Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Brain-Based Learning Teaching Stategy: Respecting Attentional Limitations

Do you often have trouble getting students to pay attention?  There's a very good reason for this!

Our brains have limitations on how long we can maintain focused attention.  The number of minutes a person can maintain focus is usually equivalent to their age in minutes.  So, if you teach 12 year olds, 12 minutes is about how long they can maintain focused attention.  However, this formula does max out at about 15 - 20 minutes. 

So, what can we do about these attentional limitations?

Knowing these natural limitations, there are several things we can do to keep students focused on the task at hand.  Here are a few strategies for helping students focus.
  • Always be mindful of the attention limitations and break teaching into smaller segments If you have a lesson that you know is going to take longer than 12 - 15 minutes, break it into chunks.  In between chunks of information, have students do a Think-Pair-Share or something similar to give the brain a break and allow time to process new learning.
  • Give Cues as a way to let students know that something important is coming.  For example, say things like, "If you don't hear anything else today, make sure you hear this."
  • Use physical actions to get student's attention when you are ready to move on to something else.  For example, say to the class, "join me when you can" and start clapping your hands in some type of pattern.  Students would then repeat the pattern of claps.  Keep doing this until everyone has joined in the clapping, and then go right into the next segment of the lesson.

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