Moving Ideas

Multimodality and Embodied Learning in Communities and Schools

by Mira-Lisa Katz (Volume editor)
©2013 Textbook XIII, 261 Pages


What does it look and feel like to communicate, create, compose, comprehend, teach, and learn with our bodies? Reaching beyond existing scholarship on multimodality and literacies, Moving Ideas expands our capacity to understand the embodied dimensions of learning and stretches our repertoires for more artfully describing them. Wresting language away from its historically privileged place at the center of social science research and practice, this collection examines the strategic layering across semiotic modes, challenging educators and researchers to revisit many of our most elemental assumptions about communication, learning, and development. The corporeal pedagogies these authors describe illuminate a powerful kind of learning that we know far too little about; in this age of accountability and high-stakes testing, failing to pay adequate attention to the promise of multimodality means forfeiting significant resources that could be used to innovatively engage people of all ages in education broadly conceived.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • Dedication
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Foreword: Ideas Do Move
  • Poem: “The Body Is the Text”
  • Introduction
  • The Primacy of Movemen
  • Insights from Multimodal Research and Practice
  • Embodied Literacies, Corporeal Pedagogies
  • Bodily Learning and Knowing: Struggle and Possibility
  • Feeling and Thought: Emotion and Reason
  • Embodied Thinking: Neuroscientific Understandings of Emotion and Reason
  • Reframing the Debate
  • At Our Fingertips: The Role of Gesture in Teaching and Learning
  • Chapter Summaries
  • Resomaticizing Learning
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • 1. Growth in Motion: Supporting Young Women’s Embodied Identity and Cognitive Development Through Dance After School
  • Cognitive and Attitudinal Benefits of Arts After School
  • Embodied Cognition and Multimodal Learning
  • Self and Identity
  • Studying Dance as an Educational Context
  • Methods
  • Context
  • How Dance Shapes Lives
  • Developing a Sense of Control
  • Taking the Long View of Their Own Development
  • A Supportive, Communal Learning Environment
  • Multimodal Teaching and Learning
  • Taking Chances
  • Multiple Modes, Trust, and Education
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • 2. Chroma Harmonia: Multimodal Pedagogy Through Universal Design for Learning
  • Introduction
  • The Context and The Need for Universal Design for Learning
  • Heart-To-Hearts and Hands-On Grammar
  • Conclusion: Toward an Embodied Grammar
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • 3. “All the World’s a Stage”: Musings on Teaching Dance to People With Parkinson’s
  • A Dance Class Grows in Brooklyn
  • The Importance of Place
  • Swans on a Red Carpet
  • Aesthetics, Choreography, and The Realm of the Possible
  • The Empowering Gaze
  • A Community of Learners
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • 4. The Communicative Body in Women’s Self-Defense Courses
  • Introduction
  • Embodiment and Gender in Interaction
  • Matching Words and Body Consciously: Constructing Coherent Stances
  • Intonation Within a Multimodal Stance
  • Integrating Awareness and Action In The Role-Plays
  • Constructing Coherent Stances of Compliance
  • Conflicts Across Modalities: Noticing Interactional ‘Dissonance’ in Others
  • When It’s Someone You Know: Recognizing Multimodal Dissonance in Familiars
  • Conclusion
  • Appendix: Transcription Conventions
  • Note
  • Acknowledgments
  • Works Cited
  • 5. Pasture Pedagogy: Field and Classroom Reflections on Embodied Teaching
