What is the longest period of time you can focus your attention without your mind beginning to wander and your concentration plummeting off a cliff?
Wikipedia states that the maximum attention span for the average human is 5 minutes. The longest time for healthy teenagers and adults is 20 minutes.
However, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, at the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the average attention span of a human being has dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2013. This is one second less than the attention span of a goldfish.
8 seconds to a maximum of 20 minutes is a startling difference, and worrying if you are an educator, but there are two key types of attention. The 8 second attention span is known as ‘transient attention’ which is a short-term response to a stimulus that temporarily attracts or distracts attention.
Where educators need to focus their energy for learning is on selective sustained attention, also known as ‘focused attention’. It is the level of attention that produces results on a task over time. But if we only have a maximum of 20 minutes, why are most school lessons constructed around a 50 – 70 minute lesson structure, four to five times a day? That means in the average school day there are around 20, twenty minute learning opportunities before breaks are considered. If that seems like a lot, once you add in classroom transient distractions it’s possible that those opportunities for sustained concentration significantly decrease.
How do educators and schools address these lack of opportune moments for learning? Shorter school days, more frequent lessons or breaks, the options are vast, but this is where we must focus our thought back on what science knows to be true.
Studies into the investigation of physical activity for learning reveal that:
“… breaks throughout the day can improve both student behaviour and learning (Trost, 2007)” (Reilly, Buskist, and Gross, 2012).
Science also reveals that sustained movement-aided learning significantly improves learning rather than purely mental learning activities:
“Movement is an exterior stimulus, and as long as the learner is engaged in his or her learning task the movement indicates that the learner’s attention is directed toward what is being learned. When attention is purely mental (interior) the activity becomes very difﬁcult to sustain, because the nerve and muscle systems are inactive” (Shoval, 2011).
If frequent breaks and connecting the mind and body for learning have been proven to work, why does our education system not evolve based on what science knows?
On episode 35 of the Inspiration 4 Teachers Podcast Show, Rae Pica, host of Studentcentricity and founder of BAM Radio Network, discusses how connecting the mind and body is crucial for learning. She reveals the ideal mind and body classroom for learning:
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Thank you for this. Really insightful, I will consider how to incorporate normal movement during the learning process.