Jonathan Haidt, in his book The Happiness Hypothesis, talks about the brain being like a rider and an elephant. The rider part of your brain is the rational, control-your-impulses, plan-for-the-future brain. The elephant is your attracted-to-shiny-objects, what-the-hell, go-with-what-feels-right part of your brain.
The challenge for you as an educator is that if the elephant isn’t engaged, the learner is going to have a tough time paying attention. So here are 10 ways to keep the elephant engaged!
Nothing gets the attention of people young and old as, “Once upon a time” – but you don’t necessarily need to start that way! Stories have a timeless charm and attraction. Last evening when I went down to school….. Pause and notice what happens.
The unexpected always catches our attention. Imagine you are driving down the countryside and passing hundreds of cows. Suddenly from the corner of your eye, you spy a purple cow. What do you do? You screech to a halt and pay attention. Of course there is a thin dividing line between surprise and shock – make sure you don’t cross that!
Wherever possible make it experiential. If you want to teach collaboration, don’t talk about it – rather get your audience to do an activity that calls for collaboration. And after the activity, let the insights bubble up from them! Your challenge then is – how do you make everything you teach, experiential?
Show us one person who doesn’t love a game and we will show you a dead person. Why are children fixated to video games, indoor games, outdoor games, any games? There is a sense of fun, challenge and achievement all rolled into one. Think about it – Can you make every lesson you teach a game with risk, rewards, points and achievements?
“The clock is ticking and you have just another 25 minutes to go!” gets the adrenaline going, be it a child or an adult. Can you convert your lesson plan into a time based challenge? Mull over it!
Dilemmas capture attention. One key point though. The dilemmas shouldn’t be between right and wrong. Rather it should be between a good option and a very good option or two bad options or two options with a mix of good and bad. The learning is in the resolution.
Your job as a teacher is not to cook and serve up all the answers to your students. It is rather to spark curiosity. Leave something unsaid, unresolved – to be discovered by the learner. We like to fill in the blanks in our minds, mystery always works. “What do you think comes next?” is a great lead-in to get young minds to go exploring for the answers themselves.
We are tactile creatures. Think of auditory, visual and physical stimulation to attract attention. The more our senses are engaged, the more the elephant brain pays attention. Look at every lesson plan and ask, “How many different elements can we use here? Recorded audio? Videos? Polls? Whiteboards? Can we ask them to construct something? Draw maybe? Use cartoon strips?” We are limited by our own imagination!
Walt Disney said it years back, “Laughter is no enemy to learning. I would rather entertain and hope that people learned something than educate people and hope they were entertained.” When children laugh and enjoy – they engage better and will consequently learn better!
As teachers, we don’t need to hold the controls at all times. When we give students the autonomy to choose, the power of choice, we are co-opting them in the learning process. We are tapping onto their intrinsic motivation. What if you did a role reversal and assigned children the responsibility to teach?
Do give these ideas a spin yourself – and let us know how it goes!