  • Cross-Talk in the Classroom
  • The Nature of the Horse: Deepening an Awareness of Body Language
  • Reading Body Language as Part of a “Listening Stance”
  • The Farm: Working with Feral Horses
  • Gentling Yearlings: a Listening Approach to Halter Breaking
  • Reading to Reassess: Creating Comfortable Environments for Curiosity and Choice
  • Reading Fear: When “Misbehaving” Makes Sense
  • The Apprentice Program: Diana’s First Day
  • Longe Lesson: Consciously Reading and Enacting Body Language
  • Eye to Eye: Observing Diana’s Growth
  • Resonances in Reading Across Contexts
  • The Significance of Space in the Classroom
  • Embodying Language in Learning
  • Organizing Dynamics in Learning
  • Into the Composition Classroom & Considering Texts
  • “Boring” Texts: Following Angelica’s Lead
  • Reading With and Against the Grain, of Students, Horses, and Text
  • Reading to Connect
  • Holistic Teaching: Reading in Riding, Reading and Writing
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • 6. 36 Jewish Gestures
  • Gesture as a Form of Identity: Jewish in the Mirror
  • Matching Meaning and Movement
  • Gesture as World View: 36 Jewish Gestures
  • Jewish Gesture on the Silver Screen
  • Performing Identity: Gesture and Place
  • Audiences Respond
  • Gesture as Teaching and Learning Tool: Modeling Movement
  • Conclusion: Gesture, Teaching, and Power
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • 7. Thinking with Your Skin: Paradoxical Ideas in Physical Theater
  • Works Cited
  • 8. Visceral Literature: Multimodal Theater Activities for Middle and High School English Language Arts
  • Food is Love: Story is Nourishment
  • The Power of Live Performance
  • Integrating Awareness Through Listening and Play
  • Personal Transformation in the Student
  • Transforming Literature
  • Fostering Theater in Secondary and Post-Secondary Classrooms
  • Making Literature Accessible to the Specific Needs of the Group
  • Safety and Risk-Taking in the Classroom
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • 9. A Trio: Combining Language, Literacy and Movement in Preschool and Kindergarten Community-Based Dance Classes
  • Introduction
  • My Personal History and Dance Education Background
  • A Sample Lesson Plan
  • 21 Weeks and Five Big Ideas
  • First Idea: Naming Movement
  • A Complete Circle: Improvising, Capturing in Words, “Saying Back” to Students, and Dancing Again
  • Second Idea: Using Verbal Prompts to Inspire Movement
  • Third Idea: Using Written Language as a Springboard For Dance
  • Lists of Words
  • Books
  • Fourth Idea: Using Names to Acknowledge Each Dancer
  • Fifth Idea: Rhythm And Play With Nursery (And Other) Rhymes
  • Inviting Parents to Class: the Final Sharing in Week 21
  • Conclusion: Pairing Literacy and Movement in Dance Classes
  • Appendix A: Organizations Referenced
  • Works Cited
  • 10. The Paramparic Body: Gestural Transmission in Indian Music
  • Teaching Lineages
  • Processes of Gestural Transmission
  • Inheritance and Volition
  • The Paramparic Body
  • Ethical Practice and the Paramparic Body
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • 11. Literacies of Touch: Massage Therapy and the Body Composed
  • Body Writing
  • Point of Contact
  • Mapping the Body
  • Engaging Bodies
  • A Subtle Connection
  • The Pedagogy of Touch
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • 12. The Embodiment of Real and Digital Signs: From the Sociocultural to the Intersemiotic
  • Human Bodies as Spatially Situated Signs in Real Activity
  • Digital Images as Spatially Situated Signs and the Neural Correlates of Action Observation
  • Implications for the Intersemiotic Analysis of New Media Literacies
  • Works Cited
  • Conributors



