Saturday, March 29, 2014

MTV & Short Attention Spans (Dear Katie V2 #13)

Dear Katie,

I am an MTV child.  I was a middle school kid when MTV hit the airwaves.  I stayed up to watch "World Premier Videos."  On New Year's Eve, 1983, I was at a friend's house and if I remember correctly, we turned the TV to MTV at midnight so we could watch the first showing of Van Halen's, "Jump" video.

When I was in college in the late 80's, a professor of mine noted that he heard when making a music video, the creators attempt to change the scenes every 3 seconds in order to hold a viewer's attention.  I never forgot this, and have always thought of ways to incorporate this fact into the classroom, and later in this piece I will give you some practical examples.

We live in a world that has gone far beyond MTV.

Cell phones give people 24/7 connection with each other.

Twitter and texting encourages conciseness.  

Websites link us from one page to another, creating a journey for us that by the time we have completed our "surfing" of the topic we last looked up, it is far different than what we originally intended to learn about.

The remote control allows us to quickly click through station after station of the thousands of choices people have through their cable providers.

The problem is that we expect attention spans somehow to miraculously increase when students enter the classroom.  Too often we feel safer running classrooms "the way it has always been done".

Our students live in a 21 Century World,
but we often have our classrooms constructed and run 
not much different then in the 19th Century.

Don't say, "when I was a kid, I could sit through 45 minutes of a lecture".  Or "in the past, people could sit through hours of lectures".  Why fight the lack of attention, why not find ways to work within it?  Our job is to reach kids, get them to think, and sometimes doing so "isn't safe".  Do not seek to do things "how they have always been done".  Be creative, try, don't worry about failure.

Your job is to reach kids.  
Don't plan lessons and activities that fall into the comfort zone
 of your fellow teachers.

My "MTV" class

1) I open with music, a slide show detailing upcoming assignments, the lesson topic and a list of the activities we will accomplish that day, and a current event story.

2) Students complete a review activity to reinforce previous learning.

3) The main lesson, within it we go back and forth between me lecturing, reading an article as a class, discussion, group sharing, researching on the iPad, etc. It is rare that we are focused on the same activity for more than 7-8 minutes.  So within the main lesson, there may be several more transitions.

4) Concluding activity, something that allows you to assess if your students "got it".

Two points to remember:

1) NEVER spend your whole class lecturing.

2) My class has several transitions within it.  The one difficulty for the young teacher with this is that misbehavior increases with each transition.  It just emphasizes the need to establish classroom rules and adherence to them early and consistently, as well as being prepared for each lesson.

As you probably have learned about life...when you are enjoying what you are doing, time flies by, and when you are bored, 5 minutes feels like 5 hours.

It is no surprise that with a class where activities and events abound that I have students who respond:

 "Ahh, that's it, but we just came into your class." 

Music to my ears!

Uncle Kevin

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