children in a classroom holding each other’s hands
Photo by Tyler Lagalo on Unsplash

Confidence sparked in the classroom once I used this 3 step system

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Recent times have shown the importance of acknowledging the body in our daily lives. The field of education is not exempt from this observation. Increasingly, learning experiences going in a body-oriented (immersive) direction are gaining attention. This happens especially when these experiences are facilitated digitally. Kirin Sinha, CEO of Illumix (an AR experiences design company) says that “ it is our learning process, not our intelligence, that is the most important factor in determining our abilities.” That is to stress out the need to design experiences that facilitate cognition, so learning becomes more tailored to individuals and specific groups of learners.

As an educator, what are ways to enable cognitive learning, that it sparks learners’ confidence in self and the other?
We will be addressing the process of acknowledging the body, the steps of co-implementing cognition within a learning group and lastly the role creative embodiment plays in confident learning.

Keywords: #confidence #creativity #embodiment #cognition #education #learning #pedagogy

Step 1: Acknowledging the body

To tackle the value of confidence in the learning process, it might be handy to set a common ground of understanding the term “embodiment”.

Embodying means being intimately connected to your body, being in tune with it, whether you are being active or passive. As coach Natalie Orr puts it : “being embodied improves your health, your happiness, your relationships and your connection to everything in and around you.” She refers here to a sensible and highly intelligent body, not a mere tool or instrument for the mind.

Photo by Emma Frances Logan on Unsplash

In my experience of studying and teaching, acknowledging the body has an overlooked value in the pursuit of confident learning. Whether online or on site, with students or clients, regardless of age, I therefore have the habit of taking a short amount of time to get my audience to get in tune with their body. Breathing is a simple and effective way of doing it. Standing or sitting, the most important is to pay attention to the breath, so mind and body can align in the present moment. It is so easy, yet so effective:

“ I’ve never had my brain shutting off. Usually it’s always noisy. After we did the breathing part, my brain was silent. It’s kind of crazy”,

shared a student of mine in our first session. And the best part about it is that you can do it with kids too, designed in a playful way so for instance: inhale is one step and exhale is another step while moonwalking. From there, variations are limitless to the facilitator.

Embodiment is our default mode, and it is altered by mainstream ways of living with technology. In many parts of the world I traveled to, I witnessed it is partly inherited from the mental and physical conditioning of the masses that occurred during the 20th century, after schooling was redesigned to answer the societal need for formatting citizens. Mass-adopted technology, as it tends to focus on sight and mind, reinforces this design. There is arguably a globalized disconnect with the importance of the body to experience life in a richer scope. To sense, understand, learn things in harmony with the mind, beyond it being a tool for performance. In their paper entitled The embodied classroom — A phenomenological discussion of the body and the room , researchers Eva Alerby, Erica Hagström, Susanne Westman declare:

“As humans, we access the world through our bodies and the knowledge we develop is always embodied. […] it is through our human experiences that learning is moulded, and these experiences are above all incorporated through the body.”

There are many benefits in actively practicing embodiment. It is tied to all aspects in our lives since it plays with the way we perceive, daily. Here are a few that I myself experience and share with my students and peers. Embodiment :

  • enhances movement development, which is simply handy on a daily basis to be responsive and not injure oneself easily;
  • improves body awareness by giving a sense of timing for when to act upon a situation and when to observe;
  • enables to respect one’s differences and that of others, as it helps with self-understanding, which gives clues on how singular too the other might be;
  • develops internal control and self-discipline, not in a mechanistic sense but by being able to process emotions and choose with clarity what to do with them;
  • broadens one’s perception of their surroundings, as one’s senses are simply more active and attuned;

Indeed, we all start from a different level of understanding these benefits. Nevertheless, practice is key.

Step 2: Co-implementing cognition within a learning group

As usual, let’s level on what “cognition” is before we jump right in.

A common misconception is that it’s only a “mind thing” since “it happens in the brain”. Though, it should feel as if something is off since the brain is part of the body, the brain is embodied. Cognition is an intertwined phenomenon where processes located in the brain aren’t isolated from the ones happening in the rest of the body. Therefore, to learn cognitively is to acknowledge that mind and body are intertwined, in their communication, through the brain. To actively facilitate cognitive learning is to look for ways for mind and body to work in harmony, through the brain, which is not only a “mind thing”. How can one therefore co-implement cognition within a learning group?

Movement to feel and think

Photo by Max Kneefel during Body.scratch game demo for educators during Dutch Technology Festival

Embodiment and movement are closely related when we dive into how animals survive, live and thrive. Movement facilitates cognition. It is a tangible process between the act of embodying and the act of thinking.

“Movement is an integral part of learning. Research shows that learning and cognitive development go hand in hand. So if we look at movement and add the creative aspect to it then we are enhancing meta-cognitive aspects of thinking.”— says entrepreneur Preeti Sunderajan.

As an educator, building a process where learning is actively embodied, creative and relevant to nowadays challenges can seem like a giant endeavor. Regardless of the students’ age, it’s important to build confidence through experiments that tackle the daily obstacles of living in a consciously embodied way. The more students will be enabled to practice an embodied way of living, the more the learning, collectively as well as individually, will be autonomous. This can simply start by experimenting on :

how might we remove the chair from the classroom, without having to deal with constant chaos? How much could educators and learners benefit from this over time?

