Interview with a Brain Gym Buddy – Part 3 with Summary

Interview 3:  (retired one year)

1)      When and how did you learn of Brain Gym? 

Twenty seven years ago in Lethbridge; it was a half day workshop and I really connected with the instructor.  She encouraged me to become a trainer of the first level.  I remember being so excited and then I had to buy their book (over $100 27 years ago!)  Suddenly I was involved in a Pyramid business.  But, I didn’t care; I just knew this would benefit kids.

2)      What enticed you to learn more about it?

I knew it would work.  It just made sense, balancing the mind and the body to work together; basically the balance between the physical and mental states as one.  You could compare it to the Occupational and physical therapies our CARE people bring to the school.  Look in their manuals- some of the exact movements are there!

3)      Where did you get training?

Lethbridge was the first training and then I went to Calgary.  After that I went to somewhere in Toronto for a week; it was really expensive.

4)      How did you implement BG?

Well, I used it with my whole class first thing in the morning, or as a transition between activities.  I also identified a few of my kids that really needed interventions.  I made special time in their day to help them learn through the routines for their needs.

5)      What were some of the benefits you noticed?

Well, the behaviours in my room just weren’t there.  The kids loved doing it.  They loved coming to reading class because we started with our routine for reading.

6)      Do you feel BG met its claims of enhancing learning?

Absolutely, but can I prove it?  No.  I just know my own experience.  I think the company is not going to waste time with sceptics- it works.

Summary of interviews:

These individuals were obviously positive and convinced that Brain Gym benefited their teaching practice and helped the students.  They believed in this program as a support for all students and for their staffs.  Could they explain actual philosophy behind the process?  No, they encouraged me to find a training opportunity and were willing to give another name for a person to interview.  They found the movement routines easy to learn and facilitate in their classrooms butoverall focused more on classroom management or body breaks rather than for the purpose of enhancing learning.

Each individual commented, outside of the interview questions, that Brain Gym International was a business designed to entice new trainers to come on board.  The recruitment process could be compared to that of a multi-level marketing system.  The higher the level of training, the more money you made.  The more people you introduced to the system, the more money you made.  Even though they discussed that the business side of Brain Gym bothered them, they felt the program still benefited students.  This interviewer attempted to contact a representative from Brain Gym International to gain a better understanding of the business side of the company, but response was an encouragement to find and participate in a local training session then ask these questions after the experience.

Another commonality obtained from these interviews reflected lack of promotion of Brain Gym claims within their school environments. Each individual referred to the process as “breaks” from their curricular program, morning routine, or as a transition strategy.

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Caution: Brain Gym Ahead!

The Research

Overall, the research points in one clear direction:  While the activities involved in the Brain Gym International program may not be harmful in and of themselves, they do not produce the desired results which BGI claims, such as balancing hemispheres of the brain or re-establishing “brain organization for reading and writing” (Howard-Jones, 2007).  The harm exists mainly promoting the idea certain brain mechanisms can be impacted and learning facilitated by simple, physical activity.  This is simply unsubstantiated.

The Principles:

“Brain Gym® International is committed to the principle that moving with intention leads to optimal learning” (“What is”, 2011).

A March 2010 study in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine analyzed a number of studies which were done to assess the impact of physical activity on overall achievement and came to the conclusion that “the introduction of sport or physical education has no striking affect on GPA” (Trudeau & Sheppard), but noted that the addition of physical activity to daily routines was advantageous to a child’s healthy development without interfering with learning.  As well, a study of DDAT, an exercise and movement program designed to help students with dyslexia-related disorders was unable to support the conclusions of the researchers-namely that movement and exercise would positively effect a child’s reading ability. (Snowling & Hulme, 2003).  The research was flawed and the interpretation of the results inaccurate.

Other studies have examined more closely the theoretical basis from which Brain Gym was developed.  Samuel Orton theorized in his 1937, Reading,Writing and Speech Difficulties, that reading difficulties may be caused, in part,  by the lack of hemispheric preference.   Dennison loosely and vaguely connected Brain Gym to Orton’s studies and suggested remediation(Hyatt, 2007).   Maywringer & Wimmer tried to replicate the findings of a study which supported Orton’s theory.  However, their findings were contrary to these earlier studies which supported Orton’s theory. (2003).   The researchers found that individuals with no particular preference of handedness showed no difference in academic performance abilities when tested. The study used only boys expecting to find more instances of reading and spelling difficulties.  This was not the case.  In some cases, their findings showed that students with hemispheric indifference actually scored higher in certain tests than individuals with a moderate preference, and relatively no difference to those with distinct right or left hand preference (Maywringer & Wimmer, 2002).  A recent qualitative review by Keith J. Hyatt of research on cerebral dominance has found that there is no significant or valid evidence to connect this theory with learning difficulties and “this line of theoretical support recognized by the developers of Brain Gym has also failed the rigors of scientific inquiry” (2007).

