What can elementary teachers do to promote movement for their students in a school day?
It has been over a month since I last blogged... and here we are. This blog is to give information on physical activity for children in schools and to provide a framework, to elementary teachers, to include more opportunities for student physical activity throughout a school day. Although the focus is on elementary teachers, this framework can be used for secondary teachers but with appropriate adaptations.
The World Health Organization (WHO, 2020) defines physical activity as movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure above resting level. The WHO suggests children aged 5-17 get at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per day. Unfortunately, it is uncommon for children and youth to meet the requirements set out by the WHO.
School & Physical Activity
Traditionally, physical activity opportunities in school occurs during physical education and at recess; however, more opportunities for physical activity are needed during a school day (Orlowski et al., 2013). Increasing a student's physical activity level has been found to improve academic achievement, health, classroom behaviour, time on task, and concentration (Leung et al., 2018). Since the majority of children spend much of their waking hours in a school, classrooms should provide a space to increase physical activity in a child's day (Martyn et al., 2022). Elementary classroom, or homeroom, teachers often lack the training specific to effectively promote physical activity in their classroom and they perceive barriers (e.g., lack of time, confidence, and/or resources) to provide physical activity opportunities during class time (Michael et al., 2019).
Movement Integration (MI) Framework
The Movement Integration (MI; pronounced 'my') Framework by Moon & Webster (2019), is a four-level progression framework for elementary teachers to promote physical activity for students in their school day. Classroom teachers, as the physical activity promoter, can: start at multiple points in the framework (e.g., Level 2), overlap strategies across levels, and move in a linear or non-linear fashion. The purpose is for the teacher to promote opportunities for physical activity indefinitely for their students.
The MI Framework begins at Level 1: Beginning Strategies. Beginning strategies includes:
Technology-directed opportunities - The use of videos, music, pedometers, etc., to promote movement in the classroom. It is common for teachers to use YouTube videos to do this or websites like Go Noodle or SworkIt Kids. During this time, teachers should be modelling the importance of physical activity by joining in on the movement(s).
Non-teacher-directed transitions - Russ et al. (2016) found that children’s movement were more likely to occur when learning was more student-centered than teacher-directed. As long as students are not taking the learning away from themselves and others, provide students options to move freely in their learning space (e.g., sharpen a pencil, put something in the garbage, etc).
Teacher-directed transitions - Students move within and outside of the homeroom classroom throughout the school day. Teachers establish safe and clear boundaries to maximize safety and learning with things like countdowns or chimes to signal a transition or a "freeze" in the learning. Rather than having students move in space by walking to line-up, for example, build in varied movement into the school day for your students (e.g., "students at table 1, hop to the door as we lineup to go to the library").
Physical environmental opportunities - It may not be possible to utilize a lot of space in a classroom for students to promote safe physical activity. Consider grouping desks together so there is more space to move and/or situate different items all over the classroom to promote travel to and from different space in the classroom (e.g., cubbies for art supplies on one side of the classroom and literacy novels on the other side). Another consideration is to have diverse seating options like fitness balls, standing desks, and/or pedal desks.
Level 2: Intermediate Strategies: This level, like Level 1, promotes physical activity separate to learning outcomes/intentions.
Reward/Incentive - Sadly, some teachers still use physical activity as a punishment. This strategy does the opposite - students work together (e.g., show responsibility throughout the day, complete their daily tasks, etc.), to get the reward of additional opportunities to be physically active during the school day. There is no research suggesting that an increase in physical activity during the course of a school day takes away from student learning; it often increases it!
Opening Activity - If you haven't read "Spark" by John Ratey (2008) then you should. Ratey found that physical activity to begin the school day optimizes students' learning readiness. Additionally, scheduling in a physical activity to begin the day tells your students that movement is valued, which will hopefully lead to students pursuing more physical activity inside (recess) and outside of school (home, neighborhood).
Non-academic Movement Breaks - Movement opportunities, even when not connected to learning outcomes, are related to students’ learning because the movement will re-charge students and better prepare them for future learning (Moon & Webster, 2019). These are movement breaks but not brain breaks. Moon & Webster (2019) encourage teachers to use the phrases brain boosts or brain energizers since they are getting students ready for learning - not providing the brain with a break. Movement breaks can be used in the middle of a lesson or when transitioning to something new. Try one of the many options offered by Action Schools BC! The "Brain Dance" (see below) is one of my personal favourites.
Level 3: Academic Integration. This level only as the one strategy: academic integration.
The goal of this level is to incorporate movement opportunities with academic instruction/learning without taking away the relevancy/meaning of movement and academic experiences. Good teachers often embed movements "naturally" within their classroom as students inquire into concepts. A favourite movement strategy I like to incorporate into any classroom lessons is "Four Corners." This is a movement-centered strategy that promotes critical thinking, discussion, and engagement. Students physically demonstrates their understanding of material (excellent for formative assessment) or share their perspectives regarding concepts they are inquiring into. Not sure how to play? Put up a "strongly agree", "agree", "disagree" and "strongly disagree" sign up in each corner of the room. Ask a question that may get a variety of viewpoints and have students move to the sign that best reflects their current viewpoint or understanding of the concept. Then provide opportunities for students to justify their choice - this often leads to great discussions (while students are standing on their feet and moving around the classroom!). Other strategies I like to use to encourage movement are: Human Graph and Gallery Walk.
Level 4: Interdisciplinary Integration. For PYP people, you can think of this as transdisciplinary learning. This is the most advanced strategy to embed movement into the classroom because there is a lot planning to make the connection between physical activity and another subject area authentic. In this level, movement is integrated and learning intentions for both in physical education and in classroom subjects can be achieved. A few examples of connections between PE and homeroom subjects (or units of inquiry) might be: movement composition/dance and an inquiry into different cultures (Social Studies); track and field and Mathematics (e.g., measuring time or distance of running, throwing, and jumping events); team games units in PE that connect with Social Studies in the classroom where community and roles and responsibilities are a focus. This promotes a deeper understanding for the students.
PE teachers, what was mentioned in this blog may not totally connect to your context. Often, and unsurprisingly, PE classes are full of movement and not seated-desk work. Saying that, perhaps you have colleagues that could use some support with increasing physical activity with their students, in the classroom, throughout a school day. As we know, this will be beneficial to student behaviour, achievement, health, etc.
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Thanks for reading!