Occupy Education: On Using the Occupy Movements’ Hand Gestures to Stimulate Engagement in Flat Classrooms

Image credit: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/b1/OccupyHandSignals.pdf/page1-1240px-OccupyHandSignals.pdf.jpg

Hands up if you’ve heard of the Occupy movements which have sprung up all over the States and elsewhere in the last few years. For the benefit of those who did not raise their hands, here’s what Wikipedia says:

The Occupy movement is an international protest movement against social and economic inequality, its primary goal being to make the economic and political relations in all societies less vertically hierarchical and more flatly distributed. Local groups often have different focuses, but among the movement’s prime concerns deal with how large corporations and the global financial system control the world in a way that disproportionately benefits a minority, undermines democracy, and is unstable. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occupy_movement

Up-twinkles to that.

OK. Now raise your hands if you’ve heard of the hand gestures used in many of the Occupy meetings. Again, for those who have not, here they are in a couple of images:

Images: http://38.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lwdvdfOZdw1qz6f9yo1_500.jpg


Point of information: These gestures evolved because Occupy meetings started off being anarchic, chaotic affairs. Protesters were so involved and passionate, and, because it was a protest against power-mongering and inequality, leadership was fuzzy. Very quickly, these hand signals were adopted as a way for order to be established, for everyone to have a voice and so that things could get done. And the hand signals are still evolving with almost every Occupy movement adding new ones and changing the existing ones.

Now imagine those of us striving for a more participatory, child-centered and collaborative (or ‘flat’) class environments adopted these in our classrooms? I’ve already tried using them a few times and my students really enjoyed the process. I can see them listening closely to me and to one another, just waiting to throw in a gesture. It becomes a game to them, and like games often do, it teaches them a few important skills:

  1. Engagement in your own learning makes it more powerful and more meaningful.
  2. Even introverts can have a voice without having to step into the limelight.
  3. Everyone is entitled to voice their thoughts.
  4. There does not have to be a vertical power hierarchy in the classroom for it to function. Giving students more power to comment on and critique lesson content, as well as a say in how things are done is most often met with a sense of responsibility for making this flatter structure work.
  5. We are in this together. I unashamedly learn as much from them as they do from me.
  6. Revolutions start small…


A few of my favorite gestures include:

  • The ability my students have to up-twinkle, down-twinkle and even block an idea. (Although if they do block, they have to offer a good alternative.)
  • Adding their names to the ‘stack’ prevents them from feeling like they never get chosen to contribute their points. I haven’t used this one yet but I am going to introduce it next term.
  • When they ‘get it’ my students often gesture me to wrap it up – which makes me wonder how much of my teaching is about my own sense of security that I have taught something well enough (instead of theirs).
  • The clarify sign is another one I see quite often, which again helps me to teach more effectively, and helps them to formulate their own ideas more crisply.
  • I up-sparkle students’ ideas myself, but sparingly, and I think they enjoy vying for my rare up-sparkles. (I do avoid down-sparkles as much as possible though!)
  • And finally the ‘point of procedure’ signal helps to know when a student wants to contribute and when they want procedural assistance with tasks… or when they just want to go to the bathroom. (I should add a special carefully chosen hand signal for that last one!)


In all, I reckon these occupy hand signals are great for engagement and something I must use more often. I’ve even used it with adults at conferences and they love it too. I do not feel like using Occupy gestures in my classroom is ‘trivializing the cause’. In fact, I feel the exact opposite is true: if students are taught to be engaged, involved and alert at school they are more likely to become involved and active citizens who will campaign for a better world. And of that’s not what teaching is about, I’m in the wrong gig.

Up-twinkles to you for your time!



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