I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Sarah Armstrong in Boston several years ago when she was leading a conference on using current brain research to design lesson plans. Her conference was sponsored by Learning and the Brain
and promised to deliver relevant and tried teaching techniques that were developed using current research.
Dr. Armstrong had been an elementary teacher, high school teacher, district superintendent and a college professor, so I felt as though she had witnessed the trends in education from an insider’s perspective. After participating in her seminar, it was clear that she was an expert in her field and someone from whom I could learn much.
My goal for the work I wanted to do with Dr. Armstrong was to develop several strategies or guidelines that, if used in the classroom, would make the biggest impact on the way we teach students. I wanted to ensure that we were using best practices as they pertained to current brain research.
Over the course of the next two years, Dr. Armstrong and I developed a list of six learning target strategies that can be used in most any classroom and with most any age student. I will be blogging about each of these strategies over the coming months.
The first strategy deals with attention states of students.
Dr. Armstrong noted that to improve student engagement, their attention state – whatever the focus of the lesson is at any particular moment – should be roughly based on the age of the learner plus or minus two.
For example, a 15-year-old student’s “sweet spot” for attention would be between 13 and 17 minutes. After that amount of time, the student should be directed to a different activity. If the teacher lectures for the first 15 minutes of class, it is helpful for students to perhaps do group work for the next 15 minutes, followed by independent work, etc. This strategy helps avoid that glazed over look that all teachers have seen when one activity goes on a bit too long. This will keep the students’ brains engaged and more likely to retain information.
Being aware of students’ attention states gives the teacher an important tool to use to ensure student engagement.