The greatest fear of many new teachers is whether students will pay attention to them and remember what is being taught.
The brain is a pattern seeker. If you are waiting for someone to arrive at an airport concourse you can easily scan hundreds of faces and purge them because they don’t fit the pattern of the face you are looking for.
The brain’s natural attention mechanisms also constantly scan the environment to detect patterns of danger, interest, or novelty. Survival is the highest priority for focusing our attention, followed by messages that evoke a strong emotion. Near the bottom of the list of natural priorities is paying attention to data for new learning or cognitive processing. In order for students to pay attention and learn, they must first feel safe and emotionally secure (Sousa, 2003, p. 43).
The brain is also a program builder. Practice does not make perfect; it makes permanence. Retention is the process whereby long-term memory preserves something that has been learned in such a way that it can locate, identify, and retrieve it accurately in the future.
While survival and emotional data are stored quickly in long-term memory, teachers can effectively assist students in retaining what they are learning if they meet three criteria:
- New learning draws upon strong emotions or uses multiple senses such as visual, auditory (e.g., musical), and kinesthetic-tactile (touch and feel, hands-on investigation).
- New learning must make sense and fit into the learners’ perceptions of how the world works. The new learning should also have meaning. It should connect to a student’s personal knowledge in a way that helps them to view it as relevant and necessary.
- Ample time is provided for processing and reprocessing (rehearsal). It is difficult for the learner to assign sense and meaning without adequate processing time.
Stress triggers an automatic response in the brain. The level of anxiety or fear will differ by individual and the teacher must effectively assess whether the stress is affecting a student’s ability to process information and learn. Getting to know your students is important in being able to perform such an assessment. It is also important to know how you respond to stress and how your response impacts students.