Does Movement = Student Success?

Research, Reflections, and Resources Compiled by Sarah Ross

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Above is a poll I posted on Twitter to my followers before researching my topic , it appears there is a consensus. Therefore, I went ahead to find proof of this statement.

Elementary Reflections

When was in elementary school I don't recall many memories of movement breaks outside of recess. I can fondly remember being so excited to leave school and then getting home and staying outside until supper time. Looking back, knowing what I now know about teaching and learning, I realize that this type of schooling worked for me but that it doesn't work for everyone. When I remember some of my peers that would get in trouble for different behaviours I now wonder if this could have been avoided if teachers had used more movement throughout the day.

Flashback- Grade 3

The classroom was set up with tables and not desks. We were not used to this type of seating arrangement. My friends and I were constantly playing with the height settings on the tables and causing a disruption. I remember countless times where we would get in trouble for 'moving around and being disruptive'. Now looking back I wonder if this could have been avoided if we had been taught how to sit at tables or given some desks and been able to choose which type of seating worked best for ourselves. I now know that I work better and am more focused at a desk than at a table.

Another memory that I hold fondly is of the different activities that I participated in at recess that helped me burn of energy throughout the school day. When I first heard that some schools were taking away recess I was furious! Now though, after interning at a school where there was no recess, I do not see it through the same negative lens.

Flashback- Grade 7

When I was in grade 7 there weren't the same negative social reactions to kids wearing big, warm, winter boots (and if there were I wasn't aware of it). I remember loving going outside for recess and playing with my friends. I also recall that as I got into the higher grades we were allowed to attend intramurals at recess.

My final memories of getting to be active in elementary school was when my grade 7/8 teacher introduced brain breaks. This was the first time I can recall doing something along these lines. Although we didn't do them very often we did have fun with them when my teacher would allow us to do them.

High School Reflections

In high school I do not recall having any movement breaks other than in P.E. class. This lack of inclusion makes me question how high schools are currently being operated, are students now given brain breaks/movement breaks? I can recall getting very antsy during class time, especially during E.L.A. However, I also remember being allowed to go outside during our class breaks/ spares. Having the freedom to do this allowed students who needed movement to self-regulate and go outside.

For me, in high school, I got my daily movement and exercise by playing sports. I participated in as many sports as I could. Looking back I believe this benefited me in many different ways:

  1. Gain confidence
  2. Stay active and healthy
  3. Learn about team work and leading
  4. Enjoy physical activity and exertion
  5. Learn skills for sports that I can now play for leisure

I know that not all schools allow everyone to make the sports teams. But I do strongly believe in giving all students the chance to participate in sports in high school. I think that it is so beneficial to so many different areas of life that it needs to be an option for all and anyone. I also know that some of my friends were not into sports. However, being active and getting exercise is important for everyone and therefore I think that ways of incorporating movement in high school needs to be better researched.

University Reflections

First Year:

During my first year of Education I can honestly say I never really thought too much about movement in classrooms. My first exposure to it was when I did my ECS 100 placement in a grade 3 classroom. In this classroom they had a diverse group of learners and a few that were extremely active. The teacher made the accommodations which allowed these students to use standing desks, swinging desks, ball chairs, and wiggle seats. I was amazed and intrigued by these devices. Since then I have done research on my own time as well as tried out some classroom movement methods on my own.

After my first 2 semesters of university I got a job at a local daycare. During my 4 months there I took over teaching the preschool room. Below this you will see some pictures I took of some of the different things that I did with the preschoolers at the daycare. I quickly realized that these little guys loved to move and that they needed to move. I spent alot of time on Pinterest searching for inexpensive ways to do activities that incorporated as much movement as possible. One example you will see in the pictures below are the inner-tubes I purchased at a local dollar store. They were cheap, comfortable, and durable. Once I taught the children how to inflate them they were able to also maintain them. These inner tubes were my first experience with alternative seating. Other things I did during the 4 months were a lot of hands-on experiments and outdoor chasing games. We also took countless community walks. The experience was invaluable because it gave me the opportunity to practice some of my initial thoughts about movement and children.

Second Year:

During the second year of my Education Program I can't recall much focus on my interest in movement for students or alternative seating. However, I do recall researching things on my own time.

After my second year of education I applied to work as an Educational Assistant for Regina Public Schools. Through this experience I was able to gain hands on experience with different forms of alternative seating and see the different ways that teachers incorporated movement in their classrooms. One incident I remember in particular was when I worked with a little girl who supposedly could only count to 5. I decided to take her to a break room and there was a bunch of different gym and movement equipment in the gym. I decided to try to incorporate academics into our play in the area. Both when she jumped on the trampoline and played in the swing she was able to count all the way to 100! I was shocked. I immediately felt frustrated with the teacher for assuming that this child could do less than she actually could. However, looking back now, I realize that a lot of teachers do not realize that some students may learn through movement. I remember going home after this experience and researching more ways that I, personally, could incorporate movement into a classroom.

Third Year:

My third year in the Education Program was the year that I engaged in the most learning around this topic of movement and student success. Two of the courses that really helped broaden my knowledge in this area were Arts Education and Physical Education. Both instructors were passionate about getting students involved in learning. I can fondly recall feeling inspired after both classes. I was able to gain valuable resources, learn shocking statistics, and get hands-on experience. All things that spoke to the way I learn best. I felt a lot more prepared going into my final year to incorporate movement in classrooms after these two university courses.

