Friday, December 14, 2012

Dancing Again

It’s fall, Armistice Day, and most teachers dive into something new at this time of year because they had a really good idea over the summer. Now, in November, they are coming up for air (after all the “new and exciting” programs/schedules/curricula, and/or administrators’ ideas for how to fill their days) and figuring out how to make their summer dream come true for their students.

Take my PE-teacher friend Matt, for example. “I’d like to do some dance in PE this fall,” he confided over our second beer one September evening. I nodded my agreement -- in my view, elementary children can never have too much dance -- and asked him how he planned to do it. He grinned. “Wanna help me?” he asked.

Someday, I will say No to that question, but this was not the day.
We decided to do folk dances (which I have done before with younger children) with his third-graders (which would be new for me).  During two more meetings, we chose and practiced the dances, inserted some work on mapping to ground the dances in the world, and picked a way-too-optimistic starting date in October.

Anne Green Gilbert, with whom I dance myself, has made several collections of folk dances, on video, in lists, and, in her book Brain Compatible Dance Education (2005).  In the Dance Institutes she gives in Seattle every summer and in our Wednesday adult class, she often uses folk dances as a way to illustrate the elements of her brilliantly simple BrainDance warmup exercises (  “Every folk dance from every country contains the same developmental patterns that comprise BrainDance,”  Anne says.

I use this idea with the third graders, so they are not only doing  Dance, and Geography, and PE, of course, they are also connecting their dance moves to their own movement patterns.

When  they come into the gym, they have to take off their shoes so that they will be as grounded as possible -- that is, connected to the ground (the gym floor) through their feet. Dancing without socks either is much better because the feet really are connected with the floor itself, and because sliding is not an option on bare feet.  Because each of Matt’s classes of 26 students has exactly 30 minutes for PE, and de-shoeing and re-shoeing can take as much as five minutes, sometimes dealing with socks too just doesn’t fit into the time.

Right away each child has to find his or her own personal space (which we reviewed in the first class but not since) and we do the BrainDance together:  Breath. Tactile work. Core-distal pattern. Head-Tail connection. Upper/Lower body. Body/Side pattern. Cross-Lateral.  Vestibular.  Usually I connect a concept to it, such as Speed (so we do some the BrainDance patterns slow and some fast) or Energy (so we do some of the patterns smooth and some shaky).  

Then Matt and I walk everyone through the steps of the dance, whatever it is.  We spend a TINY amount of time explaining how to do, for example, a pivot turn or the grapevine walk.  Then we turn on the music and do the whole dance.  

“Come sit on the stairs now,” I tell the children.  “Who thinks we did a movement in this dance that is part of BrainDance?”  Half the hands go up; we call on a few.  If we have time we also ask where today’s concept figured in today’s dance.  Eyes are alight as children make these a-ha connections.

Now it is time to perform for each other, so Matt splits the group in half and I talk to the audience half about how to be an audience, attending and appreciating the performers.  The performing half does the dance with one of the adults as part of the group; the audience can make two or three “I saw people doing ....” comments, the groups switch places and the same routine happens.

Time to put the shoes on fast -- class is over.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


Here we are in October of 2012, a beautiful (though dry) fall in the Northwest. School has started, and children are learning, and parents are trying to keep up.

For me, school has both not started and also begun anew. I retired at the end of June 2012 from my primary classroom in public school; in mid-September 2012 I began teaching writing to intermediate children at a small independent school. Now I am co-teaching thirteen nine- and ten-year-olds for parts of three days, a very different experience from first grade!

 Drum Roll, Please:

            The new book is OUT!  Hooray!

Red Flags For Primary Teachers

27 Neurodevelopmental and Vision Issues that Affect Learning
with Activities to Help

Published by Tendril Press (in Colorado) and available from them (  or from me ( or (soon) from my new website,, or from your local bookstore!

            Finally I can stop talking about the new book in the future and actually hold it in my hand!  More importantly, YOU can hold it in your hand too, and try some of the activities and exercises in it with the children in your class who are
P*U*Z*Z*L*I*N*G you!

            Let me know how it goes.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

More About Eyes part 2

More About Eyes  Part 2

Does a child need Vision Therapy?  Here is part of a checklist (modified from the Optometric Extension Program Foundation’s checklist distributed to educators by many optometrists ( which may help you make up your mind.