This has been one of the first experiments I conducted with groups of students and peers, and it still is. Wether it is with kids and teenagers learning basics of programming through dance challenges or young design students learning to create new forms of interactive learning experiences by engaging their body in the process, I design experiments in a way that makes it simple and clear to understand there is power emerging from the body-mind connection. It doesn’t require to be an expert or to wait for a peer approval, but a will to try it out, accept failures and improve continuously.

I remember I was once teaching a group of 18 to 23 years young ICT media students. We were creating our own choreographic language based on a programming language most of them were familiar with. In the end, one of them quietly came to me and said “If I had learned dancing like this I would have danced more!” This showed to me that not only learners get confidence in their ability to understand mental models/concepts, but also in their ability to move in front of others. Imagine what it can do in the long run.

The democratization of online dance

Photo by Ron Lach

TikTok (yes I said it!) has contributed in the acceptance of moving, dancing in front of others. Mainly just for fun, always through repetition, an essential aspect of learning. The democratization of dance through social media platforms, such as Fortnite and its dance moves, shows how movement can be leveraged to facilitate confident and creative learning. Understanding the potential and risks of contemporary tools is significant in a pedagogic approach. As an educator, systematically removing these tools because one doesn’t understand them is not a viable solution.

Rather, these tools can be seen as a way to remove the mental barrier for STEM learning. Combining STEM with movement opens perspectives of learning which imply a full cognitive activity.

“To this regard, three features have proven to be essential in order to get the memory results. First, gestures must be semantically related to the words. Second, learners must perform the gestures themselves. […] Third, when learning with the body, the training must be massed.” says researcher and educator Manuela Macedonia.

I will add to this, both mind and body are contributing to making sense of the topic learned. Understanding first, then repetition for memory.

Today, being aware of what the learning group is digitally familiar with can enable an educator to create virtually infinite possibilities of challenging their group of learners. AR experience enabler Kirin Sinha affirms that “In kinaesthetic* learning, movement and action replace more passive forms of learning, such as listening to a lecture […] We learn best when we combine mind and body. So let’s use our bodies to their fullest advantage and bring kinaesthetic learning into our classrooms.” Needless to say how gaming and digitally immersive experiences are taking over the paradigm of learning and education. In that sense, creators of digital experiences have a fair role to play in the way learning is facilitated, wether it is at home, in the classroom or anywhere else.

*kinaesthetics is the study of motions and of the perception (both conscious and unconscious) of one’s own body. The individual must repeat the motions that they are trying to learn and refine many times for this to happen.

Step 3 : Creative embodiment plays for confident learning

Creativity

Photo by Emmanuel Ikwuegbu on Unsplash

Once one has the will to design a more consciously embodied way of living, learning and thriving, it takes a certain dose of creativity to overcome daily obstacles. These obstacles are the usual media and interactions we are using in activities. Having agency over these obstacles is about realizing how much of it is disembodying the dynamics of our daily activities and then actively learning to create alternatives. That is when cognition is nurtured. That is when awareness thrives. That is when change can occur.

Being creative doesn’t necessarily mean that you just think out of the box, else it would be doing a disgrace to, for instance, athletes. Being creative means being attuned enough to a situation to connect the dots, but unfamiliar enough to connect them differently than expected. And this comes with opening up to different ways of embodying that specific situation. When this approach becomes natural, becomes our default mode, it makes the process of learning and creating even more intuitive and powers up confidence.

Creative embodiment

Body.scratch game during Dutch Technology Festival

Pairing up embodiment with creativity has a high potential to break apart many concepts learnt from only-thinking daily. It helps give perspective to the way we see, apprehend things. I remember once in New-York, my house dance teacher Seku Heru once said to us:

“You don’t have a skeleton, you have a scale-of-tone.”

Internalizing these words while being in movement made so much sense. The concept connected flawlessly and consciously. This mechanism of embodied translation can be applied to any life situation. Creative embodiment is innate and practicing it makes one realizing it. It appears movement is a great way to access embodiment through practice.

“Movement is one of the first forms of communication. From infancy, children love to move. Just watch the reaction of a young child when he hears music, an instrument playing, or someone clapping. He responds to the sounds with motion, whether it’s swaying, rocking, clapping, or kicking his feet. Sheer delight is almost instantaneous. Developing that innate creativity is dependent on early influences. Creative movement enhances movement development that occurs between ages two and seven. During these ages, locomotor (creeping, walking, jumping, leaping, etc.), non locomotor (stretching, bending, twisting, shaking, etc.), and stability and balance skills are able to flourish when children are provided with practice opportunities.” — Melanie Schmutz Chalk

All in all, creative embodiment is an ideal state of cognition, bringing body and mind in creative flow.

Furthermore

I’m curious to know what experiments, methods or tools you have tried to implement as an educator in your classroom, on site or online, to enable creative embodiment. Also as a learner, what have you experienced that changed your perspective on learning with your body. Share it in the comments and clap if you learnt anything valuable to you at the moment.

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Alvin Arthur

I believe humans need to move in order to engage, play & create.