Take a Hoop Break
Are you becoming burnt out because current teaching demands make you feel like you are testing more than teaching?
Read how to change a time out into a re-centering and re-energizing opportunity for engaged learning
Take a Hoop Break
Change a Time Out Into a Re-centering and Re-energizing Opportunity for Engaged Learning
Not Ready for Learning, Yet…
What do you do when a student starts to look dazed? Or he seems to have a battalion of beads rolling under his bottom? Or she is scrubbing her face in frustration? How about when he is trying to launch his pencil with the rubber pencil grip? Or when they just can’t seem to get started? I used to redirect, re-iterate the directions or remove the problematic artifacts. Now instead of taking something away, I offer Hoop Breaks.
What is a Hoop Break?
In my classroom, a hoop break is a three minute event which has astounding results. In the beginning, I directed students to take a timer set for three minutes and a hula hoop I selected for him or her and step into the hallway to hula hoop near my door. The student would come back to the room with renewed re-centered energy. Students report feelings of calmness and an ability to focus. They embody these qualities, too. A student who read an earlier draft of this article wrote, “It’s true that after your done doing a hula hoop break it feel like you have all that energy.” [Sic]
After a hoop break my students can work for 30 to 40 minutes on some of their hardest skills whether it is writing, reading or math. During a test, students in my class take a hoop break and find a new way to consider the question or problem which was up to that moment bogging them down. Positive results happen all day.
Now it is becoming a part of our culture. Students from other classes have hoop break passes. They can come to my room, take a hoop and a timer and hula hoop for three minutes and return to their classes refreshed and re-centered and renewed. It is worth every second of those three minutes to get students really available for learning.
So, now that I have your attention, let me walk you through the concept. By the end of the article, I hope you’ll be looking for hoops of your own!
How Did I Discover Hoop Breaks?
In 2007 I met Ariana Shelton and Laura Marie – a mother/daughter business team – who taught me how to hula hoop. I had never learned as a kid – besides, this is different. It is all about intentional movement – activating your core muscles and feeling connected to your feet. That means getting feet and arms and core muscles all working in different ways at the same time. It takes practice and patience. Soon, I got them to teach a class at my school. The school purchased a set of hoops with grant money for enrichment activities. I was using the school set with my students. Within a few months I also had hoops of my own at home.
I started out using hoop breaks as a reward. If one student was having a hard time getting on task, I gave the students who were working a 5 minute hula hoop break. This rewarded the behavior I wanted all students to exhibit, you know – on task, cooperative, active participation. As I watched I realized that the hoop break was helping the students who were on task become more engaged learners, but I knew it could be even more helpful for the students who were off task. They needed the movement, the oxygen increase, the contra-lateral movement, the engaged core muscles, the adrenaline and the satisfaction!
Gradually, I figured out a way to make it work. I realized that students who were self regulating were asking for a break to go to the rest room or get a drink of water, so I decided to notice the students who were likely to be off task and explicitly teach them how to take a break before they distracted others or became irrevocably de-railed themselves.
My students are on the edge of adolescence. In less than 8 years they will be legal adults, and many will likely be on their own. Statistically speaking, more than half of them will be parents and three quarters of them will be in jail. (Municipal planners actually calculate the number of jail cells they will need by figuring 75% of students who are failing the high stakes reading tests in third grade will need a cell.) Historically speaking this has been the case. My students need to know how to ask for what they need.
When they are staring into space, looking dazed, scrubbing their faces or becoming excessively fidgety, I quietly describe what I see and ask them to raise their hands and ask me for a hoop break. At first they thought I was crazy telling them to raise their hand and then telling them what to ask me. We practiced. Without being taught how to ask for their needs to be met, how will they learn self advocacy? Finally the kids who really need a break are in a hoop.
We worked together to design a procedure, and we practiced what it should look like, sound like and feel like before, during and after the hoop break. If you take a hoop break and feel better and work better, then I will learn that hoop breaks work for you. Boy, did I ever learn that hoop breaks provide benefits for almost all of us. The students become available for learning and I am able to be a more effective teacher.
Now, I start every class with what I call “Strong Brain Affirmations.” Students hula hoop while repeating affirmations based on the twelve key ideas in John Medina’s book, Brain Rules as well as more widely known information about self-esteem. Students can also shape the current set of statements based on behavior, comments or other verbal and non-verbal communication. For example, if a group of students is chronically wasting time and having unfinished work, then I add “I get things done!” with other lines about using time and choosing independent work space. We always begin with our strong brain and we always end with accepting ourselves as perfect.
Does a Hoop Break Always Work Perfectly?
