Class activities and instruction: timing.
In the post “Vuelco a las aulas” where I talked about Salman Khan’s book and his KhanAcademy, I included some links for further reading. This post is a recast of the one originally written for the Sls Hallam blog back in 2013. It has now been updated to include some of the things I knew and others I am learning at Flipped Learning Global. If you read the post and did “your homework” you’ll know that:
Research on attention span shows students lose concentration after 20 minutes.
J. Middenford & A. Kalish published a paper on the attention span of undergraduates in 1996. Their research showed that, even in the best case scenario, students lose concentration after a maximum period of 20 minutes. Indeed, attention span follows a general pattern:
1. First 3-5 minutes: students “settle down”.
2. Next 10-15 minutes: students concentrate.
3. After that, all students experience a lapse of attention.
Students may re-gain attention after the lapse, but in that case, as the class or lecture proceeds, attention span gets shorter and shorter, until it is no longer than 3-4 minutes in the standard class or lecture.
Meaningful learning and concentration span
One of the reasons for this is that the brain handles information by dividing it into meaningful chunks or “categories”. Thus, learning takes place when new meaningful chunks either fit into existing categories or form new ones.
The need for “categorisation” and “connection between categories” in the learning process would account for the need to “process” the information given, i.e. to pause and reflect on it so as to make the necessary connections.
Cognitive and behaviourist theories of learning
Examples are very useful for meaningful learning. Indeed, they are a primary means to make connections between old and new knowledge. Once those connections have been made in our brain, we need to practise using the newly acquired concept or connected concept. (This is why it is so important for you when studying the topics to keep on regularly revising for five minutes).
It is, therefore connected to the cognitive theories (both cognitivism and constructivism) of learning but also to behaviourist theories, particularly those related to mastery learning.
To promote active learning, get students to explain
Varying one’s approach to teaching contributes to getting students involved in their own learning, i.e. it promotes “active learning”.
“Active learning” takes place when teaching methods encourage students’ participation and involvement in the task. And one way of getting our students involved is by asking them to explain one concept to another student or group of students. Thus, the class becomes a social learning experience rather than a solitary one; something which is very well realised by putting students into mixed-ability groups.
Activity timing and content
Consequently, and taking into account the two aspects mentioned earlier (i.e. the way people learn meaningfully and their attention span) it is paramount that we programme our instruction time and activities carefully. Ideally, they should last around 15 minutes or a maximum of 20-25, including some “warm-up”, which would cover the first 3-5 minutes required in settling down.
Some of the activities –particularly at the presentation stage– should include illustrations (videos, graphs, drawings, etc.) or pictures. Then, at the implementation stage, they should involve carrying out experiments, problem-solving or some hands-on practice. In the case of a language class, it may involve the use of structures /vocabulary/ ideas/ etc. of what has previously been presented.
And activities need to be integrally related to the theoretical aspect covered in the lesson.
Lessons should include a warm-up activity to allow students to settle down and focus on the task at hand or the topic to cover. They should also include a debriefing to revise the main points of the lesson.
Thus, A 50-minute class should contain at least two main hands-on activities, with a warm-up and a wrap-up, or debriefing.
Connecting teacher and student: In-class or out-of-class instruction?
The answer to that question will depend on the ICT resources the school has, and those our students have at their disposal. Instruction can be planned to be done during the class time or out of class.
What we need to consider is whether all students in the group will need the same type of instruction. How can we best use the class-time to help every student in the group become an autonomous learner? Is it instruction what they need, or is it practice? How can I best provide them individually with that instruction and practice? Based on that, you can decide. In this endeavour, the Flipped Learning meta-strategy can help you. Regardless of whether you choose in-class or out-of-class instruction. If you want to find out more, click FlippedLerning Global