A study reveals that children who form letter sounds with their bodies improve their spelling skills more than those who receive traditional classroom instruction. The learning strategy works for children with normal literacy development and those at risk of experiencing reading difficulties.
Developing literacy skills is an important aspect of a child's earliest school years. This learning usually happens while seated, which can be difficult for some children. And when a child falls behind in reading, they risk lagging throughout their school years.
Research included children with varying levels of reading ability
The research published in the Educational Psychology Review journal included 57 first-grade participants from Copenhagen's Norrebro Park School. Group A received normal spelling and reading instruction, while Group B received body-based instruction focusing on letter-sound couplings. Both groups included children with varying levels of reading ability. Before and after the intervention, the children were tested in spelling, letter-sound knowledge, and word reading.
Research finding was significant in just four weeks
After only four weeks of three 25-minute interventions each week with movement phonemes (instruction focusing on letter-sound couplings using the body), the children's spelling and letter memory scores doubled. These improvements were significant compared to the children who received traditional classroom teaching.
Linn Damsgaard, lead researcher in the University of Copenhagen's Department of Nutrition, Exercise, and Sports, said, "The results suggest that embodied learning activities can significantly improve early literacy and spelling performance in children."
"We expected the greatest improvement in children with lesser reading skills. However, it turned out that children with normal reading levels experienced similar improvements. It is gratifying that children at every level experienced significant improvement in their skills, regardless of their baseline," says Damsgaard.
Researchers found no progress in children's reading ability
Even though the children improved at letter recognition and spelling individual words, the researchers observed no significant improvement in their reading ability. Damsgaard explains, saying, "There might be a natural explanation. Our intervention at the school was relatively short, and there is a difference between recognizing an individual letter and reading an entire word. So, we think any lack of an impact on children's overall reading abilities is likely because they have not gotten there yet in their literacy development. Had we been with the children longer, we would probably have seen an effect on literacy later in the school year."
Experts believe the findings will lay the groundwork for deep study
Anne-Mette Veber Nielsen of the Danish National Centre for Reading sees potential in the findings and hopes they can serve as a foundation for further research into the relationship between movement and learning, particularly for children at risk of reading difficulties.
"The results help to substantiate how effective systematic training in linking letters and their different pronunciations is for early literacy," says Nielsen. "I hope that future studies can help shed light on why embodied learning is why children at risk of written language difficulties also experience such remarkable progress in just five hours of instruction."
Through the Active School project, researchers will continue their work to explore other forms of embodied learning and how memory and learning processes can be improved via movement. The aim is to make educators, school leaders, and students strengthen knowledge, well-being, motivation, and physical and mental health through physical activity.