Quick Tip Tuesday: Connecting movement and comprehension

January 27th, 2009

In Chapter 4 of their book, Starting with Comprehension, authors Andie Cunningham and Ruth Shagoury examine how using movement, mind pictures, and metaphors with young learners can help improve their comprehension. “Many young children still struggle with speaking about what is going on in their minds,” the authors argue, so movement is a natural way for children to express themselves, to reenact scenes from books, and to communicate what they know.

Comprehension Through Movement

My students don’t always use drawing and writing to comprehend texts; they also benefit from using their bodies and movement to make meaning. Many young children still struggle with speaking about what is going on in their minds. When students use movement to express ideas, we eliminate the need for fluency with words and allow them to communicate what they know using a different language. It is my job to guide my students to find ways to help them unlock and articulate what they want to say and how they want to say it – to find a voice in our literacy work. Reading comprehension through movement is an integral part of my reading workshop.

Years ago, when I was still teaching physical movement, I realized that body language is a crucial communication tool for young learners. I saw that for some young learners, speaking can be a tremendous challenge. In an attempt to understand those learners better, I also explored what a movement workshop might look like in physical education. Designed with intentions similar to reading and writing workshops, I connected movement with comprehension. In our twice-a-week classes, I read short picture books, then invited students to make sense of the book with their bodies and draw what was most important to them in their movements.

In the midst of my exploration with the comprehension strategies in the movement world, I had an enormous aha: I realized that students speak a language when they move. In my kindergarten classroom now, we use physical movement to make sense of what we read; it’s another tool as valid as conversation, visual representation, or writing. I still see students speaking a language when they move, just as I did when I was a physical education teacher.

Here are some questions I ask myself that help me make informal assessments as students move in response to a text:

  • What parts of the story are children drawn to?
  • Do they understand and respond to each other’s movements during sharing?
  • Do they move to something in the book or something unrelated to the story?
  • How does the moving seem to affect their understanding?
  • Who is not moving and what is keeping them from doing so?

The Castle Builder is one example of using our bodies to make sense of text. Although I do not incorporate movement with each read-aloud, once or twice a month I offer an opportunity to move like the book. Depending on the strategy, the book we are reading, and the mood of the class, prompts might include the following: “Look carefully and see which picture you’ll move like.” “Move like a piece in the book.” “Move to your questions about the book.” “Move to the part of the book where your thinking changed.”

I usually pick one prompt and use it over and over again in the beginning of the year to make sure they understand what I mean. For instance, “move like the book” was the perfect invitation for one class of students. When I said this prompt, they all stood up and moved, excited to join their experience of reading the book with moving their bodies.

I find that some students — and some classes — connect more with the movement piece than others. Some books work better than others. To find a good “movement” book, I ask myself what parts I would move to and how. For instance, when reading The Castle Builder, I noticed a dozen ways that I would naturally move to the text. However, when reading The Hickory Chair, a book I love, I realized that moving to it would be difficult for me. It is not the quality of the story that dictates how “moveable” it is. Rather, the action communicated through the story is the crucial element. When the book lends itself to physical movement and we are genuinely interested in the book and its message, our physical engagement is much more significant.

Entry Filed under: Literacy,Quick Tip Tuesday

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