Movement interludes for any course

Research from a variety of fields demonstrates that more effective learning takes place if teachers allow students to get out of their seats and move. Movement actually opens chemical pathways in the brain that facilitate learning and retention. My lessons in noh performance technique have taught me that physical discomfort also opens the brain to new information and ways of processing. The trouble with getting students moving is that many of them and many of us feel silly doing it – and have a tough time justifying it to ourselves if, for example, we are teaching a course on literature or history. Here are some ideas for effectively incorporating movement into any course:

1. When students are reading aloud (another exercise that has been proven to be effective) ask them to stand up. As part of the discussion of the text, ask the readers if they felt different reading aloud while standing. Did they notice the movements of their mouth, tongue, and face as they read? Did certain features of the text become clearer?

2. After students have established their seats in the classroom, which typically happens early in the semester, ask them to get up and switch seats. Ask them to think about why they had been in that seat previously and if they felt different in their new seat. Do they have a new perspective on the class or course material?

3. For any class broaching noh or modernist interests in noh, ask students to sit in seiza for 1-2 minutes. Ask them to observe their bodily, mental, and emotional state while in that position. Have them read a brief passage while in seiza. Did they notice anything about the text that hadn’t been obvious? Ask them to write about their physical experience with seiza.

4. Give an assignment I call “performative presentations.” These work well in courses on drama and performance but can be adapted for any course. Break students into groups and assign each group a course text. They will design presentations in which the form, genre, or method of the presentation is crucial to their interpretation of the text. I typically ask students to give a 10-minute presentation accompanied by and explanation of their “performative element” (approximately one page) and an annotated bibliography of research (at least five sources) to be distributed to the class. The “performative element” as a method for representing their interpretation, might include staging readings, playing roles, using sound effects or costuming, incorporating audience/class participation, revising or rewriting elements of the text. I encourage students to be creative; this presentation is not simply scene work (although it may incorporate innovative performances of scenes). Performances are always vehicles for the critical analysis of a text, and they will make this explicit in their description of the “performative element” and why it is appropriate.