What Wearing a Fitbit Taught Me about Teaching

steps taken during ENG 102

My activity levels while teaching ENG 102: Composition II from 8:00-9:15 this morning.

I started wearing a Fitbit fitness tracker so I could log my running progress more easily, but wearing it all day, I started to notice a pattern: on days when I teach, I walk miles further than on days when I don’t. Digging deeper into the data, I found that I am never sedentary during my classes: my activity level always registers as light or moderate, even if I am facilitating a (mostly) seated discussion. How does that work? I suppose running up to the white board to illustrate a point or spell out a word explains a good deal of it.

For a while now, my efforts to engage students as whole people have included awareness of the body, thanks in part to the influence of bell hooks. I teach my writing classes (both composition and creative–yes, labeling the distinction that way is problematic) hand yoga; when students start drifting off when they should  be writing or reading, I encourage them to move—however they can and wish to (barring ways that impinge on other students’ rights)—instead of falling asleep. Moving into different groups, or into different classroom arrangements for different classroom arrangements also helps keep the energy levels up. These kinds of activities, however, are a little different from what my fitness tracker is recording.

I don’t move because an activity requires it or because I have been given explicit permission to do so. I move because I am intellectually engaged in the classroom: thinking and speaking leads me naturally to move. As the instructor, I have that liberty.

How can I give my students the same freedom? If I keep reminding them that they can move if they feel uncomfortable or wiped out, maybe eventually they will break out of the sit-still-in-school programming so many of them have been subjected to. I can also lead small-group or individual projects that involve the creation of visual, physical products (such as posters) that might draw students to move around the room even without being explicitly told to move around. (I’ve seen this happen with cut-and-paste poems and vampire folklore posters.) During discussions, I can place white board markers on desks to encourage students to go to the board and draw or write like I do. The more students move without being directed to, the more they will come to see the classroom space as one they have the authority to choose to move in.

In truth, only when they see the classroom that way can they take full ownership of their learning. Freedom to move, in whatever way one can and wishes to, is freedom to think.

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