Occasionally a student directs his or her new energy in a silly or distracting way. I treat this as a misunderstanding. I re-teach the student about the expectations and how to channel the newfound energy in a productive manner. I use modeling to teach the physical behaviors as well as the internal self talk which lead to a successful hoop break. Basically, I expect students to come back to their seats and get back on task. I let them know that they can teach me whatever they want me to learn about hoop breaks. For example, I might say, “If you are silly and noisy after a hoop break, or if you distract others during a hoop break, then I will learn that hoop breaks are not helpful.” I rarely need to do this after the initial week or so of setting up the program.
At first I help a student learn when to ask for a hoop break by making specific behavioral observations and directing him or her to take a hoop break. Gradually, students begin to self-monitor. Many students can recognize the beginning signs of disengagement, frustration or sheer fatigue within themselves. When they do they raise their hands and request a hoop break. Most students can choose an appropriate hoop, have success hooping and rejoin the class more available for learning. They are also developing a self awareness and a vocabulary to describe the feelings they are beginning to notice. I have also noticed that it is important to revisit the procedures, especially after vacation breaks and before schedule disruptions such as assemblies or high stakes tests.
In 2012, I was asked to have my students take their hoop breaks inside my classroom. I was worried that it would be distracting for the ones who were working. At first I had more requests, and during particularly challenging work – several students would want a hoop break at once. I have created several areas in my room for hoop breaks, so more than one student can have a break at the same time. I have also established a routine and a protocol for using the hula hoops.
I let my students know that I will learn what works. If Hoop Breaks work they must work for everyone in the class, not just the person or people in the hoops at the moment. If a student is particularly frustrated, or I think I may be getting low on energy or patience, I join in the hooping. I model ways to move and dance to fully integrate the body. I challenge students to try moving their arms, trying small kicks or steps and hooping in their non dominant direction. I am gently teaching their bodies to multi-task so their minds can efficiently focus on the academics at hand. No matter what other moves they are doing, for classroom hoping students must waist hoop for the maximum benefit.
Not Your Same Old Hula Hoop
These hula hoops are far superior to the ones many of us had when we were kids. These are heavy duty, high quality hula hoops, hand crafted for precision and excellence. Another important feature is that they are made with non-toxic materials. I found out that chemicals in toxic tapes or hoops can cause rashes and other more serious reactions. I have taught students to choose an appropriate hoop. The hoop must be heavy enough to be comfortable, but not be so heavy that it causes bruising or pain. It should be big enough to be easy, but not so big that they can not keep it spinning evenly.
My hoops have different diameters, thicknesses and weights. My heaviest hoops, and the easiest ones to use, are the water hoops. These specialty hoops have brought a new level of calm energy to some of my students. Particularly those students who have had less success with my other hoops have begun to articulate the calm ability to get back on task with the water hoops.
Is There Any Evidence?
I have done a bit of research as well as discussing my results with experts, including two doctors of psychology. I have learned that hooping increases oxygen which cleanses stress producing cortisol from the blood stream. The hoop also physically stimulates the adrenal glands, producing adrenaline, a stimulant present in our bodies. Stimulants are commonly used to treat Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.
Hula hooping is aerobic exercise. Dr. John J. Medina is a developmental molecular biologist with a self-described lifelong fascination with how the mind reacts to and organizes information as well as the author of Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and thriving at Work, Home and School. In his book in the chapter entitled, “Brain Rule #2: Exercise” he states, “Brain-activation studies show that children and adolescents who are fit allocate more cognitive resources to a task and do so for longer periods of time.” (p.27 Medina Kindle Edition) Earlier in Chapter 2 - Exercise, he explains that a little exercise is good, but more increases the benefits. On his website, www.BrainRules.net he writes:
Exercise improves cognition for two reasons:
- Exercise increases oxygen flow into the brain, which reduces brain-bound free radicals. One of the most interesting findings of the past few decades is that an increase in oxygen is always accompanied by an uptick in mental sharpness.
- Exercise acts directly on the molecular machinery of the brain itself. It increases neurons’ creation, survival, and resistance to damage and stress.
Medina also describes the effects stress has on brain function and cognition in Brain Rule #8: Stress. In his book, The Engaged Classroom, Robert J. Marzano cites a number of studies completed in the past decade which have found exercise to be a key to increasing student learning outcomes.
Not coincidentally, among the students learning phonics in a structured, scripted program, which is being taught as an intervention to students at the elementary and middle school levels in my school district, those who hula hoop during the flash card recitations are mastering three or four levels in a year. Those who do not hula hoop, or engage in any aerobic movement during class, are only mastering one or two levels in a year.
