their partners.
To understand the concept of an exterior angle, Westreich has the students create them with their bodies. Students work in groups of four. The first three make a triangle by standing inside a large loop of string and stepping away from each other until the loop is taut. The fourth student walks along one side of the triangle. At the vertex, the student must turn the measure of the exterior angle in order to be able to walk along the next side of the triangle. To do this correctly (assuming a student walking counterclockwise around the triangle), the student must first walk the extended line of the first side past the vertex, then, with the right foot on this extended line, turn toward the left and place the left foot along the new side. If the student then turns further to the left and places the right foot alongside the left, she has turned her body the distance of the exterior angle to that vertex of the triangle, thereby getting a tangible sense of the given angle.
As the student repeats this process with the other two angles in the triangle, she will find that when she returns to her starting point she is facing the same direction she started in--she has literally come full circle, and can then get a physical sense of how the sum of the exterior angles of a triangle equals 360˚.
With all of its benefits, is there a down side to kinesthetic learning? If kinesthetic learning is so beneficial, why is it used comparatively sparingly, if at all, in schools? One thing we can easily see from Westreich’s article is how difficult kinesthetic processes can be to describe and write about. As I read the lesson, I had to walk through some of it with my hands, and actually got up and had to recreate other parts with my whole body in order to really understand them, and I am fairly familiar with this sort of instruction. I see this as a potential barrier to getting kinesthetic learning into our classrooms. It is not as readily implemented as paper and pencil and book teaching and learning. My theory and my experience is that this is not so linear and not so neat (and I’ll give examples of just how messy kinesthetic teaching/learning can be from my own experiences in the next section), but is much more accessible, effective, complete, and longer lasting than conventional classroom learning. With kinesthetic teaching/learning, theory is internalized, not just memorized, regurgitated and then forgotten.
It’s unfortunate that kinesthetic learning is not used more often in classrooms. In the years I’ve worked in schools, I’ve heard so many teachers complain that they have to teach and re-teach the same material to students in order for them to really learn it. The current sentiment seems to be that this is to be expected, that teachers just have to present the same material over and over again for students to eventually learn. Perhaps this is why we now have, instead of relaxing and restful weekends and vacations, homework for these times, even to the extent of having summer workbooks in math and mandatory reading lists which must be completed before school begins in September (on in some cases, August!).
Walking past the traditional class room, one might look in and see the students busily reading and writing, and these are the things we are comfortable with when we think of teaching and learning: quiet, seated students reading and writing. As Hannaford says, “A majority of teachers continue to believe that learning only occurs when a child is quiet, still, listening, and handing in all their homework (1995,p.196).
What if we taught children to internalize understanding the first time? Isn’t this what von Glasersfeld is talking about when he emphasizes the importance of understanding? I think this relates very much to Dewey’s theory of experience, and the importance of avoiding miseducative experiences in particular.My theory is that it may take longer to set up and implement a kinesthetic teaching/learning experience, but that in the long run, time would be saved, and children would be happier, brighter and more self -confident.
Every teacher I know feels rushed. This is a problem. Somehow the notion of education has gotten caught up by time. We have notions that teachers have to take a certain amount of time in order to teach certain things, and that students have to take a certain amount of time to learn them, and no more or less than that or there is a problem. We’ve also somehow come to believe that if a student cannot produce results or responses within a certain time, he must not have mastered the subject adequately. Mastery is implied by speed for us, and not by depth. We’ve become results oriented instead of process oriented. We’ve confused learning with presentation of product, and it’s often shallow product. The deeper, more lasting learning comes through experience.
This is the paradox of kinesthetic learning: it seems to take longer, but in the end I believe it is more effective. It is deeper, more complete, and involves the whole-body and whole-self. I believe it may reduce or obviate the need to re-teach.
Learning can and does happen through the movement of, or the knowledge of the sense of movement of, the body. This learning is broader than we may imagine, reaching far beyond typical classroom subject areas. There is a growing trend to recognize the body as being a vital agent to learning, and kinesthetic teaching/learning takes advantage of this fact.
Kinesthetic teaching/learning can happen in a number of ways, but may be at its best when the whole body is used in the learning process. It would be a waste for kinesthetic teaching/learning to be relegated to the fields of sports, bodywork and dance, as its benefits extend far beyond there areas. However, teachers can look to these fields as sources, since kinesthetic teaching/learning has a longstanding practice in them. Kinesthetic teaching/learning can be an agent for increasing general awareness, body awareness, readiness for learning, as well as a method for providing a way to internalize the material presented in academic subjects.
In the more recent literature the many uses of the term kinesthetic learning demonstrate a broad range of definitions for the term. Also, terms and phrases related to kinesthetic learning or perhaps nearly the same thing as this have appeared over time. In doing my research, I’m sure I did not catch them all, as I still come across new ones all the time. As I came across the new terms, I began to envision myself sitting in the middle of a floor pulling similar threads together from all directions and twisting them or braiding them into one rope.
At times there seem to be so many of these terms and concepts and the field seems so vast that I begin to think that ultimately all learning is kinesthetic learning, and that kinesthetic teaching/learning is everywhere, but by many different names. such as experiential learning, active learning or learning by doing. All of them are references to some kind of learning that can happen through the movement of, or the knowledge of the sense of movement of, the body.
Perhaps it’s not so important that the term kinesthetic learning has a fixed definition. Perhaps the more important thing is that we recognize the importance of the principle of being aware of and possibly taking advantage of our bodies and our sense of movement when we seek to engage in the reciprocal process of teaching and learning. This is what I have in mind when I use the term kinesthetic teaching/learning, and this is what I tried to do as I explored kinesthetic teaching/learning in the music classroom.