Thursday, February 28, 2013

Concentrating on Concentration

If you have been reading this blog, you probably have picked up on the fact that I am not one for gimmicks, new buzzwords, or educationese that has little basis in research. That being said, I want to talk about something I came across in college that I truly believe changed my perspective on being a student and life in general. Sounds like a big deal. Here is how it works.

David Ellis wrote a book called "Becoming a Master Student." I was introduced to Mr. Ellis's work when hired as a mentor at UNI in the student services department. His ability to pin a catchphrase to life's challenges is so cheesy that it is memorable. The surprising thing to me is that it works!

Be Here Now!

 The crown jewel of catch-phrases, this one has stuck with me for the 15 years it has been since college. Here is the basis of it. Have you ever met someone, they gave you their name, you shook hands, gave them your name but then had no idea what their name was? I do it all the time! Mr. Ellis contends, and I agree, that you weren't there at the moment they said their name. You were thinking about your name.

This deals with that little voice in your head, that little guy or gal who is constantly talking to you. If you are quiet, you can hear it. Try it... Yours may have said "this is dumb," or "I'm hungry", or "What little voice?" THAT'S THE VOICE! It is annoyingly off task most of the time. Ellis quotes that some researchers say that you can not keep that voice on task without consciously doing it for more than three seconds. It takes practice corralling that little voice.

Pay attention to your attention!

What is better than that catchphrase? You need to know that that voice is going to be off task and you need to put it back on track. Pulling your attention back to attention takes practice. Athletes do this. When Tiger Woods stands over a put, his focus is solely on what he is doing. He is "in the zone". This is a hard thing to do. While walking down the fairway, golfers learn to let their mind relax, think about something else, and let their little voice wander. Then they bring it back in focus when they get to the ball.

Do what you are doing while you are doing it!

This Ellis guy is a master wordsmith if there ever was one! Bring your attention to attention (God, I am doing it now) when you need it. For students you can talk to them about daydreaming. It is okay to give yourself a bit of a rest while listening to a lecture, but do it at an appropriate time. Know the consequences of taking a few seconds or minutes to tune out. Can you anticipate where the lecture is going? Is this something that is essential to understanding future topics? What will it mean if I do give my concentration a break?

This paying attention to your attention (it's hard to stop when you get going) has amazing results. By going over these simple principles, giving students an appreciation for how their brain works, can really improve their school experience. For teachers, this will make you a better listener, which is great for the classroom, relationships, and just about every aspect of life. Try it, remember the catch-phrases. If you want more on this, get Dave Ellis's book and dive deep. (I am in no way affiliated with Mr. Ellis and neither he nor anyone in his employ are paying me to say these things:)

As always, your comments are encouraged.