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Teachers: Why You Should Stop Telling Kids to Pay Attention

Why You Should Stop Telling Kids to Pay Attention and What You Should Do Instead

I am embarrassed to say that I am as guilty as a convicted felon.

As a former middle school teacher, I often used the phrase, “Pay attention!” Now you hear me telling you to never, ever say that.

Why? It seems innocent enough.

Well, first of all, it’s terrible teaching. It’s NOT at all “brain-based teaching.” In fact, it’s one more example of why many kids learn to dislike school more, every year they go. First graders are so pumped up, but by the time some kids make it to their last year in school, they’ve learned that school is not for them. If we do not count the high school certificates and equivalencies, only 70% of our nation’s kids graduate overall. The rates for Hispanics, African-Americans and Native Americans are under 50% in most areas of the US.

If we do not count the high school certificates and equivalencies, only 70% of our nation’s kids graduate overall. The rates for Hispanics, African-Americans and Native Americans are under 50% in most areas of the US.

If you think you know brain-based teaching, there’s a lot to learn! But, now that I’ve “taken away” from you one of the most commonly used attention-getters (“Pay attention!’), what should you do instead?

I’m glad you asked… I just happen to have the answer…

The Research

You’re driving over to a friend’s house. But it’s the first time and you’re looking for street signs. You slow down to a crawl, turn down the music, stop talking, and stare at every sign. Why is that? Neither the music nor talking affects your vision. Or, do they?

YES! They all demand resources.

When kids pay attention, they focus better, learn and remember more.

First, paying attention protects the quality of working memory (Jie Huang, J. and Sekuler, R. (2010) and Zanto, T. and Gazzaley, A. (2009) This is critical because working memory is the DRIVER of cognition. WHAT? Here’s an example: try to remember yourself solving a problem at the same time you are asked to meet new people. Working memory and attention are co-factors in the learning process. And, both are teachable.

Second, the ability to pay attention is regulated by many factors. For example, there are sex differences in sustained attention, and they are task specific (Dittmar et al. 1993). Your frontal lobes are highly susceptible to stress (Galinsky et al. 1993), emotions (Dolcos, F. and McCarthy, G.), training and caffeine (Smith, et al. 2003). But the key thing is that attentional skills are not random. We can “train” our own brain through mindfulness practice, playing musical instruments, martial arts, reading, meditation and writing.

Finally, when we “pay” attention voluntarily, our brain is more likely to encode and remember the information (Kilgard, M., & Merzenich, M., 1998). Our goals direct our brain to activate acetylcholine (the neurotransmitter for formation of memory) via pathways such as the nucleus basalis. So, why stop telling kids to pay attention? Read more

A School on the Cusp

nichols-hill

This month our featured “Extreme School” is a school like many, on the “cusp.” That means, their student population is right on the edge for qualifying for this update. Just under 50% of their students are from poverty.

What this school does with their kids is amazing…

THE CHALLENGES:

This elementary school is in Oklahoma City and has a diverse population, with an increasing segment of Hispanics every year. Just under half of the students are from poverty and the challenge is to prepare kids for secondary education and for life.

THE PROCESS:

How does this school rate in the top 10% of all schools in their district and in the surrounding areas?

1. Decision is made. The school staff begins with a simple question: “Are we 100% (not 90%) committed to the success of our students?”

2. Support. Instead of complaining about what kids can’t do, they tutor students after school and provide resources necessary to individualize instruction. They ensure their kids CAN do what they need to do for success.

3. Focus. Naturally, they use research-based methods that they know will get results. They are a Great Expectations’ School and the majority of their professional development has been from the Great Expectations organization. This company raises the vision of what can be done and they provide clear, practical strategies to reach the miracle.

RESULTS:

The school is in the top 5% in the entire state! They are a National Blue Ribbon School, an A+ Arts School, a Core Knowledge School, and a model school for the Great Expectations process. In short, kids LOVE going to this school.

CONTACT:

Outstanding Teacher: Paula Washington
pewashington@okcps.org
and
Carol Berry
Principal
Nichols Hills Elementary
Oklahoma City, OK 73116


TRANSFER TIME:

Now, you’ve read about another “Extreme School” success story, we have a question for you. How many school successes do you need to see and hear about before you BELIEVE that it can happen at your school? And, if there’s anyone on your staff who does not think it can happen, please forward these monthly bulletins to them.

Second, what can you learn from the true story mentioned above? The only good that happens in this world is when you move things from inside your brain to the outside world. What ideas, principles or strategies were affirmed OR, what was new to you? Could this be a topic of discussion at your next staff meeting?

Finally, miracles do happen every day. Are you ready to be one of them?