May 23, 2012

Paying Attention Makes Memories Last

I recently saw this TED Talk: Joshua Foer: Feats of memory anyone can do. Personally I think that the talk was titled badly. It sounds great: Memory Feats!

But, while the talk was about memory feats, it seemed to be about something much more important - how we can all consciously use our memories better.

My students have TERRIBLE memories. I try to tell them things and I can't understand why they don't remember them. But, Joshua Foer makes it really clear and for a reason that I should have realized myself. Students don't remember things because they aren't really paying attention.

Attention span is such a huge discussion point in education. In my credential program we learned that attention span grows about one minute per year and tops out at about 12 minutes. That's why I try to keep my talking to the class as short as possible. But, how do we engage them from the beginning in listening? How do we make it clear that what we are saying matters?

Here's the failing that I see on my side, on the teacher's side: I have been under the failed assumption that students already KNOW that what I'm saying to them is important. But, that doesn't make any sense at all. Even when I stop to think about it for a second I realize that's wrong.

Example: I'm watching television, my wife wants me to help her figure out what we're going to have for dinner. My brain is engaged in the show, but subconsciously I know that I should give her the benefit of the doubt that what she has to say is important. However, it's still really hard to pull myself away from one thing to focus on another.

IS THERE A SOLUTION? Can we train our students somehow, at the beginning of the school year, to recognize the importance of what we have to say? Can we also train ourselves to make sure to only say things that are important? It's a fine line to walk and it's a lot to ask, of both sides.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree that paying attention to what is important and being able to recognize what is worth listening to are both essential in education and daily life. I have seen it myself while teaching and observing other educators deal with students that have short attention spans. I think in the age of technology our attention spans are even more limited because we want everything instant and faster, so we get bored.

I believe part of the problem is that in the classroom we have to find topics that not only interest the students but need to connect to the curriculum in order for them to want to be engaged, listen, and give the teacher attention. However, that isn't always easy, since there are always essential subject areas or topics that just don't appeal to everyone, whether it is vocabulary, fractions, or learning important history dates. That is why as teachers we have to take a step back and reflect on what we are teaching and is it really necessary not just for the subject area, but in our student's lives as human beings growing into adult hood.

I'm a firm believer in finding creative and new ways of engaging students in activities, projects, writing, and reading. I feel if you make the effort to connect to the students then many, if not all, should be engaged and have your attention. Of course, it isn't a perfect system, and some teachers try extremely hard to reach their students and it still doesn't happen. That is the point when we have to sit back and reflect on what we are doing and then ask the students what works for them. I think some teachers are afraid to ask the students and give them more freedom and independence to think on their own and make their own opinions. Some are afraid to ask the students for feedback because they are afraid of the reactions or how it might reflect on their teaching abilities. Others might just not care. Whatever the reason may be, it still stands that in order to gain the attention of students and help them to realize what you are saying is important, teachers need to reflect on their own teaching but also ask their students, "Do you feel this is important in your life? Why do you think I'm teaching this to you?" You might get some stupid remarks back like, "Because it's your job," but then you might get some students that actually think about it, share their opinions, and possibly get the rest of the class to truly think about the importance of the subject.

We as teachers constantly have to reflect, engage, and ask questions, but we also need to teach our students to do the same. It isn't a perfect system, since we are human, but I believe as long as we try and treat our students with respect, then they will find meaning in school and in life. I think this links in well with your example, that if you talk about why it is important to listen to your wife, because you love her and she is helping to figure out what to eat or you won't have any dinner, that you will realize why it is better to mute or turn off the T.V. and talk about the subject.

Thanks for your post!

Suzanne Russell