Your Lecture is as Unmoving as the Podium You Are Standing Behind

By Ashley Dhaim

There are many less than optimal circumstances that affect teaching: early or late class times, class size, technology in the classroom–the list goes on and on. While the limitations on teaching are endless, there is one thing that we as teachers can turn into an opportunity for learning: the space of the classroom. 

photo of blog author Ashley Dhaim
Ashley Dhaim is a doctoral student in the Center for Ecological Study of Perception and Action within the Psychological Sciences department at UConn. Her research investigates the phenomenon of interpersonal coordination, how people spontaneously coordinate their behavior and movement with one another and the various social and cognitive benefits that occur because of it. She is currently completing UConn’s Graduate Certificate in College Instruction, and is devoted to making the information taught in a classroom accessible to all students within it, regardless of differing academic backgrounds.

Often times, teachers do not get the opportunity to pick the optimal classroom for themselves. Constraints from university scheduling based on room availability and needs makes it often seem like teachers are fortunate enough to get a room at all. While some rooms can be more challenging than others, each one has its own quirks that can be taken advantage of. Each classroom should be thought of as a new landscape for education, planting ideas and creating backdrops for future classes.

Admittedly, it is often easier while teaching to remain in one location. Behind the podium, in front of one’s laptop, is often comforting. There is a sense of a safe space, in front of the classroom, with one’s lecture notes right in front of oneself. However, getting in the thick of the woods with students, in the aisles where they are, lends to many teaching opportunities. While little research has been done about movement by professors in college classrooms, there is evidence to suggest that movement by students benefits multiple aspects of their cognition such as attentiveness (Walker, 2011). This may imply that teachers movement can help students reap the same benefits. Furthermore, evidence from elementary school settings has shown that a teacher’s movement can help benefit students behavior and learning (Gunter, Shores, Jack, Rasmussen, & Flowers, 1995).

While moving around the classroom, you can use movement to help teach concepts. You can ground certain ideas in specific locations in the classroom and then return back to them when expanding on them throughout the semester. You can move from left to right along the room as you are progressing an idea and moving it along. You can teach bad theories and foundations of topics near the garbage cans while putting better ideas more central in the room. You can use the space directly around you to move your arms wider to describe big and vast ideas. You can move more quickly or slowly around the room to signify progression in a discovery or use speed to represent urgency. You can start lectures in the same location that you ended the previous lecture days ago to signify that you are picking up where you left off. The possibilities are as immense as a teacher’s willingness to see the potential for the space they are given.

Now this may all seem like it is feeding into the metaphor for teaching of the “sage on the stage”, yet theater is easy in comparison to what I am trying to convey. A stage is built for an actor to move around and make a change in an audience member’s self. The set, the lighting, the sound, and even the script are all supplied to the actor to enhance what they are doing on the stage. A teacher has the crowded desks, the flickering lights, the sound of the buzzing of a projector with a bulb about to go out, the constant threat of losing students’ attention and the continual need to be prepared to improv whatever question is directed to them. Moving around the classroom allows us to literally and figuratively stay on our feet, ready for what’s to come.

While both the actor and the teacher have an audience to please, I think society has it wrong who deserves the round of applause at the end of the act.

Gunter, P. L., Shores, R. E., Jack, S. L., Rasmussen, S. K., & Flowers, J. (1995). On the Move Using
Teacher/Student Proximity to Improve Students’ Behavior. TEACHING Exceptional Children,
28(1), 12–14.
Walker, S. 2011. The Need for Physically Active Learning. Scientific Learning: Fast ForWord
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