I have learned more about the real physiological benefits of hooping. The adrenal glands are stimulated, producing adrenaline. I learned this fact when I was describing the impact a three minute hoop break had on one of my students. (I thought it was endorphins, but the school psychologist explained that it takes much more exercise time to get these going.) The movement break gets students breathing more and oxygen can help clear stress induced cortisol out of the blood stream for a calming effect. (Learning is extremely stressful, especially when you have never been told you are very good at it.) Hooping activates students core muscles helping strengthen these important muscles and creating more tone and stamina for sitting up, breathing and focusing. Hooping also engages both sides of the brain because each side of the body has to do something different at the same time to keep the hoop up. Many of my students can hoop and dance or step and really multi-task with contra lateral muscle movements. (Contra-lateral movement is when opposite sides of the body are doing different movements at once; that is opposite hand and leg crossing the midline to connect at the same time). And most of all it is fun! It is very hard to stay grumpy while hooping.
Ellen J. Langer in Mindfulness reports many instances of increased performance on learning tasks as measured by testing memory for students who are moving in a novel way. I had already noticed that allowing students to hoop while learning math facts or reading stories increased their participation and accuracy.
Theories about how the two sides of the brain work together apply as well. Brain Gym™ and Bal-A-Vis-X™ both engage and energize students as well as improving their availability for learning by activating both sides of the brain. These activities, as well as hooping, engage core muscle groups in contra-lateral movement promoting balance between the right and left sides of the brain. An easily observable example is when a person’s arm naturally swings forward at the same time as the opposite leg is stepping forward.
Chinese medicine describes energy as sets of vertical meridians with one horizontal “belt meridian. Hooping stimulates the horizontal meridian, the dai mai belt of energy while gently balancing the seven main vertical meridians.
What Else are Hoops Good For?
I am finding lots of times for students to experiment with their hoop space. This quote is from a student who hated reading in September. She had been getting hooked little by little. On a Monday in November, she said,
"When I was reading while hula hooping it made me focus more because the book was moving and it made me hold it still and made my eyes have to focus more which will affect my eyesight and reading. Reading is fun - fun, fun, fun!" (The last three fun's were sung!) a student after silent reading during the beginning of her reading class with me.
That Thursday she read an entire book! She was reported to have been read during recess, after finishing eating her lunch in the cafeteria, and waiting in lines to come and go all day! She couldn't put the book down!!!! In his book called The Gift of Dyslexia, co-written with Eldon M. Braun, Ronald D. Davis explains that dyslexia is a flexibility of orientation. A person has to learn which angle or perspective is the standard one for reading English. It appears that the hooping has helped her center herself so the words would stop spinning for her. I believe hooping is why she could orient her eyes and her mind to her book!
During MCAS (the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System – our high stakes test) the students with accommodations for frequent breaks, were commonly seen taking a hoop break in the hallway. When the session ended nearly all of the students on my corridor wanted time in a hoop. They seemed to know at a cellular level exactly what their bodies needed. Actually, I believe we each know what we need on multiple levels, the kids are just still listening!
Hooping has become part of the culture at my school. Most of the fourth and fifth grade students, as well as some of the sixth and seventh graders, have access to hula hoops for hoop breaks throughout their day.
What Can You Do?
Hooping has a place in school and at work. You can give it a try. My anecdotes may lead to research and more documentation, but this is a data informed practice and the body of evidence continues to grow. This has been a developing part of our school culture for a couple of years now. It has taken seven years for me to get to this point. You can set up a hoop break with just one hoop and a system for taking that hoop break. You can have as few as five or six hoops for a class set – with students taking turns.
I am very open to the hoop and the many benefits because I take hoop breaks and teach hoop classes regularly. There are benefits I know about and ones that I have yet to discover. If you have a hooping success story or questions about my hooping success please contact me at HOOPiVERSE@gmail.com. It seems that a hoop break is not just cute, fun exercise, it is good health and great education!
Things My Students are saying about Hoop Breaks
- “This is feeling very good and helping me go back on track!” (student while taking a hoop break during a science test)
- “It feels comfortable. I feel relaxed, kind of – like calm. I like it.” (student while taking a hoop break during writing)
- I feel relaxed because … I don’t really know. I can’t explain it.” (student taking a hoop break during reading)
- “It’s like more better, the water makes it light then heavy because it (the water) goes on one side then the other – I don’t know – it’s just good.” (student while taking a hoop break during writing)
- “…The water ones (hoops), when you hoop, it sounds like the ocean. It makes me feel calm and relaxed and that I can get back on track.” (student while taking a hoop break during math had been distracted and talking)