Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Brain Rule #6

John Medina’s Brain Rules is organized into 12 “rules” about how our brains operate.  I find the book to be uneven, but certainly worth the read.  Brain rule # 6 is:

“We don’t pay attention to boring things”

Medina summarizes the chapter thus:

“•  The brains attentional “spotlight” can focus on only one thing at a time:  no multitasking”
  • We are better at seeing patterns and abstracting the meaning of an event than we are at recording detail.
  • Emotional arousal helps the brain learn.
  • Audiences check out after 10 minutes, but you can keep grabbing them back by telling them narratives or creating events rich in emotion.”

Although I found his discussion of multitasking fascinating, especially the time lag that takes place as our brain moves sequentially from one object of attention to another, I’ll leave it for another blog entry.  Suffice it to say, there is an attentional cost, a dangerous one while driving or operating machinery, because we really can’t attend to two things at a time.

The idea that audiences really can’t attend for more than 10 minutes is one should resonate with teachers.  I remember reading somewhere a long time ago that if you observe who is doing the talking in the classroom, you’re seeing who is doing the learning.  It also conjures up recollections of a routine from Power Teaching where after presenting a concept, the teacher commands the students to “teach” the concept to the person next to them and then that person “teaches” the concept back to the first.  That routine raises the level of concern in students and is, I think, “rich in emotion” as Medina recommends.  And, it breaks up that hypnotic spell of continuous teaching.

Accepting the 10-minute rule, and the idea that the brain responds best to patterns, perhaps leads the teacher to a plan for lesson design.  Whatever the teacher wants to accomplish should be broken into 10-minute increments with a clear break between the segments.  It is best to show and tell the class what those segments are at the outset and carefully explain how the segment are related to the “big idea” for that period.  I’m guessing that less would be taught in a standard period, but what is taught would be learned more completely because students would have clear examples and experiences related clearly to the main idea stated at the beginning of the period.  The brain likes organization.

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