Brain Gym™ and ELT – a personal path of discovery by Philip Kerr
“About ten years ago, I was introduced to Brain Gym™ by the director of studies of a language school in Cordoba. She was a good director of studies, a very nice person, and it was a good school. I observed a class where the children responded well to Brain Gym™ activities. Interesting, I thought, but never got round to finding out more. Until recently.
There are two great online resources if, like me, you want to find out more. The first is an article by Tom Maguire (a Master Practitioner in Neuro-Linguistic Programming) called Brain Gym™ . It explains what Brain Gym™ is all about. It tells you about the Educational Kinesiology Foundation, a developmental movement program established by Paul E. Dennison, Ph.D., author of “Brain Gym Simple Activities for Whole Brain Learning” and founder of the whole thing. It suggests a few basic exercises such as ‘brain buttons’ (applying pressure on bits of the neck to get the blood flowing into the brain) and ‘hook ups’ (crossing your arms or legs to achieve a state of calm). You get a good general idea of what it’s all about.
The other useful resource is much more practical. It’s called Brain Gym® Exercises, and it’s by Kenneth Beare, who has been ‘an ESL guide since 1997’. He’s the first ESL guide I’ve come across. Kenneth’s article goes into a lot more detail about other exercises, like drinking water (hydration helps the brain to concentrate and the water replaces that which is lost when we sweat under stress), ‘cross crawl’ (which is helpful for spelling), and using coloured pens.
So far, so good, but I was disappointed not to get any hits at all at Amazon when I typed in Brain Gym™ + ELT. I’d have liked a whole book on the subject. However, if you drop the ‘ELT’ bit from the search, you can buy all the Dennison books, including Spanish and German translations. And if you want to check things out a bit more before you buy, you can go to the Brain Gym® International website. Helpfully, there is information about courses you can do (Dennison himself will be coming to Europe next year) and Brain Gym books, music, posters and overhead transparency sets for sale.
While I was doing my research, I also came across an article on a site called Bad Science written by a certain Ben Goldacre. Goldacre describes Brain Gym (I’m not sure if I should put ‘™’ or ‘®’ afterwards) as ‘a set of perfectly good fun exercise break ideas for kids, which costs a packet and comes attached to a bizarre and entirely bogus pseudoscientific explanatory framework.’ He provides links to a doctoral research paper that investigates the bogusity of Brain Gym research, a video of two school kids taking the piss out of their teacher’s Brain Gym routine, and two more videos of Jeremy Paxman demolishing Brain Gym on BBC Newsnight (including an interview with Dennison). ‘Ludicrously pseudo-scientific,’ concludes Goldacre. He doesn’t seem to think very highly of it at all.
Who am I to believe? Has anyone actually tried ‘brain buttons’ or ‘hook-ups’ in class? I’ve tried out a few of these exercises in the privacy of my home, but maybe I’m doing them wrong. I’ve even begun to suspect that I might not have a ‘brain button’. Perhaps I don’t eat enough fish oil. Anyway, does anyone out there have a copy of Volume 28 of the journal Remedial and Special Education? It contains an article by K.J. Hyatt called Brain Gym®: Building Stronger Brains or Wishful Thinking? It might help me to make up my mind. Is it cutting edge neuroscience brought into the classroom? Is it a good way of ‘stimulating the limbic system for emotional processing in concert with more refined reasoning in the frontal lobes’? Or is it just a load of tosh?”
More smelling out of dodginess in our “profession” by Mr Kerr available at:
and hopefully the “Part One” part of this blog post title will persuade him to bring much more of the same here!