Just as literacies are social, books are collaborative. This volume owes its existence to the guidance, hard work and faith of many colleagues, friends, mentors and family members.

First and foremost, I appreciate my co-authors’ insightful contributions, which promise to broaden and enliven future studies of multimodality and literacies. I am especially grateful to my colleague and friend, Cathy Kroll, who offered invaluable feedback and intellectual companionship throughout the writing process and conceived the book’s title, Moving Ideas, which so elegantly captures the collection’s intentions. Eve Sweetser, Dor Abrahamson, Katharine Young and Matt Rahaim as well as other members of the U.C. Berkeley Gesture Research Group provided lively and provocative discussions of gesture, language, multimodality and embodied cognition. Heartfelt thanks to my colleague and friend, Noelle Oxenhandler, for offering steadfast encouragement and long term vision, and to fellow members of the California State University ERWC Advisory Committee, especially Nancy Brynelson, John Edlund, Norm Unrau and Nelson Graff, who really walk the walk of collaborative thinking and scholarship.

Dance colleagues Jill Homan Randall, Nina Haft, Frank Shawl, Victor Anderson, Rebecca Johnson, Katie Faulkner, Randee Paufve, David Leventhal, Beth Hoge, Ernesta Corvino, Mercy Sidbury and many other dedicated movers made chapters 1, 3, 6 and 9 possible. ← x | xi →

I owe a great deal to the brilliant literacy scholars and teacher educators who continue to inspire me and create access for so many. They include Glynda Hull, Mike Rose, Jim Gee, Anne Haas Dyson, Cyndy Greenleaf, Kathy Schultz, Michele Knobel, Colin Lankshear and Mark Davis. Outstanding graduates of Sonoma State University’s M.A. program in English, Erica Tom and Christy Davids, provided immensely helpful commentary on earlier versions of the manuscript. Everyone at Peter Lang Publishing has been a pleasure to work with—thank you.

My family members—Dean Katz, Marian Wachter, Teri Katz and Curran Kennedy—were encouraging and supportive throughout. Most of all, though, I thank my mom, Millie Katz, extraordinary mother of three, who taught high school science for 30 years and treasured every single day she spent in the classroom. Her unbridled passion for teaching and learning is an ongoing source of inspiration to me as well as to thousands of others who have been touched by her curiosity, joy and humor. This book is for her.


Chapters 1, 5, 6, 8: Mira-Lisa Katz

Chapter 2: Catherine Kroll

Chapter 3: Katsuyoshi Tanaka

Chapter 4: Claudia Sims

Chapter 7: Frank Kitus

Chapter 9: Rob Kunkle

Chapter 10: Figure 1 drawing by Douglas Leonard

Chapter 11: Hannah Bellwoar ← x | xi →



Ideas Do Move


Both communication and learning are about moving ideas. Moving ideas from one person to another and moving people to act and feel in certain ways. But how do ideas move?

Ideas move because humans make pictures for each other. A picture of a tree is an invitation to engage in interpretation. It is an invitation to make the picture mean something. What the picture means will depend on what people do with it and that in turn depends on what they want to do with it—how they imagine its purpose. In one context of interpretation it may be made to mean—that is, taken to be a sign for—a forest. In another context, it may mean nature, and in yet another, it may mean a particular species of tree or even a specific tree. It all depends on context, and context is shaped by intention.

If we know people’s intentions or can make a good guess about them, we also consider how these manifest in their representation of a tree. But the person who made the picture can never completely control what is made of it. And, in any case, that person, in trying to use the picture to communicate, must carefully consider how people in specific communities and contexts engage in the work and play of interpretation.

Although we don’t often think about them as such, words are types of pictures. They, too, exist physically as sound waves or inscriptions. They, too, are invitations to interpretation. Like pictures, words constrain the work of interpretation in cer ← xi | xii → tain ways and ask that interpreters consider intentions as far as they can, but they do not and cannot restrict interpretation completely. Active meaning making is always something both speakers (writers) and listeners (readers) do.

Even a mundane request like “Can you get me some coffee?” requires the listener to judge whether it is a cup of coffee, coffee beans, or a pound of coffee that is wanted. We use context to make such judgments. If we are sitting together at the kitchen table, we get a cup of coffee; if the person wants to grind coffee, we get coffee beans; and if one of us is on the way to the store, we buy a pound of coffee.

Now, the realization that the word “coffee” requires context for its interpretation does not seem very exciting or consequential. But, alas, the more important a word is to us, the more it requires interpretation that goes well beyond the producer’s control. It is highly consequential what someone takes words like “love,” “democracy,” “work,” “honor,” and “marry” to mean in utterances like: “I love you,” “The United States is not a real democracy,” “Relationships take work,” “There is honor among thieves,” and “John married his partner, Sam.”

