Engage in knowledge despite the hazy gloom of classrooms

Gwen Ueding | Designer

By the editorial board

We all have that class that makes it hard to get out of bed or robs our motivational attention.

Difficulty concentrating is a common occurrence among students. The average school-related study or attention span is 45 minutes – shorter than most classes. Going through a full day of classes takes a lot of energy, and staying focused is easier said than done.

That being said, education is a privilege and is extremely important. As a student or teacher, we have an obligation to make the most of our time in class. The effort must come from both sides.

As a teacher, it is essential to understand your personal learning styles and be attentive to the needs of your students. No two students are the same with their learning and study habits; however, listening to a lecture for 50-75 minutes is not the most productive way to gain knowledge.

Baylor University’s website has a section on effective lectures and explains how “instructors can use lectures to help students easily gain knowledge of simple terms, facts, and concepts.” Lectures are as effective, but not more effective, than other methods for conveying simple information (Bligh, 2000).

There is a wide variety of learning styles. The main four are visual, auditory, reading, and kinesthetic. Also known as the VARK model, learning styles are defined as the different ways people accumulate knowledge, and most students fall into more than one category. According to an article published in the National Library of Medicine – for which 100 medical students were studied – “one approach to teaching does not work for all students or even for most students”.

While students have different preferences in the classroom, professors are fond of a range of teaching styles. So students may not be able to control the format of their lesson, but there are ways to stay focused during a lesson that don’t necessarily fit a certain learning style.

The first step is to determine what your main learning styles are. It can help determine the types of notes you take, when you need a break, and how to study.

Arranging small, non-disruptive brain breaks during class to reset can be very helpful. These can be as simple as sipping water or taking a short bathroom break. Limiting technological distractions, bringing a snack, and taking notes with colored pens can help make the classroom more engaging.

When it comes to faculty, knowing your class and what students like best is part of creating a successful environment. Teaching a class full of students can’t be easy. Teachers have a lot to do, and it would be unrealistic to assume that they can organize their lessons to align with the expectations of each student.

To take the pulse of a group of students before the semester begins, send out a survey at the start of class about student expectations and what they think the course should be. It could be a useful tool to cater to multiple learning styles.

Additionally, changing the format of a lecture can help accommodate varying learning preferences. For example, instead of just lecturing or cold calling students, form small groups or “turn to a neighbor” activities before larger discussions to heat up the conversation and increase participation.

While it may not be realistic to meet all needs, it is always helpful to know how students learn best and to communicate their expectations.

The semester is coming to an end and a new one is fast approaching. Take education and the diverse intelligence of classrooms seriously. Not everyone learns or teaches the same thing, but with communication and reflection, both sides of the podium can benefit.

Donald E. Patel