HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
After reading and hearing about the physical and mental benefits of meditation, I decided to take up the practice several years ago. This led to some discussions with colleagues at work, which eventually morphed into the idea of using mindfulness in the classroom. Mindfulness is a way to pause and reflect on the here and now. To be fully present in what is happening in the present, without worry about the future or past. The idea is that teaching this philosophy and using activities and practices in the classroom should allow students to release tension and anxiety so they can focus on the material in the classroom. Rather than coming to my biology class lamenting over the test they just took in another class, worrying about the homework, or making a check-list of “to dos”, the student can release that tension become present with my biology course.
You gaze around the classroom, recognizing that a number of students are on their cell phones. Others are on their laptops, maybe taking notes but most likely using social media. A few are blatantly working on homework or assignments for other classes. Several students in the back of the classroom are avoiding your gaze, anxiously hoping not to be noticed. One student even appears to be asleep. A small group of students at the front of the class is stressed about the upcoming assignment. Welcome to the college classroom.
Now that you’ve finished assessing your students, it’s time to turn the assessment process around by looking in the mirror. If you limped across the finish line last semester, it may be time to identify some new strategies for self-care. In our “Tending the Teacher” session at the recent Teaching Professor Conference in Washington, D.C., we presented a menu of ideas to help faculty design a balanced and productive work life. Here are our top tips:
How long is your students’ attention span? For that matter, how long is your own?
According to one estimate, the average attention span in the year 2000 was 12 seconds; by 2012, it had dropped to eight seconds. By comparison, a goldfish has an attention span of nine seconds. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone in your class could manage to be mentally present for the entire class? What kinds of learning could take place if they were?
“The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character, and will. No one is master of himself if he have it not. An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence. But it is easier to define this ideal than to give practical directions for bringing it about.”
William James, (1842 – 1910)
Looking out at our students in classrooms today, with their texting, Facebook updates, Instagram messages, e-mail checking, Google searches, and tweeting, it’s hard to imagine what was so distracting for college students more than 100 years ago when James made this statement. Yet, even then, he recognized the propensity of the mind to constantly seek novel material, to leap from thought to image to belief to fear to desire to judgment and back again — all following one’s own quirky train of thought resembling the chaotic movements of a swarm of bees around a hive. Time passes through a warped dimension when the student finally returns to some semblance of attention, unaware of all the cognitive detours taken between points A and B. And that’s just the internal process, prompted by nothing in particular. How much more distraction is invited by today’s mobile technology?