31 Days of Sticky Teaching: Timing

Start and stop often. This seems counterintuitive, especially for those of us who have been brought up to value “time on task”. We’ve always pushed out students to remain on task for longer and longer periods of time. More recently, we’ve talked about this in terms of “stamina”. And don’t get me wrong, I still believe that stamina and time on task are important parts of the work that we do with children. But, right now, I’m thinking more deeply about the issue of sticky instruction — not the independent and guided practice that children do. And I’m thinking that stamina and time on task are issues of independent and guided practice, but NOT of instruction.
What we know about the human brain is that it depends on electrical circuitry. Neurons fire across regions of the brain, activating and “lighting up” on an MRI to indicate brain activity. The more the neurons are firing, the more the brain is working — simple equation.
Well, it turns out that when we change up our activities, the reptilian cortex or amygdama in the brain is triggered to run a “safety check”. Is everything still okay out there? Are there any new dangers that need to be addressed? Once that quick safety check is completed, the amygdama goes back to resting and frees the rest of the brain to do it’s work. The trick here is that the safety check causes neural firing ALL OVER the brain. That electrical activity, triggered by the safety check, causes the brain to be more active and to capture more the instruction that is happening at that moment.
So, it seems that starting and stopping often, changing up the activities a little bit within a lesson is a good thing for the brain and for making the teaching stickier. That little change-up causes all kinds of sticky electrical activity that helps our teaching adhere more tightly to the brain. Just what we wanted.
Check out this tremendous diagram of the brain and how it works — its made for students (but still good for teachers too!)

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