Through Movement, Traini Sparks Joy in Language Learning

by St. Andrew's Communications Staff
In Eli Traini’s Lower School Spanish class, students are crawling, marching, and dancing as they learn about shapes, colors, and animals. It looks like fun – and it is – but it’s also good for their rapidly developing brains, too.
Traini made movement in language learning the focus of her research grant this summer and is applying her findings to her preschool through Grade 2 lessons this fall.
 
“It’s not just, ‘Let’s get up and move.’ Eli is very intentional about linking the vocabulary and thematic units she is teaching to the movement the kids are participating in,” said Jordan Love, Head of Lower School. “There’s a higher level of engagement, a greater sense of playfulness and a more joyful classroom setting, which is leading to greater participation.”
 
Since starting at St. Andrew’s in 2013, Traini has introduced young learners to Spanish through multiple modalities, including song, poetry, games, and more. She observed that her students especially enjoyed learning through movement, whether they were doing yoga to demonstrate metamorphosis or acting out the characters in the “Little Red Hen” story.
 
“It works because I feel like they have a chance to express themselves and play a little bit with the language, rather than just repeating after me,” Traini said.
 
She wanted to know the science behind why movement was effective, so she consulted research by Judy Willis, author of “How Your Child Learns Best,” Connie Bergstein Dow, author of “Dance, Turn, Hop, Learn! Enriching Movement Activities for Preschoolers,” and Teri James Bellis, author of “When the Brain Can’t Hear: Unraveling the Mystery of Auditor Processing.”
 
“Movement can help you with alertness, attention, and motivation,” Traini said. “Movement kicks up dopamine, a neurotransmitter essential for long-term memory.
 
“If they feel happy, they’re more open to learn,” she said.
 
One of the lessons that features more movement this year is on animals. Through the story of the “Three Little Pigs,” students learn about pigs and wolves, as well as numbers, colors, and feelings, as they trot and prowl and oink and howl.
 
“I find that my students, as they are moving up, they’re more open and looking for more movement,” Traini said.
 
The culmination of Lower School language learning, the World Language Festival, is all about movement. Preschoolers march in parades to show what they know about animals and emotions, while second graders demonstrate their knowledge of Spanish language and culture by having conversations and performing dances in traditional Bolivian costumes.
 
“Eli's summer work leverages the St. Andrew's faculty’s growing understanding that movement is a research-informed pedagogical strategy,” said Glenn Whitman, Director of the Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning. “Eli's efforts to bring that research to her Lower School students and her academic discipline, Spanish, is precisely what being a research-informed teacher at St. Andrew's looks like.”
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St. Andrew’s Episcopal School is a private, coeducational college preparatory day school for students in preschool (Age 2) through grade 12, located in Potomac, Maryland.