“Brain Gym® movements, exercises, or activities refer to the original 26 Brain Gym movements, sometimes abbreviated as the 26. These activities recall the movements naturally done during the first years of life when learning to coordinate the eyes, ears, hands, and whole body” (“What is”, 2011).

A main focus of Brain Gym’s program suggests by performing exercises and movements one is able to repattern neurological pathways which may be the cause future (or current) learning difficulties (Howard-Jones, 2007).  This regime has also been studied a number of times and results remain inconclusive (Hyatt, 2007).  As far back as 1966, these remediation exercises have been tested without any conclusive empirical evidence to support the claims (Robbins, 1966; Stone & Pielsick, 1969), over 20 years before the development of Brain Gym.

“Many of the Brain Gym activities, such as the Owl, the Elephant, and Alphabet 8s, were developed from Paul’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 work with developmental optometrists doing vision training” (“History”, 2011).

Finally, Dennison and Dennison based many of Brain Gym activities on Perceptual Motor Training and once again, studies have failed to prove, empirically, that this is effective for improving cognitive and academic skills.  Kavale and Mattson evaluated 180 studies which evaluated this as an intervention and found no empirical evidence to support the relationship between PMT and academic and cognitive skills.  Furthermore, a number of the studies’ methodologies and statistical analyses were faulty,  and instances of negative correlation indicate possible loss instead of academic gain for students receiving this intervention (1983).

Hyatt’s 2007 literature review discusses Brain Gym’s incorporation of vision therapy as part of PMT.  In the article is a summary of organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics, The American Academy of Ophthalmology and American Assocation for Pediatrics and Strabismus  which “issued a joint statement strongly discrediting vision therapy” and clarifying that there is no evidence to suggest that learning disabilities are related to vision problems, and therefore cannot be corrected with these interventions (Hyatt, 2007).

References

Howard-Jones, Paul. (2007).  Neuroscience and Education:  Issues and Opportunities – A Commentary by the Teaching and learning Research Programme.  Retrieved October 7, 2011 from http://gtcni.openrepository.com/gtcni/bitstream/2428/12735/1/Neuroscience.pdf

Hyatt, Keith J.  (2007). Brain Gym:  Building stronger brains or wishful thinking?  Remedial and Special Education, 28(2), 117-124.

Kavale, K.& Mattson, D.  (1983). “One jumped off the balance beam”:  Meta-Analysis of Perceptual Motor Training. Journal of Learning Disabilities. 16(3), 165-173. doi: 10.1177/002221948301600307

Maywringer, H. & Wimmer, H.  (2002).  No deficits at the point of hemispheric indecision.  Neuropsychologia. 40(7), 701-704.

Robbins, M.  (1966).  The Delacato interpretation of neurological organization.  Reading Research Quarterly, 1(3), 57-78.

Snowling, M.J., & Hulme, C.  (2003). A critique of claims from Reynolds, Nicolson & Hambly (2003) that DDAT is an effective treatment for children with reading difficulties – ‘Lies, damned lies and inappropriate statistics?’  Dyslexia, 9(50), 127-133.

Stone, M. & Pielstick, N. L. (1969).  Effectiveness of Delacato treatment with kindergarten children.  Psychology in the Schools 6(1), 63-68. doi: 10.1002/1520 6807(196901)

History (2011).  Brain Gym International.  Retrieved October 8, 2011 from http://braingym.org/history   What is brain gym?  (2011).  Brain Gym International.  Retrieved October 8, 2011 from http://braingym.org/about

The 8’s and the 26

I decided that I needed to test out this Brain Gym for myself. My kids had already received the crash course in neuroscience earlier in the year and the warning that they would be my guinea pigs for projects now and then. Perhaps this is why I was treated to good natured groans rather than full out refusal. Possibly. Do you know many Grade 8’s that would yell “Yippee Skippee” when you tell them it’s time to do our brain exercises? I know one but I’m fairly sure it was sarcastic.

Regardless, our work out commenced on a day that we were reviewing for our upcoming exam. For the first half of the period, we went through the usual routine of the slideshow, the trivia rounds and so on. About halfway through, when we needed a bit of a pick-up. We stopped to ask students to write down a number between 1 and 4 to answer the following statements:

  • I am focused.
  • My brain is alive with activity.
  • I will remember all of today’s information.
  • My brain is feeling pumped!