Eye-movement abilities (Ocular Motility)
____ His head turns as he reads across a page
____ He loses the place frequently when reading
____ He has a short attention span in reading or writing
____ He re-reads or skips lines

Eye-teaming abilities (Binocularity)
____ She repeats letters within words
____ She omits letters, numbers, or phrases
____ She misaligns numbers in columns
____ She squints, closes, or covers one eye
____ She tilts her head extremely while reading
____ She turns her head so only one eye focuses on the print

Visual form perception (Visual Imagery)
____ He fails to recognize the same word in the next sentence
____ She reverses letters and/or words in writing and copying
____ He has difficulty recognizing minor differences
____ She confuses words with similar beginnings and endings
____ She cannot visualize what is read, silently or aloud   



So shy
So quiet
So afraid
Of her own shadow

Leave her alone
Expect nothing
Smile a lot

And then the miracle:
Is that hand waving
Sally’s ?   

When It All Comes Together

When It All Comes Together

            I started Movement III on Tuesday a couple of weeks ago with, unusually, two boys.  One, Camden, is a smart boy who has been pushed at home to read and believes that he is the smartest child in the universe; Evald is an able child who is doing his second year of Kindergarten with me, and is itching to read. 
            When I got my materials together for Words that day, I had several of the small books ready (and the sentence strips to go with them) and I had a pen and several pencils at the table with me.  Movement III books, in case you have forgotten, are 5 or 6 half-size sheets of lined paper stapled with a cover of a half-sheet of construction paper.  There are only lines on these pages, no picture spaces.  I called Evald and Camden together to the table to start them off.

            “I know what I want for my Word,” said Evald immediately. 
            “Great,” I said.  Of course at this stage a Word is not only one word, but has been a sentence on a tag strip for some while. 
            “I know,” replied Evald with, fortunately, an emphasis on the “I” rather than, with impatience, on the “know.”
            I smoothed out  the strip I would write his sentence on and picked up my ball-point pen.  “Tell me,” I invited him.
            “My mom is getting a job,” he said.
            I wrote, saying the words as I did so, “My mom is getting a job” without the period.  I turned the strip so that it faced him.  “Read this,” I said.  As he read I framed the words of his sentence from above with my thumb and forefinger.  “And because this is a sentence, what goes at the end?” I asked.
            “A period!” he said, so I put one on. 
            “Now you write this sentence into this little writing book, and you will read it in Word Circle today.”
            “Okay,” he said, and settled down to do that while I turned to Camden.
            “What will you write in your little writing book today, Camden?” I asked.
            Camden has been single-mindedly focused on Star Wars since the first day of school, so I naturally expected a sentence about that subject.  “Saint Patrick’s Day is coming up,” he said.
            “My goodness, you’re right,” I replied.  “Is that your sentence for today?” He nodded.  “Okay, here it is,” I said as I began to write.  “Why am I making an upper-case S for Saint?”
            “Because it’s the first word in the sentence.”
            “Right.  And why am I making an upper-case P for Patrick’s?”
            “Because it is somebody’s name.”
            “Right!”  I turned the strip, he read it, and he settled down to copy it into the little book.
            “I’m done,” said Evald.  I looked it over. 
            “Great! You remembered the period and everything!  Now go read it to two people.”

            When we came to Word Circle that day there was a lot of interest in those two boys when they read from their books.  “C’n I have one of those?” Randy called out.    
            “Probably everyone will have one eventually,” I smiled.  “Tomorrow I’ll choose two more to start.  Now whose turn is it?”

             It is a little unusual to have boys start first, mostly because the girls tend to be slightly ahead of the boys in fine-motor skills and so their printing is often a little clearer. 
There are also two other boys and perhaps six girls who could have started that day and who have now gotten Movement III books of their own.  When the children read their Word pockets to a friend in the morning, the Movement III children can do either the pocket or the book.  They feel very powerful! 
It is a little more time-consuming for me at the beginning of Movement III, but soon it becomes as routine as anything else.  Each child still gets my attention for two or three minutes in the morning; I hear about important things, often (not Star Wars); and the children know that their own ideas and adventures are part of their day.  I love it.




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