Movement and Learning

I recently came across a great website, ASCD: Learn Teach Lead, that offers wonderful content. After reading a chapter of Eric Jensen’s book, Teaching With the Brain in Mind (2nd edition), that was featured on the site – I just had to share it (with permission of course).

Teaching with the Brain in Mind, 2nd Edition
Chapter 4. Movement and Learning

It’s truly astonishing that the dominant model for formal learning is still “sit and git.” It’s not just astonishing; it’s embarrassing. Why do we persist when the evidence that lecture alone does not cut it is so strong (Dolcourt, 2000; Slavin, 1994).

The reason for the dissonance between what we know and what we do may be traced back a hundred years. For decades, the educational and scientific communities seemed to believe that thinking was thinking and movement was movement, and each was as separate as could be. Maverick scientists envisioned links between thinking and movement, but their ideas gained little public support. Today we know better. This chapter discusses the strong connections between physical education, movement, breaks, recess, energizing activities, and improved cognition. It demonstrates that movement can be an effective cognitive strategy to (1) strengthen learning, (2) improve memory and retrieval, and (3) enhance learner motivation and morale.

In times of diminishing financial resources, educators must make hard choices. Do dance, theater, recess, and physical education belong in the curriculum? Can we afford to keep them in the budget? Are they frills or fundamentals? What does brain research tell us about the relationship between body and mind? If movement and learning are connected, we should expect evidence to support the idea. In fact, there is plenty of evidence.



Why is all this important? One of the fundamental tenets of this book is that we have to teach with the brain in mind. Because movement is a natural part of the school day, that movement will influence the brains of students. It is essential that we explore the ways we are shaping students’ brains. To do so, let’s look at some anatomical, imaging, cognitive, and functional studies that suggest we ought to be supporting more movement in the learning process, not less.

Evidence of Mind-Body Links

The first evidence of a linkage between mind and body was scattered in various proposals over the past century (Schmahmann, 1997). Today, the evidence has become a groundswell, and most neuroscientists agree that movement and cognition are powerfully connected.

Anatomical Evidence

The area of the brain most associated with motor control is the cerebellum. It’s located in the back of the brain, just under the occipital lobe, and is about the size of a small fist. The cerebellum takes up just one-tenth of the brain by volume, but it contains nearly half of all its neurons (Ivry & Fiez, 2000). This structure, densely packed with neurons, may be the most complex part of the brain. In fact, it has some 40 million nerve fibers—40 times more than even the highly complex optical tract. Those fibers feed information from the cortex to the cerebellum, and they feed data back to the cortex. In fact, most of the neural circuits from the cerebellum are “outbound,” influencing the rest of the brain (Middleton & Strick, 1994). Peter Strick at the Veteran Affairs Medical Center of Syracuse, New York, has documented another link. His staff has traced a pathway from the cerebellum back to parts of the brain involved in memory, attention, and spatial perception. Amazingly, the part of the brain that processes movement is the same part of the brain that processes learning (see Figure 4.1).

To read the remainder of the chapter – please click here. Printed with permission from


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