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Success in Teaching Newsletter

 © 2009                     Issue #8               Ronald Fitzgerald, D.Ed.

Brain-friendly Classroom Tip #2
Using Time Research in Teaching

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The Beginning-End-Middle or B.E.M. rule in teaching.
Pulse Learning.
Three critical time factors in teaching.

Paying attention to the three related factors listed in Figure #27 to the left is critical because research shows that these factors influence learning dramatically.  Let us examine each factor.

1.  ATTENTION SPAN.  Research has shown that the average person's attention span for receiving information in one way is roughly equal to his or her age plus 2 minutes up to a maximum of 30 minutes.  There are exceptions and variations to this rule of thumb.  However the rule is a valid generality for classroom teaching.  If you are presenting information (lecture, video, etc.) to students who are around 15 years old, you should change the activity after 17 minutes or so(give or take 2 or 3 minutes).  If you do not change the

activity, the minds of some students will wander.  Do not let that happen in your learning environment.

2.  THE B.E.M. RULE.  Consider the implications of the research summarized in Figure #28.  More learning occurs at the beginning and at the end of any one learning activity period than in the middle of that activity period.  So, avoid long middles!  This fact leads in the same direction as the attention span rule.  Do not stay with one unchanging activity too long because you are stretching out the middle period of less learning.  A major exception here would be project based learning in which there is a natural sequence of changing activities and movement at different stages of the project.  However, the rule is especially important again when you are presenting information.  Minds tend to wander during a long lecture or movie or video.  Next, we shall review how to avoid that wandering.
If you want to observe the attention span and B.E.M. rules to promote maximum learning, use a technique called pulse learning.  This teaching/learning technique is very powerful and effective.  Study Figure #29 on the next page of this newsletter.
3.  PULSE LEARNING.  Consider the top diagram in Figure #29.  Do NOT spend a full class period (45 to 90 minutes) on one unchanging activity, especially an information imparting activity.  You are simply extending an unproductive middle as you violate the attention span and B.E.M. rules.  Rather, DO move from one activity or pulse to another as shown in the bottom diagram.  Each different learning activity or pulse has a shorter middle and you are increasing the number of productive beginnings and endings.  Sample activities can be receiving information, applying information, reflecting on information or applications, rest or "brain" breaks, or even returning to a previous activity after a short change.  Consider the examples below.  Meanwhile ignore the word "hook" in the figure.  We'll explain that in a future newsletter.     

Here are just a few examples of good practice in pulse teaching:
a. A powerful TEACH-APPLY-REFLECT sequence - -
In a 60-minute English for the Entrepreneur class, the teacher took 20 minutes to explain the content of an introduction to a business plan and answered questions on same.  Next, each student spent 20 minutes on a computer preparing a first draft of an introduction to a business plan that he or she had selected.  (Application = real life connection.)  Finally, students returned to class for a discussion or reflection activity.
b. A simple TEACH-BREAK-TEACH/REFLECT sequence - -
In a 45-minute class, a chemistry teacher explained and answered questions on the periodic table for 20 minutes.  Next, she gave students an exercise brain break, having them stand and touch alternate elbows to the opposite knee for a few minutes ( a left-right brain activity).  Next, she returned the class to a continued discussion of the periodic table.
A business teacher showed the first 15 minutes of a film on customer service after distributing a list of questions to answer from the viewing.  Next, he stopped the film and conducted a discussion of the questions.  Then he repeated the process with another segment of the film and more questions.  This was far more effective than just showing a long film.

Be sure you use your favorite pulse sequences to promote maximum learning in your classes!