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Hello Remarkable Educators!
Let's dive into a game-changing strategy for your secondary ELA classes that's like a burst of fresh air on a spring day – brain breaks and breathing room! If you're steering the ship as an English Language Arts maestro in middle and high school, brace yourself because we're delving into a technique that's backed by science, enlivening, and downright fantastic.
The Science Behind Brain Breaks
Imagine this: your brain's like a phone on low battery during a never-ending conference call. Science and research tell us that prolonged periods of content-heavy teaching can lead to "cog fog," where students zone out faster than a sleepy cat. But hold on, there's a superhero move – brain breaks! Studies have suggested that these mini-breaks can refresh students' minds and improve attention span. Brain breaks can be getting up to move around, doing a quick think-pair-share, adding in a quick game, or really anything that simply snaps them out of the fog by engaging them in a fun, monotony-breaking way.
So there's this study by Sheryl F. Morton (linked below) about using "brain breaks" in high school classrooms to make learning more engaging. In her study, she defined brain breaks as basically short pauses during class where students got to move around and take a break from regular learning. The study found that these brain breaks help students stay focused and engaged because our brains can only take in new information effectively for about 45 minutes, and that's on a good day. When students take these short breaks, it revitalizes their attention.
Morton's research showed that students really liked these brain breaks (surprise, surprise). They felt more focused and engaged in class. Teachers who tried it noticed that students were requesting fewer breaks on their own for things like getting a drink, going to the bathroom, or stopping by their locker for something, and seemed more involved in lessons. See, kids just instinctively know when they've hit their limit and need a brain break, so they've been building their own in for years! Let's anticipate these needs and give them direction. However, it's not always easy to fit these breaks into the class schedule. Overall, the study highlights how important it is to consider students' needs for movement and variety in the classroom, and how these brain breaks can really improve the learning experience, especially if they feel like they're just getting a firehose of information from bell to bell. Give them a chance to come up for air.
And speaking of air, fresh air is like a secret weapon for enhanced learning. Imagine stepping outside for a moment during your school day, taking in a lungful of revitalizing air on a beautiful day. It's not just a refreshing break; it's a cognitive boost. Studies have shown that exposure to fresh air can improve concentration, increase attention span, and enhance overall cognitive function. When we breathe in fresh outdoor air, we're infusing our brains with a surge of oxygen, which fuels brain cells and promotes clearer thinking.
This oxygen infusion also triggers the release of neurotransmitters like serotonin, known as the "happy chemical," which can elevate mood and reduce stress. Whether it's a quick stroll, a lesson held outdoors, or just opening a window, incorporating fresh air into the learning environment is a simple yet powerful way to invigorate both students and teachers, making learning an even more enjoyable and effective experience.
The Brilliance of Brain Breaks
Turbocharged Focus: Imagine your students genuinely interested, eyes gleaming, diving into your lessons like they're exploring an exciting treasure trove. Brain breaks gift them the superpower of attention, making them attentive learners who absorb information like sponges. By building in these brain breaks, it lets them know you have their best interests in mind and care about how they're doing. This makes them more engaged during instruction time, and is a huge relationship builder.
Unleashing Creativity: Think creative brainstorming, not unicorns! Gamified brain breaks are like cerebral playgrounds with games, riddles, and wordplay. Your class becomes a hub of ideas, boosting creativity and making Shakespeare as trendy as viral memes. The brain reads it as a break, even if you're still covering those standards in the process! It's a sneaky and effective way to have the best of both worlds.
Bidding Stress Farewell: Stress in your classroom? Nah, not on your watch! Enter meditation breaks – the stealthy ninjas of stress reduction. Research has shown that even a brief meditation session can help reduce stress and enhance students' emotional well-being. After an especially tough and heavy moment of direct instruction, why not lead the class in a "mindful minute" of deep breathing to reset those stretched neurons?
The Joy of Active Learning
Gamified Brain Breaks: Ready for a word showdown or some lit trivia? How about the good old standby, trasketball? Turn learning into a game where students vie to become ELA champs. Winner earns the "Word Wizard" crown and bragging rights, obviously! You could still be covering the same topics you normally would have, but you're just elevating it to a new level.
Mindful Meditation: Close your eyes and imagine...your class unwinding with a slice of tranquility. Introduce mindfulness through easy-peasy guided meditations. You'll be their Zen guru.
Shake It Up: Break the mold that learning is all about staying put. Shake things up with charades based on iconic characters or enact a scene from a story. Movement = engaged minds! Do a quick four-square activity where you ask their feedback discussion style, but they vote with their bodies in a different corner of the room. Take your class outside for the day (admin permitting) and watch them refresh before your eyes. I used to have a set of clipboards in the cabinet and we'd have class outside along the building once a week during the nice seasons. Set the parameters and expectations, and it'll soon become everyone's favorite day.
Vocab Vigor: Adding the Spark!
And here's the kicker – I'm not just an education enthusiast; as many of you know, I'm also the creator of Vocab Vigor! Amidst definitions and etymologies (not the boring kind), why not sprinkle in a gamified brain break? It's like a palate cleanser during an elaborate feast. The synonym and antonym sorting game serves as a fun brain break, giving students a chance to shuffle words like a deck of cards, making learning both engaging and effective. Pretty much every-other slide is designed as a mini-brain break. Here's some heavy content, and here's a fun way for you to process it and engage with your classmates or with a game. You're not just teaching, you're creating a symphony of learning moments where no brain gets stuck in the muddy ruts of too much overwhelm.
To my fellow ELA virtuosos, remember this: brain breaks are your secret sauce against "cog fog." They're your VIP tickets to focused, creative, and serene learning. Transform your classroom into a space where learning isn't just enlightening – it's an odyssey! Next time you spot those "Are we done yet?" expressions or a student counting the ceiling tiles, surprise your students with a brain break. You're the captain of this educational adventure, and trust me, that crown looks great on you.
Morton, Sheryl F., "Engagement Through Brain Breaks in the Secondary Classroom" (2016).M.S.Ed. in Educational Leadership Research Projects. 39. https://scholarworks.umf.maine.edu/ed_leadership_projects/39