Home | In The Classroom | The brain, multimovement therapy, neuroscience, pedagogy and education: part 1

The brain, multimovement therapy, neuroscience, pedagogy and education: part 1

The findings of this research should be useful to consider by those affected by an acquired brain injury, including the person, their family, friends, and health practitioners. Plus, this brain-based neuroscience multimovement therapy study should also be useful for consideration when the brain is being presented as a subject in areas of teaching, learning, pedagogy and education in general.

The benefits of informing students how the brain functions

According to Daniel Coyle reporting on Carol Dweck’s search to discover how to improve student academic performance and how to encourage high levels of self-motivated educational engagement, Coyle informs that Dweck set out to test the hypothesis of her two teaching and learning rules: (1) “pay attention to what… children are fascinated by;” (2) regularly “praise [the children] for their effort”. The praise, according to Dweck, needed to specifically focus on the actual work and effort the student is applying. For example: “I can see you are working hard.” “You must have worked hard to achieve this result.” Further to this, researchers Kevin Linderman, Roger Schroeder, Srilata Zaheer and Adrian Choo are of the view that any praise, which is presented by “do your best” words, essentially needs to be reconsidered, and perhaps not even used.

The importance of presenting ‘you need to work hard’ praise, rather than ‘do your best’ praise

In their research, Linderman et al. found that the application of praise (pertaining to the concept of hard work and hard goals, rather than do your best goals), had a greater constructive behavioural and related motivational influence on personal effort in relation to the pursuit of excellence and mastery, rather than do your best praise. To this consideration they stated the following:

The effect of goals on performance has been the subject of a great deal of research for over 40 years... In general, [this] research... has shown that hard goals [rather than ‘do your best’ goals] have the greatest impact on performance. Hard goals are specific and clear, rather than general or vague. [Hard goals are] difficult and challenging, rather than simple or easy, and closer to the upper limit of an individual’s capacity to perform than to their initial level of performance. Hard goals act to focus… attention, mobilise effort and increase persistence at a task. Research has also shown that do your best goals are little better than having no goals at all."

Self-efficacy, mistakes, resilience and success

Expanding further on the importance of searching for hard goals, the action of working hard, and the associated pursuit of excellence and mastery, there is, according to Albert Bandura, an associated connection in relation to the pursuit of hard goals, and working hard. These involve the constructs of self-efficacy, mistakes, resilience and success. Bandura and Coyle are of the view that it is important to understand that, inevitably, mastery experiences do not occur without mistakes being made along this journey, that of having to working hard, which is inevitably required in the process of developing mastery. Mistakes, according to Coyle, can be thought of as being an axiomatic certainty on all of the roads, in all disciplines, in relation to gaining skills and mastery experiences for the purpose of achieving successful outcomes.


The important point to note on this journey of teaching and learning is that mistakes are universal certainty. Connected with this universal certainty is to, of course, learn from these mistakes. Accepting that mistakes are an axiomatic inevitability is what helps to lead to mastery. This insight of acceptance also helps with the development of resilience. Resilience is about being intellectually and emotionally flexible and psychologically buoyant in response to any and all negative circumstances that will inevitably take place. In terms of resilience, the mental and emotional response is to recognise the negative impact which will tend to occur, when mistakes and or other circumstances arise, that can create emotional difficulties. The question that then must be asked of the self is whether you will acknowledge what has taken place and to then with this acknowledgment be willing and able to continue to engage with the task for as long as it is necessary to achieve success (whatever that may be).


Further to this, Michael Rutter maintains that resilience is about having “the ability to bounce back or cope successfully despite substantial adversity”. Janet Young citing Froma Walsh proposes that “resilience refers to strengths under stress, in response to crisis, and forged through dealing with adversity”. Young adds to this, with reference to the research by Debra Jackson, Angela Firtko and Michel Edenborough, that the experience of overcoming adversity is what then provides the potential of learning about, and then actually having the capacity of, resilience. Young also contends that by experiencing and overcoming negative experiences, this action of working to overcome a negative situation helps “some individuals to emerge stronger out of adversity, with capacities that they may not have otherwise have developed”. A negative becomes a positive as a result of the personal application of resilience.

The educational value of brain-based information

Further to the above research undertaken by Dweck, she added a third rule. This rule supported the view of Coyle, which was about presenting brain-based information, specifically dealing with myelin. That is because effort (especially focussed effort) creates myelin, and the development of myelin helps to create faster neurological transmissions. This third rule by Dweck was about informing the students about the value and importance of brain anatomy, neurobiology, and neurophysiology, specific to myelin development in the brain. Specifically in relation to how their thinking and their behaviour could and would influence their brain. To test these three rules Dweck undertook what could only be described as a significant social, pedagogical and educational study.