Tongue in cheek, sure, but that’s how I roll. On our scale, 4 is “Oh, absolutely!” and 1 is “Pfft, not even a little!”. It was time for Brain Gym.

This required a little prep time on my end. I’d already seen a few youtube videos about some of the 26 exercises designed by Dr. Dennison. However, I didn’t want this to be a “just follow the video, guys!” kind of activity. We’ve already done an activity where we attempted to mimic a hip-hop routine and I was a little wary of Brain Gym erupting into the giggles that the hip-hop routine induced. So I needed to practice for a few days in order to guide them through a few of the exercises.

We started with the brain buttons, placing our fingers on our clavicles and our navels. It’s a simple enough activity that isn’t quite a marathon. From there, we went on to the cross crawl. The activity increased but students were all following along. There were degrees in enthusiasm, some students wanted to perform at a high level and some were content to simply follow along in a content sort of way. As we moved into “elbow to knee”, I tried to resist the urge to yell out encouragement. “Feel your neurons firing! Expand those lobes! Flex your brain stem!”.

After we completed the exercise, we went back to our review. This involved more slideshows, some outlines and some partner reviewing before some quiet time. At the end of class, students were given one minute to respond to those original 4 statements. Then we opened it up to a discussion at the end of class. I asked how today went for them and if they felt more focused at the beginning or the end, etc.

Some of the significant responses are below:

“I liked having the break and it was easier than doing the other dance video,”

“Uhhhh… no difference.”

“Oh I am definitely smarter after I jump around.”

My conclusion:

I liked having the break! It was easier than the other dance video! For some of them it may have made no difference! And maybe that kid really is smarter after he jumps around!

The bottom line: nobody got hurt, it took us less than seven minutes, and our test average was still pretty good.

What CAN We Gain?

Clearly there is no shortage of controversy surrounding Brain Gym. There are advocates and critics, but someone somewhere is still using those exercises. There must be some benefit or they wouldn’t bother. I couldn’t help but wonder, what can we all (advocates and critics alike) take away from Brain Gym?

At its most basic, Brain Gym is a chance for physical activity. You will be hard pressed to find educators who don’t support children being active. Our most elementary observations tell us that children need activity. We’ve seen them fidget or get restless. Some of us are relieved to have our grade eight students after Phys. Ed instead of before. This post seeks to find out why that is.

The “hidden curriculum” In schools pushes for children to master skills of sitting still and sitting quietly. We suppress their urge to fidget. It has been suggested that movement is an anthropological need (Breithecker 2007). Even while sleeping we are not completely motionless for eight hours. The need for movement will be manifested in the form of bouncing knees, tapping pencils or even more “disruptive” forms.

Researchers believe that there are also neurological needs being met by fidgeting and physical activity. A basic explanation would note that our brains need oxygen. Physical activity increases the circulation of blood and oxygen, providing our brain with what it needs. A healthy brain will send the signals to initiate the unconscious fidgeting like the bouncing knees. Some studies have even confirmed that physical activity will stimulate the development and maintenance of synapses (Breithecker 2007).

Perhaps Brain Gym is not totally without value. You are providing a short break in the routine and you’re providing structured activity. If it’s the name you object to, call it “Crazy Anti-Cranky Fidget Time!”. Ultimately it’s a short burst physical activity and many of us are hard pressed to object to that.

Breithecker, D. (2007). Beware of the Sitting Trap in Learning and Schooling. DesignShare. http://www.designshare.com/index.php/articles/sitting-trap/

If you’ve hung in there through this whole blog – thank you! We hope that you have found it informative, perhaps useful, and thought-provoking. This is the final post in our blog and we’d like to open it up to you now. We are aware that people are generally pretty polarized when it comes to Brain Gym. Consider the following interview with Dr. Dennison and the attitude of the interview . Clearly we know which camp he falls into:

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5rH7kDcFpc&w=510&h=317]

It seemed a little tense during that interview, didn’t it?

Please consider commenting on this post. Our goal is a significantly less tense atmosphere, but we’d like to offer some guiding questions if you need a push:

  • Had you heard of Brain Gym before our presentation?
  • What opinions of Brain Gym did you have, if any?
  • Has the presentation/blog changed or confirmed those opinions?
  • Have you tried Brain Gym for yourself? What have you observed?
  • Would you be willing to try Brain Gym in your classroom?

Thanks again for popping by. We’ll be hanging out in the comments, too!