A student who is not moving can often be a student who isn’t thinking, much. I think restless students are just trying to find a way to keep their minds active. I’m not talking about moving from place to place, though that would be preferable for many students, but movement of some part of their body. The best method I know to promote thinking, myself, is either through actively getting up and using large muscle groups (walking, swimming, running) or focusing in on smaller muscles. I would prefer to play the piano when I really want to think, but writing or drawing have the same effect for me. I am not an artist at all, but it doesn’t matter. There is something about the movement of a pen or typing on a keyboard that allows my thoughts to flow. I think the ultimate goal for any classroom is for ideas to be flowing freely.
Through years of school and getting older, adults learn to sit still and at least look like their listening, but I’m pretty sure most of us have experienced moments of a wandering mind, even with the best of intentions. Most adults have learned that we shouldn’t disturb others, but really, a wandering mind is a good thing. It shows that you’re thinking. The challenge for teachers, is to invite those wandering minds in your classroom to join you in your own thinking. As a teacher, you can move around, but the layout of a typical classroom restricts student movement. In some educational settings, large muscle group activity is possible within the time of a class, but with the areas of curriculum based upon written language (reading and writing in any language, including math) it’s usually more practical to limit most of your students’ movement to the smaller muscle groups of the hands. Limiting movement to the hands does not need to be restraining in any way though. I think it’s important to discuss this with students, as a way of inviting them to think without interfering with other students’ thinking.
I invite you to experiment with ways of introducing movement of small muscle groups into your students’ allowable classroom activities. For my most hyperactive students, I have always suggested that they find a way of moving without letting anyone know they’re doing it. Scrunching up toes, stretching fingers or alternately flexing calf muscles are some possibilities. They can have some fun experimenting with these movements that allow them to sit without disturbing other students. But for students who don’t have the constant need to move, I suggest writing and drawing. If you work free writing and doodling into your lessons, the level of active thinking going on in the classroom will increase. I’m sure of it because I have used this with my students, but I also invite you to try it yourself. Get a notebook and start writing and drawing in it and see where your thinking leads you. The brilliant ideas that pop into your head as you start to write will amaze you! I’m actually just starting to read a book on this topic now. To quote I Swear I Saw This by Michael Taussig, “Drawing breathes life into an idea.” Actually, he was quoting someone named Christopher Grubbs, but my point is, there a many ways of incorporating movement into your classroom, and if you not only allow them, but encourage them, you will be helping your students to become life-long thinkers.