Something big had changed

Dweck took seven hundred low-achieving middle schoolers and split them into two equal groups. Coyle reported on this study as follows:

The first group were given an eight-week workshop of study skills; the second were given the identical workshop along with something extra: a special fifty-minute session that described how the brain functions and how it grows when it’s challenged. Within a semester, the second group had significantly improved their grades and study habits. The experimenters didn’t tell the teachers which group the kids were in but the teachers could tell anyway. The teachers couldn’t put their finger on it but they knew something big had changed.

The brain and multimovement therapy

Multimovement Therapy (MMT) was developed by Ragnar Purje while treating the former world champion boxer, John Famechon who had an acquired brain injury from a serious motor vehicle accident in 1991. Using the phenomenological approach of looking at John’s recovery through his eyes and those handful of people with him over those few years provided the ground-breaking research that is reported in the resulting PhD thesis (Purje, 2016).

In a nutshell, MMT involves complex and multiple body movements, at the same time under the guidance of a trained therapist. For example, raising the right arm perpendicular to the ground while rotating the left foot, turning the head from side to side, and keeping the eyes focused ahead. Whilst concurrently also counting backwards, as loud as possible, from one hundred. Another example is that of peddling a stationary training bike backwards while rotating arms forward, and then reversing this procedure. With John this also included pedalling forward and then backward, whilst at the same time defending against punches being directed at him by Ragnar. It is important to point out that John never let any punches ever get through his defences. Further to this, instruction and debriefing by the clinician over this time period of each session;,along with all of the complex multimovements, is critical to the positive outcomes of the therapy, the aim of which is to trigger and sustain neurological and neuromuscular brain and body (hólos) recovery. So, how did all this come about and why was it, as described by John’s physician, and others, as being so ‘miraculous’?

Ragnar meets John

John Famechon suffered an incapacitating brain injury in August 1991 when a car travelling at about 100 kilometres per hour hit him as he was crossing a road near Warwick Farm in Sydney. After some 18 months, and 4 hospitals, which also eventually included medically directed physiotherapy (post the car accident), John’s then fiancée and now wife, Glenys, and the media of the time, described his condition as if he had been "poured" into a wheelchair, unable to walk, talk, nor feed himself.

Severely incapacitated

The doctors and the other medical experts later advised that this would be John’s life – that of being severely incapacitated, often bed-ridden, unable to fend for himself, and wheelchair bound – for the remainder of his life. By November 1993, John’s physical disposition began to deteriorate noticeably and alarmingly: “We were very concerned at that time because we saw that John was regressing quite dramatically, and we actually began to think that John was never going to recover” (Glenys Famechon, personal communication, August 20, 2014). In December of 1993, a mutual friend, Frank Quill, provided the contact means for Ragnar to speak with Glenys over the phone. This led to Ragnar meeting John and Glenys for the first time on December 11, 1993. Ragnar drove from Geelong in Victoria to John’s home in Frankston for this agreed meeting.

Poured into his chair

This informal meeting, began at 11.00am. Glenys walked over with Ragnar to meet John, who was sitting in his lounge chair. Ragnar informs that “John looked as if he had been poured into his chair. His body had no tone. John’s chin was on his chest. His shoulders and entire body were slumped. He was breathing with significant effort.” Glenys then spoke, “John this Ragnar.” With much effort John lifted his chin from his chest. Ragnar describes what took place next as follows. “I extended my right hand; John smiled. Slowly and with much effort John then extended his right hand and shook my hand, with what I would describe as being an amazingly positive and very encouraging firmness. I then said: “It’s a great privilege to meet you John.” John looked up, smiled and he then released the grip. John then, like a deflating balloon, slowly returned to where his chin again rested on his chest and his body again seemed to have no tonal strength whatsoever. The slow, quiet, heavy breathing continued.

That concludes part one of: The Brain, Multimovement Therapy and Education. Part 2 will describe what took place at the first meeting with John Famechon.

Dr Ragnar Purje is adjunct lecturer in the School of Education and the Arts at Central Queensland University. Under the supervision of Professor Ken Purnell, Purje’s doctoral dissertation focused on the success of his neurologically focused acquired brain injury rehabilitation therapy.

Professor Ken Purnell is from the School of Education and the Arts at Central Queensland University.

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