After my third year of university I continued to work as an Educational Assistant. Because I was a substitute I was able to spend a lot of time in many different schools, everyday was a new learning experience. One difference was that I spent a lot more time working in developmental classrooms (D.C). This experience allowed me to work with different equipment. Initially this equipment seemed to be specific to students with different disabilities. However, I now look back on my time in those classrooms when figuring out strategies for mainstream students. Many of the different movement strategies and techniques are very transferable to students in mainstream strategies. One example is students in D.C. are given break cards and go for walks in the school. This is one strategy I have utilized many times. If a student appeals to be more 'wiggly' then all the other students, I will map out with them a route around the school that they then learn is a pathway they can walk if they need a movement break.

Fourth Year:

Internship started off my fourth year of Education. I was thrown into real life with students and was expected to use all the strategies and knowledge I had been gaining with actual children. My particular group of students were very active, and on-top of that the school did not have recess'. At the start I was very unsure of how this would work. However, the students were great and knew how to function in this type of schooling. Eventually I came to LOVE not having my day run by bells. I learned when my students needed breaks and we were able to take them whenever and wherever we chose. As the weather got colder I decided to look into ways that I could incorporate indoor recess activities. Some of the things I did was bring in dart games and indoor hockey. After leaving my internship I continue to think of new ways I could incorporate physical activity. Looking around Regina I have now realized that 'not having recess' is a more common thing than not. As educators it is our job to have a tool belt of strategies for incorporating movement into the classroom; not only incase there is no recess, but because more and more students have shorter attention spans, learn through movement, and it can increase engagement levels.

Heading back for my last semester of University was interesting. I didn't necessarily learn to much about my exact topic but I feel I learnt about things that connected to it. I also subbed in a classroom during the semester that completely shifted to alternative seating. I was fascinated by this and asked the teacher many questions about how and why she chose to do this. Two of my biggest takeaways from this were that it can cost a lot and it requires strict initial routines in order to train the students to use it properly. After hearing this I began to research DIY (do it yourself) forms of alternative seating.

Journal Articles; Findings and Quotes

Teachers' Comfy Classrooms Help Students Focus on Work

The below quotes are profound statements by teachers and students who have decided to try alternative seating in their classroom. (Teachers comfy classrooms help students focus on work, 2014)

  • All quotes are from pg. 1

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Alternative Seating for Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Effects on Classroom Behavior

Below excerpts are findings and conclusions about how alternative seating can help children with Autism. ( Schilling &Swartz, 2004)

  • The first quote is from pg. 425
  • The second quote is from pg. 430

If you would like further information on this study please read the entire article for your own knowledge.

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Promoting Teacher Adoption of PhysicalActivity Breaks in the Classroom: Findingsof the Central Texas CATCH Middle SchoolProject

A study done in Texas that looks at the effects of promoting more activity breaks (ABs) in classrooms. (Delk, Springer, Kelder, & Grayless, 2014)

  • First quote was from pg. 722
  • Second quote was from pg. 728

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Do Classroom Exercise Breaks Affect Executive Function and Math Performance?

This was a study done with grade 4 and 5 students but I do believe that the findings and results are applicable to any age level. It looks at how regular movement breaks can improve academics. This study was done in South Carolina. ( Setaro, 2016)

  • All quotes are from pg. 55

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Classroom Teachers and Physical Activity Integration

This study was done in schools were the student population is predominately Native Americans. It investigates how to successfully incorporate more physical activity and also some of the obstacles. (Cothran, Kulinna, & Garn, 2010)

  • The first quote was from pg. 1381
  • The second quote is a paraphrase
  • The third quote is from pg. 1387

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Brief description and implementation of GoNoodle. ( Holzweiss, 2014)

  • All quotes from pg. 52

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How stress affects your brain - Madhumita Murgia
Counting by 2's,3's, 4's, etc.

Watch how you can use movement to teach math strategies!

Spell with Movement

Watch how you can get kids to move and spell at the same time!

Alternative Seating on TWITTER

Read about current trends in alternative seating; what present-day teachers are doing to incorporate this strategy!


Review and learn what #noworksheetwednesday means, how you can participate in it, and the reasoning behind it.


Blogs and Online Articles; by Parents, Teachers, and Schools

Apps and Digital Tools

DIY Classroom Movement

Lesson Plans with Movement in Mind

Click on the below link to access ready-to-go lessons plans that use physical activity to engage students.

Futuristic Planning

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Cothran, D., Kulinna, P., & Garn, A. (2010). Classroom teachers and physical activity integration. Teaching And Teacher Education, 26(7), 1381-1388.

Delk, J., Springer, A. E., Kelder, S. H., & Grayless, M. (2014). Promoting teacher adoption of physical activity breaks in the classroom: Findings of the central texas CATCH middle school project. Journal of School Health, 84(11), 722-730. doi:10.1111/josh.12203

Holzweiss, K. A. (2014). gonoodle. School Library Monthly, 31(3), 52

Setaro, C. (2016). Do classroom exercise breaks affect executive function and math performance?: Editor: Vicki ebbeck. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 87(2), 55-55. doi:10.1080/07303084.2016.1119568

Schilling, D. L., & Schwartz, I. S. (2004). Alternative seating for young children with autism spectrum disorder: Effects on classroom behavior. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 34(4), 423-432. doi:10.1023/B:JADD.0000037418.48587.f4

Teachers' comfy classrooms help students focus on work. (2014, ). Star-News (Wilmington, NC)