Evaluative Report Accelerated Learning and Brain Gyms

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In this Evaluative Project Report I have identified one accelerated learning method, and critically analysed the value of the method for Audley Junior School in raising its learning.

Accelerated Learning method chosen

There are currently two methods used at Audley Junior School to improve the learning through Accelerated learning - Brain Gyms & Mind Mapping. I have chosen Brain Gyms.

What are Brain Gyms?

According to the inventor Paul Dennison (1994) a definition of Brain Gyms is:

"educational, movement based programme which uses simple movements to integrate the whole brain, senses and body, preparing the person with the physical skills they need to learn effectively (that) can be used to improve a wide range of learning, attention and behaviour skills" (www.braingym.org.uk)

It is a concept that uses movement as a means of activating the brain for optimal storage and retrieval of information. According to Dennison (2010) the guide claims that the 26 Brain exercises they have created in their program help blood flow to the brain, interconnect the circuits of the brain and unblock the neural pathways.

Methods used to collect the information

Class Observation

The first method used to collect information was to observe the class whilst brain gyms were used in literacy. Notes were made on general observations seen in the class, some of the things noted by myself were:

Positive points

Children seemed very happy in the exercise environment.

The attention span of the students in most cases increased.

Children were friendlier with each other.

Made children calm at the beginning and end of the lesson.

Negative points

Sometimes can be quite disruptive in class when starting the exercises.

At times the children felt tired especially in the afternoon.

Not all children were keen to join the exercises some preferred to watch.

When a child has an injury such as a sprained ankle they do not take part and can feel excluded.

Teacher's questionnaire

The questionnaire was given to all teachers in Audley Junior School, they were asked to answer all the questions and post into a box without their names. So the answers were from an anonymous perspective. Sample size was 10 teachers. See Appendix.

Children's questionnaire

Teachers in Year 6 were asked to handout the questionnaires in literacy class where they use brain gyms. They were given the questionnaires at the start of the lesson once they had performed some initial exercises. Sample size was 30 children. See Appendix

Results of the questionnaires

Teacher's questionnaire:

70% of the teachers responded either Strongly Agree or Agree to Brain Gyms being beneficial to the children.

50% of the teachers responded either Strongly Agree or Agree to exercises accelerating learning.

70% of the teachers responded either Strongly Agree or Agree to Brain Gyms stimulating towards a more positive learning experience.

Children's questionnaire:

90% of children enjoy Brain Gym exercises

50% responded stated the exercises are tiring

70% felt that Brain Gym helped them learn better.

60% of children liked the Brain Buttons exercise best

Various exercises were named as exercises they disliked.

Key points from interview with teacher Amy about Brain Gyms

Children tend to get on with each other a lot better.

Children definitely become more attentive in class.

Things seem to get done a lot quicker.

Children's memory has improved since using Brain Gyms as instructions are given to them less frequently than before.

Class environment is much happier and the children enjoy the exercises.

Key points from Interview with a group of 6 children that use Brain Gyms at Audley School.

"Brain Gym gets the blood pumping into the brain"

"Helps to get your right and left brain connected and easier to learn"

"Helps before tests and exams"

Evaluate

Where it is used?

Brain Gyms are used at Audley Junior School

How often it is used?

Brain Gyms are used regularly at Audley Junior School this could be up to twice a day dependant on the lessons

When it is used?

At Audley Junior School Brain Gyms are used during literacy and numeracy lessons.

How is it used?

From my observations in class Brain Gyms are used in the following way at Audley Junior School:

Initially in the morning the children will be provided with a drink of water, this is a healthy and energising drink also known as a "brain drink". They will then move onto some exercises that last a few minutes.

The first exercise is to find the brain buttons. Here the teacher will advise the children to make a c shape with their hands. Now with the c shape intact they will find the 2 bones at the bottom of the neck line, below this are the two soft points known as the brain buttons. They will then be advised to massage these for a minute whilst the opposing hand is over the belly button and also ensuring to inhale and exhale their breathing. The teacher then advises that once this is done to switch hands to ensure the other side of the brains hemisphere is woken up

They will now move onto the cross crawls exercise where they cross their body in a standing position and make an "s" shape. The key to this exercise is to cross the left side with the right side and vice versa. The teacher again emphasises the importance of this to make sure both sides of the brains hemisphere is activated.

Now they move onto the third exercise hook ups. The children are shown to move both arms in front of their chest cross the arms over each other and then clasp the hands together. Once clasped together pull the arms inside into the chest. Now the children are asked to cross over their legs and hold this position for a few seconds and then switch direction. The teacher at this point asks the children to think of something positive such as better writing, or better reading today.

Lastly the children will be asked to make finger patterns where their fingers from each hand touch each other whilst the bottoms of the palms are touching together. The teacher explains that if they cannot touch fingers on the two hands then they are not ready to learn yet and need to continue the finger patterns.

At this point the children should be calm, alert and more attentive.

They also use exercises once the lesson starts to improve certain aspects of the learning experience. One such exercise they use in literacy is the lazy 8's. This exercise the teacher explained would help improve handwriting, spelling and writing in general. The children are asked to place their head on one side of the shoulder and make an eight shape whilst breathing in and out.

Another exercise used to improve reading comprehension is neck rolls; the chin is relaxed onto the chest and then rolled from once side to the other. This is supposed to help steady the neck and release the tension and also help to focus before reading comprehension.

The Owl exercise is also used to improve the creative writing skills and improve vision. The exercise starts with both hands massaging the top of the ears. They are then shown to mimic the style of an owl.

