Tuning in, tuning out

What is the longest period of time a student can focus on a lesson without his/her mind wandering?

Probably 15 to 20 minutes, max.

I sat in the back of the classroom, observing and taking careful notes as usual. The class had started at 1:00 o’clock. The student sitting in front of me took copious notes until 1:20. Then he just nodded off. The student sat motionless, with eyes shut for about a minute and a half, pen still poised. Then he awoke, and continued his rapid note–taking as if he hadn’t missed a beat.

[…]

Adult learners can keep tuned in to a lecture for no more than 15 to 20 minutes at a time, and this at the beginning of the class. In 1976, A. H. Johnstone and F. Percival observed students in over 90 lectures, with twelve different lecturers, recording breaks in student attention. They identified a general pattern: After three to five minutes of “settling down” at the start of class, one study found that “the next lapse of attention usually occurred some 10 to 18 minutes later, and as the lecture proceeded the attention span became shorter and often fell to three or four minutes towards the end of a standard lecture” (pp. 49–50).

The “Change–up” in Lectures bt=y Joan Middendorf & Alan Kalish. TRC Newsletter, 8:1 (Fall 1996).

This makes sense to me.

I think a lot of teachers intuitively deal with the fact that student attention waxes and wanes by a) repeating points, b) asking multiple questions (which repeats points), and c) using the blackboard/whiteboard (also repeats points).

That’s why Powerpoints are a problem: if you miss a slide you’re sunk. Nothing stays on the board.

Sad news and bad news in English class

So much badness where cell phones in the classroom are concerned.

I mentioned that a couple of years ago I had a classroom cell phone problem so oppressive I actually considered leaving my job.

Of course, I wasn’t going to leave my job, but what I did do was assign “cell phones in the classroom” as the final paper topic–the final paper happening to be, fortuitously, the “simple argument” assignment. (Simple argument in my department: write a 5-paragraph essay arguing for or against X.)

Unfortunately, assigning cell phones in the classroom turned out to be a misfire since more than one student took the position that cell phones in the classroom were A-OK,  the only problem being that we instructors were too boring to compete. Being more riveting than a cell phone, one student wrote, was the professor’s job.

So that was annoying. Since my policy is never to be annoyed by a student opinion, I regretted assigning the topic.

That said, the papers were a revelation.

Continue reading

App shmapp

It wasn’t so much that the new app … didn’t work. It was that people were struggling to even log in or download it in the first place.

‘A Systemwide Disaster’: How the Iowa Caucuses Melted Down By Shane Goldmacher and Nick Corasaniti 2/4/2020

This is reminding me of my friend who teaches in the city.

Last fall, word came down that this year teachers were to provide 21st century learning. Which meant Google docs. Everyone had to use Google docs in every class.

My friend teaches a combined SPED/gen ed middle-school class, and not one of the students could remember his/her password. Not one. So every day there would be 40 password crises, all of which had to be personally resolved by the two teachers in the room.

In case you’re wondering, the teachers couldn’t just have all the kids use the same password on one big shared Google doc (I asked) because my friend had already tried that the year before. A couple of the kids wrote bad words in the shared doc, so every student now had a document peppered with bad words, then admin saw the words and raised a fuss, plus a couple of parents might have seen them … I’ve forgotten the story now, but the upshot was that assigning the same password to an entire middle school class yielded exactly the kind of trouble anyone who has ever lived with a middle-school child would predict.

This school year the problem wasn’t just that none of the kids could remember their password. The possibly bigger problem was that they all freaked out when they forgot. So on top of individually logging 40 students into Google every day, the teachers had to talk 40 students down off the Forgot My Password cliff.

All this just to get into the system.

It took hours to get anything done. The class was taking 3 days to finish a lesson that had taken 1 day to complete the year before, and the kids were begging for release.

“Can’t we use paper? Please?

A couple of months in, the school did its usual quarterly testing, and the best teacher in the school had dismal results. After that the whole thing went away.

And see:
Blackboard shmackboard
Cell phone agonistes

Breakthrough

I mentioned in Friday’s post that I spent years being paralyzed over the question of collecting students’ cell phones at the beginning of class. Embarrassing, but true.

My breakthrough happened last summer, when I taught at an ESL school near my house.

New teachers all had to take a series of standardized exams that were given under strict testing conditions: no cell phones, no watches (no analog watches, even), no bathroom breaks in the last half hour.

So there I was, the person who had been longing to take cell phones away from students, suddenly having my own cell phone taken away.

It was a revelation.

Continue reading