Brain Gym

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Brain Gym International
Brain Gym logo.jpg
Type Nonprofit 501(c)3 in Education
Founded 1987
Founder(s) Paul E. Dennison and Gail E. Dennison
Headquarters
Area served Worldwide
Product(s) Experiential Learning Process
Focus(es) Movement-Based Learning
Method(s) Experiential Courses
Website Brain Gym International

Brain Gym is a program involving a sequence of activities believed to improve academic performance. The 26 Brain Gym activities are claimed to foster eye teaming, spatial and listening skills, hand-eye coordination, and whole-body flexibility, and so activate the brain for optimal storage and retrieval of information. Numerous books have been written describing research and case studies in which use of the Brain Gym activities has benefited specific populations, including children recovering from burn injuries and those diagnosed with autism.[1] The Brain Gym activities have been incorporated into many educational, sports, business, and seniors programs throughout the world. They are also widely used in British state schools.[2]

The program has been criticised as pseudoscience for the lack of references in some of the theories used in the 1994 Brain Gym: Teacher's Edition (revised in 2010) and for the absence of peer review research that performing the activities has a direct effect on academic performance.[3][4][5][6]

History[edit]

What became the Brain Gym program began with Paul Dennison’s work as a public school teacher and reading specialist in the 1960s, researching more effective ways to help children and adults with learning difficulties. At that time, he worked in East Los Angeles with the innovative educator Dr. Constance Amsden, Director of the Malabar Reading Project for Mexican-American Students, which focused on the development of individual sensory modalities (visual, auditory, and tactile skills) for reading instruction.[7] In the early 1970s, Dennison observed that challenged readers at his learning centers had less access to whole-body movement and postural awareness than more adept readers. He realized that some learners used one-sided motions (such as handwriting) at the expense of the non-dominant side, rather than in coordination with it. Seeing that even successful classroom learners were often tense from using primarily one-sided motions, he sought simple ways to teach both coordination and differentiation of movement in the classroom.[8]

In 1975, at the University of Southern California, Paul received the Phi Delta Kappa award for Outstanding Research; he was granted a Doctorate in Education for his research in beginning reading achievement and its relationship to cognitive development and silent speech (thinking) skills.[7][9] His familiarity with research from behavioral optometry and sensorimotor training that showed the effects of movement upon learning " . . . led him to extrapolate this information into quick, simple, task-specific movements.[10]"

In the early 1980s, Dr. Dennison began a teaching and writing partnership with Gail Hargrove, later to become Gail Dennison. They call their field of study, which they founded during this period, “Educational Kinesiology” (Edu-K). They define Edu-K as “learning through movement".[7]

The Dennisons say that Edu-K draws from the educational philosophy of Jean Piaget and the sensory-integration works of educators Maria Montessori, Anna Jean Ayres and pediatrician Arnold Gesell, as well as the work of movement pioneers F.M. Alexander and Moshe Feldenkrais. In its emphasis on active learning, Edu-K further embodies elements from the educational philosophy of John Holt (How Children Fail), Jerome Bruner (the spiral curriculum), and Carl Rogers (student-centered learning). Since the mid 1980s, the Dennisons have also drawn from the work of Howard Gardner and Thomas Armstrong on multiple intelligences (Visioncircles Teacher's manual, 1986) and, more recently, Armstrong's work on neurodiversity.

Some of the specific Brain Gym activities that the program uses have been, according to the Brain Gym International website, developed from Paul Dennison's "knowledge of the relationship of movement to perception, and the impact of these on fine motor and academic skills." Others are adapted from movements he learned during his training as a marathon runner, his study of vision training (learned from developmental optometrists with whom he shared referrals in the 1960s), his study of Jin Shin Jitsu (a form of acupressure), and his study of Touch for Health (a form of kinesiology developed for laypeople by chiropractor John Thie).[11][12]

The Dennisons present their program under its current name in their books, e.g. Brain Gym: Simple Activities for Whole Brain Learning (1986), Brain Gym and Me: Reclaiming the Pleasure of Learning (2006) and Brain Gym: Teacher’s Edition, 1987, 1996, and 2010.[13]

The Brain Gym activities are now used in more than 87 countries; the Edu-K works have been translated into more than 40 languages.[7][9]

Premises[edit]

In the early 1970s, Paul Dennison hypothesized that when readers avoid the bilateral midline they inhibit part of their visual field. He observed such learners as reading one-word-at-a-time (not sentences), lacking comprehension, and experiencing visual stress. He used simple movements (later named the Brain Gym(R) activities) to teach alignment of the head, torso, and visual field for an ergonomic use of tools.[14] He further theorized that the small motor skills (e.g., eye and hand motion) involving precision for reading and writing are best developed within a context of whole body (interlimb) and bi-manual coordination. He has since expanded this premise to say that all learning begins with the internalization of physical skills, such as eye-teaming, eye-hand or bi-manual coordination, and interpretation of spatial directions, to name a few. Under stress, the integrating elements of movement are lost; ". . . some individuals try too hard and 'switch off' the brain-integration mechanisms necessary for complete learning[10]" The repetition of specific bilateral, contralateral, and other activities is said to "promote efficient communication among the many nerve cells and functional centers located throughout the brain and sensory motor system."[15] There are 26 Brain Gym activities, which are designed to integrate body and mind in order to improve "concentration, memory, reading, writing, organizing, listening, physical coordination, and more."[7]

Educational Kinesiology draws on basic anatomy in teaching that movement occurs along three planes of motion, each plane describing the axis along which an action is performed. These three planes intersect to create three movement dimensions. Brain function is defined in terms of three dimensions: laterality being the ability to co-ordinate the left and right sides of the body, focus being the ability to co-ordinate the front and back of the body, and centering being the ability to co-ordinate the top and bottom of the body. The Brain Gym activities are said to work by giving people an experience of moving in order to interconnect the body in these three dimensions. According to Brain Gym, people can use the three dimensions to learn more easily; for example, they can use their lateral movement (left to right co-ordination) to improve their ability to read and think at the same time.[16] As another example, the Belly Breathing activity can be used as a reminder to breathe instead of holding the breath during focused mental activity or physical exertion. The activity teaches how to expand the rib cage front to back, left to right, and top to bottom. They claim that when breathing is shallow, lifting only the scalenes, oxygen to the brain is limited.[11]

Organizational structure[edit]

Brain Gym International / the Educational Kinesiology Foundation is a non-profit educational organization, established in 1987 and based in Ventura, California. The names of the members of the board of directors are listed on the Brain Gym website. Brain Gym is a registered trademark of Brain Gym International.[17]

The Brain Gym instructor program is open to anyone. To become qualified as a consultant there is a four-stage training program that consists of fourteen courses of between twenty-four and forty hours each, in which students validate the effectiveness of the 26 for themselves by using intentional movement to improve their own sensorimotor skills and achieve personal goals. The trainee must also complete fifteen case studies and attend six private consultations with a qualified instructor.[18][19]

Scientific Debate[edit]

In 2007, certain statements from the Dennison's 1994 edition of Brain Gym: Teacher's Edition were criticized as being unscientific in a review of research into neuroscience and education published by the UK Economic and Social Research Council's Teaching and Learning Research Programme.[20] The Dennisons have since published the 2010 Brain Gym: Teacher's Edition which offers theories based on movement, learning, and neuroplasticity.

The UK report noted that "short sessions of Brain Gym exercise have been shown to improve response times" but that doing any exercise can improve alertness, and systems like Brain Gym may help for that reason.[21] The Dennisons note that “ . . . the Brain Gym 26 aren’t exercises in the usual sense.. . . Although some can be used for aerobic benefit, they’re more oriented to balance, alignment, and coordination than to muscle building or cardiovascular toning. . . . they’re often more subtle than traditional exercise—for example, when they involve directional skills, fine-motor dexterity, or visual and auditory attention.”[22] Each low-impact activity takes only seconds to a minute to complete. The Dennisons further say that many of the 26 offer weight-bearing benefits, and that the "Lengthening Activities" use muscles in their lengthened positions, allowing them to more fully contract (and so relax) for the ease of both moving and sitting in a classroom.

In 2008, Sense About Science published a briefing document in which thirteen British scientists responded to explanations taken from the 1994 Brain Gym: Teacher's Edition. Each rejected a hypothesis as to why an activity was effective; overall, the statements given were described as "pseudo-scientific". The Dennisons wrote a public response addressing each concern,[23] and also updated the statements in question in their 2010 version of the teacher's edition. One of the scientists, Professor of neuroscience Colin Blakemore, said that "there have been a few peer reviewed scientific studies into the methods of Brain Gym, but none of them found a significant improvement in general academic skills."[24] Based on concerns about the 1994 version of the book, Sense about Science, along with the British Neuroscience Association and the Physiological Society, wrote to every Local Education Authority in Britain to warn them about the program.[25]

