Friday, August 5, 2011

Musing About Applying Productivity Tips To The Classroom

Last night, I came across this Lifehacker post that asserts and recommends,
Our brains may need time between learning new tasks to properly store it. Two hours between different new subjects is ideal, according to Dr. Edwin Robertson, a professor of neurology, but twenty minutes should be enough time for your brain to welcome new information.
So, if you're able to schedule your classes or study time, consider long breaks in between each subject.
Given that most high school students go from a history class to a chemistry class to an English class to a calculus class with no breaks in between, I don't know how to implement this little bit of knowledge in my classroom.  I know that I can't give up twenty minutes of every classroom, and the school won't change its schedule.

Lifehacker tags the post as a Brain Hack.  While clicking around their various "Brain Hacks for information I can apply to the classroom" I came across this wonderful bit of information: sarcasm is productiveLifehacker references this Washington Post post that asserts that sarcasm can increase creativity.

Citing a Journal of Applied Psychology article, the Jena McGregor, the post's author notes,
. . . .a new study in the Journal of Applied Psychology (hat tip to the BPS Occupational Digest blog) that looks at how various emotions that people observe prompt them to respond. The study asked 375 engineering students to imagine they were a customer service agent, and then listen to a conversation between a customer and a representative. Some of the discussions were neutral; others were openly hostile. The students were then given straightforward analytic problems or creative questions to solve.
The students who had overheard the angry conversation did better at the analytic problems than their peers who heard nothing but nice talk.
In short, it appears that being too calm can limit a student's ability to learn.  Adding sarcasm to mix increased creativity.
But just because the students worked harder doesn’t mean they worked smarter. In a similar study by the psychologists, students listened to conversations where the customer was criticized with tough sarcasm. Despite also listening to a form of anger — albeit laced with humor this time — these students performed better on the creative problems. The study also showed that students exposed to sarcasm performed better on problems that required more “cognitive complexity,” or the ability to look at issues from more than one angle, than those that didn’t hear such comments. The researchers suggest that while the underlying anger helped to focus the students, the inherent humor of sarcasm helped to offset the damage that anger can do.
I talk about my anger in the first paragraph here.  I have always thought the self-esteem gospel that many educators preach weak and ludicrous.  As Terry Eagleton, one of my favorite sarcastic intellectuals, has noted,
Culture is deployed to make us feel good about ourselves, . . . That to feel bad about ourselves is the first step towards transforming our situation is thus neatly sidestepped.
Replace "culture" with "classroom" and the truth still holds.

That being said, one ought not become vindictive or injudicious.  McGregor concludes,
On the basis of this study, I don’t know that I’d start throwing out mocking criticism or biting wisecracks to get my team inspired. But leavening anger with a little humor, and not being afraid to use it when necessary, seems like a good place to start.

2 comments:

caheidelberger said...

This post has already inspired my wife and I to think up numerous creative wisecracks. :-)

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