The Attention Span Antidote: Chunky Lesson Plans
Now that we have a handle on the attention span myth, let’s think about the impact of this formula on literature and establishing engagement in the classroom. For example, in an English class you can do 20 minutes of journal writing and discussion, 20 minutes of lecture about the novel you are reading, and then 20 minutes of small group discussion.
I know some of you are thinking, “Okay, Mr. English teacher wise-guy whose class lends itself to doing a variety of activities, this whole attention span chunky thing is great for you, but what if I teach a hard-core science class or a history class?"
If you teach a subject that requires you to do extensive content delivery, which usually translates into extensive lecturing, you have to get creative and figure out ways to mix it up if you plan on keeping the attention of your students.
For example, you can build interactive applications into your PowerPoint presentations. You can add a slide in that asks a question that you can pose to the class and try some classroom discussion. Or, try breaking from lecture by giving them a quick three-minute problem or issue and asking them to work it out and then share the answers with the classmates around them. You can have them partner up and ask them to explain a concept that you just lectured on to their partner and put it in their own words.
Take full advantage of educational technology that is out there, such as the Smartboard or clickers to make your “lecture" more interactive. I know that there are some great lecturers out there, but you have to ask yourself how much teaching you are doing if half your students have the “nobody-is-home" glazed stare going on or if they are exhaling massive amounts of bored breath. Research has shown that students retain about five percent of what they hear in lectures, and if the attention span equation has any validity to it, that five percent is decreasing after the first 20-25 minutes. Is that effective teaching?