Give Me a Break!
Cramming more content per minute or moving from one piece of learning to the next virtually guarantees that little will be learned or retained. In fact, many teachers who complain of having to do so much reteaching are the same ones trying to cram too much material into a class period.
Several researchers say that mental breaks of up to 20 minutes several times a day increase productivity. Workers need 5 to 10 minute breaks every hour and a half. Genuine academic attention can be sustained at a high and constant level for only a short time, generally 10 minutes or less.
In the classroom, constant attention is counterproductive. Much of what we learn cannot be processed consciously because it happens too fast. We need time to process it. And to create new meaning, we need internal time. Meaning is always generated from within, not externally. Also, after each new learning experience, we need time for the learning to “imprint.”
A classroom that's plagued by discipline problems might have many overlapping causes. One of the first places to start to address discipline problems is attention. Try cutting the length of focused attention time expected or required. Remember that the human brain is poor at nonstop attention. Consider these guidelines:
Use 5 to 7 minutes of direct instruction for kindergarten through grade 2 students.
Use 8 to 12 minutes of direct instruction for students in grades 3 through 6.
Use 10 to 14 minutes of direct instruction for students in grades 7 through 12.
After learning, the brain needs time for processing and rest. In a typical classroom, this means rotating mini-lectures, group work, reflection, individual work, and team project time (see Lesson Methodologies for a more in-depth discussion of these strategies).
Strong and positive links exist between movement or motor development and learning. Physical education, movement, and activity-based games directly relate to learning. Positive changes in self-discipline, grades, and sense of purpose are the direct result of regular and systematic physical activities. The last word: Recess is important for positive academic development.
Chunky, Chunky, Chunky
The human brain has “memory limits”; it can only hold or remember a selected amount of data at any one time. A 3-year-old's brain can only hold one chunk (a chunk is a single thought, idea, or group of related ideas). A 5-year-old's brain can hold two chunks; a 7-year-old's holds 3 chunks. By 15 years old, the brain can hold up to 7 chunks. To help your students remember and apply knowledge, try the following memory aids:
- Review frequently.
Present the most important material first and last.
Introduce wholes before parts.
Use student-created visuals.
Have peers teach.
Use different learning locations.