In 2007 Keith Hyatt of Western Washington University wrote a paper analysing the few available peer-reviewed research studies into Brain Gym. The authors of these five studies reported in each case that the Brain Gym activities were an effective intervention. However, Hyatt found the studies themselves to be poorly designed and concluded that the Brain Gym work is not supported by peer-reviewed research. He also cited research from the 1970s and 1980s into Brain Gym's theoretical basis: the field of Perceptual-Motor Learning, including Vision Training. He concluded that the work's theoretical basis did not stand up. Further, Hyatt concluded that because Dennison referenced the Doman-Delacato work, the Brain Gym activities were based on the Doman-Delacato theory of development. Although Dennison read and cited the Doman-Delacato work as one of many reading references, he did not base his work on the same thesis that they had theorized for a brain-injured population. Dennison also never espoused the recapulationist theory. Dennison’s work with people of all ages recognizes learning as dynamic and so is focused on each individual’s goals and needs of the moment, rather than attempting to address any developmental stages.[26] Hyatt's paper also encouraged teachers to learn how to read and understand research, to avoid teaching material that has no credible theoretical basis.[27] In their latest book, the Dennisons refer to the work of several scientists[28] who, in their writings cite more recent evidence of the brain's plasticity for perceptual (sensory- and motor-based) learning.

Reception by the media[edit]

In 2006, some concepts in the 1994 version of Brain Gym: Teacher's Edition were heavily criticized by physician and science writer Ben Goldacre in The Guardian's Bad Science pages, who found no supporting evidence for the assertions put forward by Brain Gym proponents in any of the main public research databases.[29] Upon learning that the program was used at hundreds of UK state schools, he called it a "vast empire of pseudoscience" and went on to dissect parts of their teaching materials, refuting, for instance, claims that "processed foods do not contain water", or that liquids other than water "are processed in the body as food, and do not serve the body's water needs."[30] In response Goldacre claimed to receive what he described as "angry, abusive emails from teachers defending exercise breaks", to which he reiterated his point that exercises and breaks were good for students, and that he was merely attacking "the stupid underlying science of Brain Gym".[31]

In early April 2008, Newsnight did a piece on Brain Gym which included an interview between Jeremy Paxman and Paul Dennison. During the course of the interview Dennison was questioned as to why some of the statements in the 1994 version of Brain Gym: Teacher's Edition were "arrant nonsense". Dennison said that he "leaves the explanations to the experts", and, when challenged on his assertion that "processed foods do not contain water", his response was that such foods do not contain available water."[32] The Dennisons refer to biologist Carla Hannaford, who states that: “ . . . fruit juice, soda and milk are high in sugars and salts, which bind up water in the body, depleting the supply available for maintaining electrolyte levels in the nerves. The body treats these as food rather than water sources. . . .”[33]

In April 2008, Charlie Brooker, also writing in the Guardian, expressed incredulity that the Department for Children, Schools and Families is supportive of Brain Gym, despite its broad condemnation by scientific organisations, and despite it sounding "like hooey".[34]