Using a word like “democracy” is like holding up a picture; the words around “democracy” in an utterance seek to make the picture more explicit, just as the details around the drawing of a tree do. But, in the end, there is still the work of interpretation to accomplish.

Communication always and everywhere for humans is a matter of making something—a picture, a gesture or movement, a sound or song, an object or artifact—and then telling others to make something out of it, to make it mean something. Producers of these “signs,” broadly conceived, always attempt to control aspects of interpretation. They always seek to get their intentions respected to the extent that they even fully know them themselves. And consumers or recipients of these messages always attempt to produce meanings that make sense to them, that are “meaningful.” Both producers and consumers negotiate, create, and seek to sustain shared contexts of interpretation. Such contexts are not mental; rather, they are shared through practices, social arrangements, physical orientations and “forms of life.”

Meaning is made by using things (words, images, sounds, gestures, movements, objects) that serve as invitations to meaning making—invitations that must be taken up if meaning is to be consummated. When a person is new to a context of interpretation—for example when someone enters a new academic field or community—the person has to learn how to construct and react appropriately to invitations made with words, images, movements or objects that may have varied potential for meaning in other areas or endeavors.

But how do we humans go about attributing meaning to words, movements, sounds, objects and images? We do so based primarily on the experiences we have had in life to date. Confronted with a sign we call up how such signs have worked ← xii | xiii → in previous situations and try to guess how they are working here and now. What did we, and others, do and feel in the past? Sometimes we have to “reach”—to imagine, surmise, estimate, predict, infer. Our previous experiences do not contain any “exact match,” and we have to go out on a limb about what things might mean. As we get reactions back from others, as we work with them to make meaning-making mutual, we climb back down the limb to shared understanding and often learn something new and sometimes even create new meanings all together. Meaning making is a dance and dancing too is meaning making.

Although we humans interpret based on experiences we have had in the world, we often forget that our experiences are things our bodies, emotions, and minds have usually come to know in the presence of others; they are “embodied” and often “social,” not just “individual” and “mental.”

This collection asks (and answers) the question: what do the various modalities have to do with meaning and learning? The answer is: everything. Moving Ideas helps educators working in school and community contexts with people of varied ages to consider how our traditional and preconceived ideas about communication and meaning are, in fact, strange. And because our traditional ideas about communication and meaning are strange, our schools are not as conducive as they might be to helping young people find pathways to active engagement in and with the world. It will do us all a wealth of good to consider anew, as does this book, how ideas move within and across modalities, how they shift and are repurposed as people share them among continents and generations, and how they are, at their very core, rooted in the body. ← xiii | xiv →

“The Body Is the Text”

Elizabeth Carothers Herron

Without the body there is no text

There is no text without breath

No breath without the body

The body is the text

This is about landscape and psyche

This is about language and earth

Breathing together we are the text

We are speaking even when we are silent ← xiv | 1 →




To say that we read—the world, a book, the body—is not enough. The metaphor of reading solicits in turn another metaphor, demands to be explained in images that lie outside the reader’s library and yet within the reader’s body, so that the function of reading is associated with our other essential bodily functions. (Alberto Manguel, A History of Reading, p. 170)

Early one rainy Saturday morning in the summer of 1975, my father picked me up at my mom’s house, and together we drove silently across town to a yoga class at Seattle’s biggest post-secondary institution, the University of Washington. In a classroom on the third floor of an otherwise quiet building, empty desks shoved haphazardly back against the walls, we stretched ourselves out on the cool linoleum, breathing deeply as we saluted the sun hidden behind the pearly gray clouds of a faithful Northwestern sky.

In high school during the same period of time, I sat daily in neatly ordered desks facing the fronts of numerous classrooms where teachers hurled questions at those whose eyes roamed too far from the chalkboard or page. Hostage to school furnishings, architecture, and social organization, I tucked my legs up underneath myself, my attention toggling between teachers’ voices and the physical discomfort of so much stillness. Halfway through senior year, troubled by what I then perceived as the stagnant and narrow nature of school life, I dropped out. Everyone who mattered to me—peers, parents and teachers—unequivocally disapproved. But like so many ← 1 | 2 → young people hobbled by the constraints of conventional schooling, I sought, and eventually constructed, an alternative pathway into the world outside of high school.