Critique for and against Brain Gyms? Does it work?

There are many views associated with Brain Gyms, some very controversial and a few supportive. I will be looking at the different views on the subject from the research carried out and how it provides value to learning at Audley Junior School.

In the Newsnight (2008) programme Buffy McClelland from Brain Gym UK felt there is enough evidence that brain gym impacts improvements in reading. She quoted figures of 2 to 3 months of improvement for every month of intervention for poor readers. She admitted that even though they did not know the full extent of how the program really works it was worth using the program.

The comments by Buffy McClleland are easily open to criticism as there is no evidence provided by her to backup these figures and also an open admission that they do not know how the program they are promoting works aired to the nation sends out the wrong message in my opinion that they do not know what they are doing, but just using trial and error.

"Perhaps the government confused fantasy with reality the day it endorsed brain gym". (Brooker C, Article)

The above quotation is an example of how this kind of view can be picked up on by the media. The article goes on to portray Brain Gyms in a negative manner as it just fills the kid's heads with nonsense, there is no scientific evidence to support it works. The government is also blown into the limelight as they have supported Brain Gyms possibly without looking into its scientific merits.

Brooker received further backing about his views of Brain Gyms in this Guardian article.

"Stopping and doing some exercise is good; lying to children with bonkers pseudo-scientific explanations is bad." (Goldacre, 2009).

He explains that he can see value in stopping and taking breaks in lessons and also doing exercise, but it is being taken too far when being commercially sold as a ground breaking scientific breakthrough. They are making money from this in the name of science when results are clearly inconclusive and do not necessarily contain any format of science.

In my opinion I think he has a valid point as there is no clear link that shows the methods are scientific. According to The Times Online (2008) Paul Dennison the inventor of Brain Gyms UK has admitted himself that claims in his guide are based on "hunches" and not proper science.

However my own research seems to back the value of the use of Brain Gyms at Audley Junior School as the interview and Questionnaire results show that it works, although they do not have any form of measuring if better attainment is being achieved because of the brain gyms. They definitely have a happier environment in class and the children have a better attention span according to the teachers. The British government is funding their Brain Gyms training and sending the teachers to go on the courses as they clearly believe in the program.

"We see the hardening of fight or flight responses, staying with the safe and familiar, anxiety over personal belongings and space. In these circumstances a student who is stressed cannot learn" (Smith, Accelerated Learning in Practice, 2003).

In the above quotation Smith discusses how Dr Paul MacLean showed his three part model of the brain in the 50's, and how the brain responded to stress. Brain Gyms are designed to counter things such as stress especially in situations such as tests and exams. The group of children that were interviewed at Audley Junior School agreed that using Brain Gym exercise helped them before tests and exams. In my opinion this is evidence that Brain Gyms help relieve stress which in turn improves attainment.

Jensen (2000) takes it a little further and provides evidence of Brain Gyms possibly having a positive effect on attainment. A study in Seattle showed how students learned language art concepts through dance activities, including regular spinning, crawling, rolling, rocking and tumbling. The students that took part in this method of learning increased reading scores by 13 percent in 6 months. Although the test is not directly using Brain Gym exercises it shows a link with movement exercises and learning.

Jensen is further backed with his link to movement and learning in the report for the Department for Education and Skills (2004) in which Sylwester (cited in Hatton 1993) discusses how exercise does not necessarily integrate the brain; however exercise in general may have a positive effect. I think this is a very valid point as it ties in with Buffy McClelland's earlier view that what harm can exercise do. Jensen (2000) supplements his earlier views with:

"... there is no such thing as right brain learning or left brain learning. There are only preferences where more of one hemisphere is activated than another." (Jensen, Brain Based Learning 2000)

The above reference confirms that Jensen can see the benefits of movement and exercise having a link to learning, but not with the scientific jargon that accompanies the Brain Gym theory such as the right and left brain hemispheres needing to be integrated for learning to take place. On the Newsnight (2008) programme Paul Howard Jones from Bristol University also states there is not enough evidence to prove it improves performance and learning.

From the evidence there seems to be a general consensus that scholars are happy that there are links to better performance by using Brain Gyms such as those experienced at Audley Junior School, however they do not agree with the fancy words associated with dressing up the program to make it seem more than it is.

"By dressing up what might be very useful distracting little classroom exercises with this almost cult-like, ritual-like dogma of pseudo-science is a great pity and the residual misperception that that it will leave young children and teachers with is much more damaging than the consequences of the exercises themselves."

(Newsnight, 2008, Professor Colin Blakemore, Neuroscientist Oxford University)

Professor Colin Blakemore's opinion on Newsnight (2008) programme optimizes scientist's views in many respects. It reinforces that there is a lack of evidence to support the claims of Brain Gym and its inventors that it significantly improves academic learning. In my opinion Colin Blakemore's concerns are not misplaced as further evidence into the levels of attainment Brain Gym achieves and the science behind it is required.

Conclusion

On the whole the people who use the Brain Gyms methods such as the teachers and children are very supportive of it. The reason that the children at Audley and other children in general may feel Brain Gyms is working for them could be because it is enjoyable. It might have a placebo effect where the fun factor is taking precedence over the benefits it actually provides in reality.

So this brings us to the notion that exercise such as Brain Gyms has an effect on performance in Audley Junior School, however this could be primarily down to the positive effect it has in terms of movement and learning as the evidence previously stated has shown rather than the integration of hemispheres in the brain and other technical jargon involving science.

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