In 2011 Channel 4 news aired a show with biologist and award winning educator and author Carla Hannaford. Hannaford discussed how inactivity can lead to learning difficulties and explained how doing the Brain Gym movements can activate brain/body connections, helping students to think and be attentive.[35]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ “Numerous books have been written, including:
    • Dustow, Jennifer (2009). Do Bilateral Exercises Decrease Off-Task Behavior in Preschoolers with a Diagnosis under the Autism Spectrum within a Classroom Environment? Lambert Academic Publishing
    • Formosa, Pamela (2009). ‘Fraid Not: Empowering Kids with Learning Differences. iuniverse.
    • Hannaford, Carla (1995; 2005). Smart Moves: Why Learning Is Not All In Your Head. Great River Books.
    • Hornbeak, Denise (2007). The SuperConfitelligent Child: Loving to Learn through Movement and Play. Peak Producers.
    • Koester Freeman, Cecilia (1998; 2010). I Am the Child: Using Brain Gym with Children Who Have Special Needs. Movement Based Learning.
    • Masgutova, Svetlana, and Pamela Curlee (2007). Trauma Recovery: You Are a Winner; A New Choice through Natural Developmental Movements. 1st World Publishing.
  2. ^ Goldacre, Ben (2008). Bad science. London: Fourth Estate. p. 14. ISBN 978-0-00-724019-7. 
  3. ^ "Neuroscience and Education: Issues and Opportunities" (PDF). the ESRC's Teaching and Learning Research Programme website. Retrieved 2007-08-03. "The pseudo-scientific terms that are used to explain how this works, let alone the concepts they express, are unrecognisable within the domain of neuroscience." 
  4. ^ Goswami, Usha (May 2006). "Neuroscience and education: from research to practice?" (fee required). Nature 7 (5): 406–413. doi:10.1038/nrn1907. PMID 16607400. Retrieved 2008-08-11. "Cognitive neuroscience is making rapid strides in areas highly relevant to education. However, there is a gulf between current science and direct classroom applications. Most scientists would argue that filling the gulf is premature. Nevertheless, at present, teachers are at the receiving end of numerous 'brain-based learning' packages. Some of these contain alarming amounts of misinformation, yet such packages are being used in many schools." 
  5. ^ "Sense About Science - Brain Gym". Sense About Science. Retrieved 2008-04-11. "These exercises are being taught with pseudoscientific explanations that undermine science teaching and mislead children about how their bodies work. ... There have been a few peer reviewed scientific studies into the methods of Brain Gym, but none of them found a significant improvement in general academic skills." 
  6. ^ Hyatt, Keith J. (April 2007). "Brain Gym - Building Stronger Brains or Wishful Thinking?" (fee required). Remedial and Special Education (SAGE Publications) 28 (2): 117–124. doi:10.1177/07419325070280020201. ISSN 0741-9325. Retrieved 2008-09-12. "a review of the theoretical foundations of Brain Gym and the associated peer-reviewed research studies failed to support the contentions of the promoters of Brain Gym. Educators are encouraged to become informed consumers of research and to avoid implementing programming for which there is neither a credible theoretical nor a sound research basis." 
  7. ^ a b c d e "What is Dr. Dennison's Background?". Educational Kinesiology and Brain Gym UK and Ireland web site. Retrieved 2011-01-24. 
  8. ^ Switching On: The Whole-Brain Answer to Dyslexia, 1981.
  9. ^ a b "Brain Gym - About". The Official Brain Gym Web Site. Retrieved 2011-01-03. 
  10. ^ a b Brain Gym: Teacher’s Edition 1996 (p. "A Message to Parents and Educators")
  11. ^ a b "Dennison, Paul E. and Gail E. Dennison. Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition.". Ventura, CA: Hearts at Play, Inc., 2010. 
  12. ^ "Brain Gym - FAQ". The Official Brain Gym Web Site. Retrieved 2008-08-11. "Many of the BRAIN GYM activities, like the Owl, the Elephant, and the Alphabet 8s, were developed from Dr. Dennison’s knowledge of the relationship of movement to perception, and the impact of these on fine-motor and academic skills. Others were learned during his training as a marathon runner, his study of vision training, his study of Jin Shin Jitsu (a form of acupressure), and his study of Touch for Health, (a form of kinesiology developed by chiropractor John Thie for laypeople)." 
  13. ^ "Brain Gym - FAQ". The Official Brain Gym Web Site. Retrieved 2008-08-11. 
  14. ^ "Dennison, Paul E. and Gail E. Dennison. Brain Gym: Teacher’s Edition.". Ventura, CA: Hearts at Play, Inc., 2010.  (pp 33-34)
  15. ^ "Brain Gym - FAQ". The Official Brain Gym Web Site. Retrieved 2008-08-11. "BRAIN GYM works by facilitating optimal achievement of mental potential through specific movement experiences. All acts of speech, hearing, vision, and coordination are naturally learned through a complex repertoire of movements. BRAIN GYM promotes efficient communication among the many nerve cells and functional centers located throughout the brain and sensory motor system." 
  16. ^ "Brain Gym - FAQ". The Official Brain Gym Web Site. Retrieved 2008-08-15. "The Dennisons describe brain functioning in terms of three dimensions––laterality, focus, and centering. Laterality is the ability to coordinate one side of the brain with the other, especially in the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic midfield, the area where the two sides overlap. This skill is fundamental to the ability to read, write, and communicate. It is also essential for fluid whole-body movement, and for the ability to move and think at the same time. Focus is the ability to coordinate the back and front areas of the brain. ... Centering is the ability to coordinate the top and bottom areas of the brain. ... The BRAIN GYM movements interconnect the brain in these dimensions, allowing us to easily learn through all the senses, to remember what we learn, and to participate more fully in the events of our lives. ..." 
