Image from “Managing Your Distractions” by Silver (2020)

By Jennifer Bland

Have you noticed your students’ focus wandering during class? Neuroscientist John Medina found that “the brain begins to wander at about 10 minutes, at which point you need a new stimulus to spark interest. That doesn’t mean you can’t focus for longer than 10 minutes; you just have to switch gears a lot to keep your brain engaged” (Baldwin, 2020, p. 199).

What does this mean in a classroom setting? Classes are generally either 50 or 75 minutes long.  So, you need to make sure you are stimulating your students at least every 10 minutes or so. This could be a turn-and-talk to your neighbor question, a poll to answer, a critical thinking question you pose with at least a minute of processing time, or a chance for students to write a summary of a topic in their notes. It could also be a simple as walking to another space in the classroom or pausing to get students to raise their hands. The change of pace during your teaching will signal students’ brains that something changed and it will help re-engage their focus and attention.

Some other useful suggestions from active learning strategies are to start class with a warmup question or activity to activate students’ prior knowledge including what they learned in the previous class session. You could have students work through a math or chemistry problem with their group to see if they understand the process. Students could brainstorm with their group ways to solve a problem or scenario. You could have students complete a mid-class question or an exit ticket at the end of class.

Active learning techniques are not distractions from delivering content during class lectures; they are strategies rooted in brain science that ensure that students can sustain their attention and remain open to receiving, using, synthesizing, and learning the content throughout an entire class session.

Some resources you may find helpful: