Embodied learning is a pedagogical approach that acknowledges the role of the body and physical experiences in learning. Traditional pedagogy divides mind and body into a dichotomy where learning is understood to be a cognitive activity whilst the body remains mostly inert. However, embodied pedagogy seeks to unite the body and mind in a physical and mental act of knowledge construction. It is a learning practice that is grounded in sensory and motor experiences.
Essentially, the learner learns by doing.
There is an innate sense of play that emerges when engaging in embodied learning practices and this is not surprising; as children, our senses were central to our early learning experiences as we sought to touch, smell, move and taste every object of intrigue. As we grow up, language and words take over as learning emerges as a cognitive process and the inquisitive childlike body takes a seat.
Studying a play script in English is a unique opportunity to reunite language and the body, and reawaken students’ sense of play and discovery. By embracing embodied practices, students use movement, gesture and actions to learn about and experience a character. Shakespeare’s language, in particular, lends itself naturally to a physical exploration of character and ideas as the rhythm and meter of the verse direct and move the speaker through the character’s changing thoughts and emotions.
One of the reasons Shakespeare has remained so timeless lies in his ability to capture the essence of human experience. His universal themes of love, jealousy, ambition, loyalty and revenge are innately human feelings we all still experience today.
As a student explores the language, the way in which Shakespeare’s verse is structured can indicate the psychological state of the character in that moment. That is, when the verse is orderly and uniform, a character may be in a state of calm; however, a broken meter may indicate a character has entered a heightened emotional state, whether excited, distressed or perhaps falling in love!
By reading the lines aloud and allowing the verse to inform movement, the speaker physically feels the emotional changes of a character through the shifting rhythm of the verse. This is one of things that is intriguing about Shakespeare’s language and makes it essential to experience on a physical level.
Using embodied pedagogies, my Year 8 English students have been utilising both their language and physical skills this term while studying Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It has been a joy to share in their enthusiasm as we get up off our feet and discover the mystical world of fairies, magic and unrequited love together.
Their studies will culminate in a performance in English class where they plan, rehearse and direct their chosen scene in groups. The students will consider the best ways to dramatically present the ideas of the text and the journey of the characters through staging, costume, music, props, dialogue and movement.
Embodied pedagogies acknowledge and honour the role of the body in the acquisition of knowledge, reawakening our childlike curiosity in learning – I can’t wait to see what these budding performers create.
Naomi White | Head of Hudson (Years 10 – 12)