  17. ^ "Brain Gym - FAQ". The Official Brain Gym Web Site. Retrieved 2008-08-15. 
  18. ^ "Requirements for Licensure as a Brain Gym Instructor / Consultant" (pdf). Educational Kinesiology Foundation. 2007. Retrieved 2008-08-15. 
  19. ^ "Brain Gym Instructor & Educational Kinesiology Consultant Professional Training Track". The Official Brain Gym Website for the UK. Retrieved 2008-08-15. 
  20. ^ "Neuroscience and Education: Issues and Opportunities" (PDF). the ESRC's Teaching and Learning Research Programme website. Retrieved 2007-08-03. "The pseudo-scientific terms that are used to explain how this works, let alone the concepts they express, are unrecognisable within the domain of neuroscience." 
  21. ^ "Neuroscience and Education: Issues and Opportunities" (PDF). the ESRC's Teaching and Learning Research Programme website. Retrieved 2007-08-03. "short sessions of Brain Gym exercise have been shown to improve response times, and such strategies, if they are effective, may work because exercise can improve alertness." 
  22. ^ Brain Gym: Teacher’s Edition (p. 15)
  23. ^ "Response to Criticism". 
  24. ^ "Sense About Science - Brain Gym". Sense About Science. Retrieved 2008-04-11. "These exercises are being taught with pseudoscientific explanations that undermine science teaching and mislead children about how their bodies work. ... There have been a few peer reviewed scientific studies into the methods of Brain Gym, but none of them found a significant improvement in general academic skills." 
  25. ^ Randerson, James (2008-04-03). "Experts dismiss educational claims of Brain Gym programme". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-10-06. "Also based on the 1994 explanations, two leading scientific societies and a charity that promotes scientific understanding have written to local education authorities in the UK to warn that a programme of exercises being promoted to help child learning relies on "pseudoscientific explanations" and a "bizarre understanding" of how the body works." 
  26. ^ Brain Gym Teacher's Edition, 2010, page 16
  27. ^ Hyatt, Keith J. (April 2007). "Brain Gym - Building Stronger Brains or Wishful Thinking?" (fee required). Remedial and Special Education (SAGE Publications) 28 (2): 117–124. doi:10.1177/07419325070280020201. ISSN 0741-9325. Retrieved 2008-09-12. "a review of the theoretical foundations of Brain Gym and the associated peer-reviewed research studies failed to support the contentions of the promoters of Brain Gym. Educators are encouraged to become informed consumers of research and to avoid implementing programming for which there is neither a credible theoretical nor a sound research basis." 
  28. ^ "Dennison, Paul E. and Gail E. Dennison. Brain Gym: Teacher’s Edition.". Ventura, CA: Hearts at Play, Inc., 2010.  (p 4, xiv) Elkhonon Goldberg, Daniel Amen, Bruce Perry, and John Ratey
  29. ^ Ben Goldacre (2003-06-12). "Work out your mind". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-08-03. "On the off chance that it might not be rubbish I looked it up on the main public research databases. Nothing supported their assertions." 
  30. ^ Ben Goldacre (2006-03-18). "Brain Gym exercises do pupils no favours". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-08-03. "I've accidentally stumbled upon a vast empire of pseudoscience being peddled in hundreds of state schools up and down the country." 
  31. ^ Ben Goldacre (2006-03-25). "Exercise the brain without this transparent nonsense". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-08-03. "The advice they are offering is sensible: "take an exercise break to help you concentrate" ... But in stark contrast, the science they use to justify this so often seems to be bogus, empty PR, that promotes basic scientific misunderstandings, and most of all is completely superfluous in every sense except the commercial: because the ropey promotional "science" is the cornerstone of their commercial operation, they need it to promote themselves as experts selling a product that is unique and distinct from the obvious, sensible diet and exercise advice that you can't copyright." 
  32. ^ "Interview with Paul Dennison". Newsnight. 2008-04-02. Retrieved 2008-09-12. "Is the fact that you're not medically qualified explanation enough for statements in this teachers manual of the kind that "processed foods do not contain water", which you know is arrant nonsense?" 
  33. ^ Hannaford, Carla (1995; 2005). Smart Moves: Why Learning Is Not All in Your Head (page 145). Great River Books.
  34. ^ Brooker, Charlie (2008-04-07). "Charlie Brooker on the pseudoscience of Brain Gym". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-09-01. "All of which sounds like hooey to me. And also to the British Neuroscience Association, the Physiological Society and the charity Sense About Science, who have written to every local education authority in the land to complain about Brain Gym's misrepresentation of, um, reality." 
  35. ^ "Brain Gym for Learning Disorders". Channel 4 news. May 2011. Retrieved 2012-01-17. 

External links[edit]