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(An earlier version of this story appeared on the HICPR blog.)
The great Arthur Lessac, in what became known as the “Lessac method,” captured what I think is the quintessential notion in truly embodied language teaching: Train the body first! Haptic Pronunciation Teaching is based on that idea: First teach learners a gesture or set of gestures that in some “visceral” or metaphorical way mimic a set of sounds—THEN attach the sounds to the gestures.
I first learnt about Forest Bathing a year ago, just before visiting Japan as a faculty exchange for Capilano University in North Vancouver, Canada. I was surprised to learn that Shinrin-Yoku originated from the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture in the 1980s (Longhurst & Takemasa, 2018), not from a country like Canada known for its lush forests, vast oceans, and majestic mountains. But after I learnt more about their hectic lifestyle, it made perfect sense that the Japanese people needed to learn the art of relaxation through visiting forests far away from the stresses of a typical urban life.
Air, food, water, and sleep. These are the four basic needs of the human body. University students—and their teachers—usually do fine on the first three, but the last tends to be a problem. We know the physiological importance of sleep from a rich diversity of research studies. In biology, for instance, a team led by University of Chicago scientist Allan Rechtschaffen found that “all rats subjected to unrelenting total sleep deprivation died, usually after 2–3 weeks” (as cited in Gonzales and Gadye, 2015).
While giving my daughter a tour of my alma mater last year, we wandered into my old engineering department and passed by one of the lecture halls I used to frequent. Peering through the glass door, I saw that the tiers of flimsy, vinyl-clad planks and jittery overhead projector of my day had been replaced with well-padded, ergonomic thrones and two (or was it four?) massive, flat-screen displays. Oh, my! How fortunate my successors are to enjoy such luxuries!
Introduction by Movable Class advocate Kevin McCaughey. Read his article.
A few million years as hunter-gatherers have ensured that our bodies were designed for movement. Even if movement doesn’t help us think and learn better (which it very likely does), it’s much healthier than sitting around without a break. I’ve been involved in many workshops where teachers in Africa and Europe found great joy in getting active with English, even when it’s silly.
Hippocrates, a Greek physician who practiced some 2,400 years ago, famously wrote the line “walking is man’s best medicine.” Since then, writers and philosophers have similarly expressed the power of walking, not only for physical health, but for mental processing. For instance, Friedrich Nietzsche is credited with saying, “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking” while Ralph Waldo Emerson described walking as “gymnastics for the mind” and the avid walker Hemmingway stated that “I would walk along the quays when I had finished work or when I was trying to think something out.
As a member of the editorial team, I would like to make an apology: in our zeal to share knowledge of our students’ minds and brains, we neglected to bring our readers’ attention to another critical facet of learning: their bodies. The last time we’ve seriously focused on the body was in July 2018, in our Exercise issue, and prior to that was in our back-to-back Sleep issues from January and February 2018. As 2020 has so brutally reminded us, our students’ health is intimately connected with their learning.