On those early morning trips with my father to the University of Washington to practice yoga (an esoteric curiosity at that time) in a classroom intended for a very different sort of learning, I was struck by the incongruity of seeing desks and chairs pushed to the room’s edges, spatially marginalized on the periphery. Although historically the use of chairs can be traced back to Neolithic times (10,000–4,000 B.C.), they have only recently come to exist in the great numbers and uniform designs we encounter today (Cranz, 1998). As UC Berkeley Professor of Architecture Galen Cranz explains, “We touch chairs not just with our hands but with our whole bodies.…What is true of the chair is true of all artifacts we create. We design them; but once built, they shape us.…The chair offers a glimpse into our collective ideas about status and honor, comfort and order, beauty and efficiency, discipline and relaxation. As our ideas change, so do our chairs” (p. 15). The chairs we find in schools are certainly no exception.

In many but by no means all parts of the world schools are brimming with chairs which not only organize our behavior and communication patterns, our thinking and learning but also larger aspects of our everyday experience, including architecture itself. Standard window heights, for example, are designed to be congruent with typical chair sizes (Cranz, 1998). Since we know that “Arranging seats in rows facing one direction has very different consequences for social interaction and the flow of information than arranging them in a circle” (Cranz, 1998, p. 18), it is no surprise that social scientists and socioculturally minded educators have been exploring the social effects of physical and structural configurations on interaction and learning. Yet classroom organization resists change.

While schools have great potential to empower young people intellectually and psychologically as well as emotionally and physically, educators are well aware that traditional institutions of learning also help “prepare children to reproduce the workforce, with appropriate habits—both physical and mental.…[S]ocialization to passivity starts early in schools, where the first task is not to teach children content, but to teach them orderly behavior—specifically, the ability to sit still for long periods of time” (Cranz, p. 60). And although coming of age manifests differently worldwide, in many societies maturity is often signaled by one’s ability to remain quietly attentive for extended intervals while seated in the classroom.

But must schools be physically inhospitable places? For numerous people, perhaps especially for children, sitting in chairs is not only tedious and painful, but also counter-productive to learning. Cranz observes that “Having to sit at tables and [in] chairs is the most common source of physical stress for children, and probably for adults too.…But children, being young, are particularly deformed by stressful pos ← 2 | 3 → tures” (Cranz, p. 62). Moreover, these socially and culturally ingrained habits seem to grow more entrenched as learners get older. As Sir Ken Robinson (2006) jests, “as children grow up we start to educate them progressively from the waist up. And then we focus on their heads. And slightly to one side.”

In contrast, the authors in this collection suggest accessible and engaging educational practices where teachers and learners are literally moving ideas, making use of perhaps the most ubiquitous yet underutilized educational tools we have at our constant disposal—our bodies.


In some fields—somatics, for example—it is commonly understood that humans are born movers and that it is in large part through movement1 that we encounter, engage with, understand, participate in, and ultimately find our sense of place in the world. And despite educational reformers’ repeated calls for more freedom of movement and physical comfort in schools, very little has shifted. It remains a considerable challenge to figure out how to reorient ourselves—to our own bodies and to those of our students; to classroom layout and spatial organization; and to postural configurations as well as physical, gestural and verbal participation structures that could better serve learners’ and educators’ needs, capacities and natural inclinations. The chapters in this volume offer a variety of thoughtful explorations of what it looks like to teach with the body in mind.


XIII, 261
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2016 (August)
social science communication development
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2013. 261 pp., num. ill.

Biographical notes

Mira-Lisa Katz (Volume editor)

Currently Professor of English Education and Applied Linguistics at Sonoma State University, Mira-Lisa Katz earned a PhD in education in language, literacy, and culture from the University of California, Berkeley. Katz is the recipient of several awards and has presented her research internationally and published in numerous journals.


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