School Name: Nakusp Secondary School
School District: SD#10 Arrow Lakes
Inquiry Team Members:Robin Stille: email@example.com, Tessa Wiseman: firstname.lastname@example.org
Inquiry Team Contact Email: email@example.com
Type of Inquiry: NOII (focus on core competencies, OECD learning principles, etc.)
Grade Levels: Secondary (8-12)
Curricular Area(s): Language Arts – Literacy, Language Arts – Oral Language, Language Arts – Reading, Language Arts – Writing, Social Studies, Other: Core French
Focus Addressed: Growth mindset, Self-regulation, Social and emotional learning
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? Our inquiry focused on the use of learning breaks (ie. games, movement, and mindfulness strategies) to enhance student focus and engagement in our learning environments.
Scanning: What sparked our curiosity is the shortened attention spans of today’s learners, as compared with five years ago, as well as the difference in learners’ abilities to add conceptual understanding to prior knowledge bases. The understanding that learners are at the centre and that learning needs to be reflective and holistic provided a natural framework to our inquiry.
During teaching and after observation, we asked students about their immediate learning needs (ie. “How’s it going?” and “How are you doing?”). Students told us that they were very concerned about their futures, about the relevancy of their learning, and about how to find life success. Students told us that they were having difficulty focusing on tasks and on lessons in class, and that they were worried about how this will affect their future life success.
Focus: We engaged in professional development that helped us develop this focus and consider different teaching practices. For example, the National Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling Conference allowed Robin to experience learning a second language as a student, which made her realize the condition of the learner: how exhausting learning is and that when given opportunities to move or switch mental focus to something entirely different, how more focused/engaged she was afterwards. Tessa’s attendance at a professional development keynote by Dr. Shimi Kang emphasized an alternative method of teaching and learning that considers the needs of the whole person.
As we saw a need to enhance focus and self-regulation in our learners, we hoped that by providing opportunities for students for “settle their brains” that students would become more self-aware of their own status of learning. We hoped that by recognizing when they felt their attention waning or lapsing, students would use self-regulation tools to improve their focus and engagement.
Hunch: Sitting and listening for long periods of time is not an effective way to learn. Secondly, because of engagement with technology, student learning needs have changed. Students have indicated that they require their learning to happen in short units and with multi-sensory support. Additionally, students tell us that they need tools that will assist them in maintaining focus, including using physical movement to assist their learning.
New Professional Learning: We read The Dolphin Parent by Shimi Kang, Calm, Alert, and Learning by Stuart Shanker, and Mindful Learning by Dr. Craig Hassed and Dr. Richard Chambers. We perused online resources and blogs. We reviewed mindfulness exercises for the classroom, and we developed a repertoire of brain breaks that are adaptable to different learning needs and goals. We also shared and exchanged ideas and success stories with other educators and colleagues.
We highly recommend The Dolphin Parent as it provides an insightful overview on how societal changes are impacting the learning and success of today’s children. Annabelle Allen’s blog – La Maestra Loca as https://lamaestralocablog.com – provides a wide variety of activity-based brain breaks for the second language classroom. A book we wish to explore in the future is Happy Teachers Change the World: A Guide for Cultivating Mindfulness in Education, by Thich Nhat Hanh and Katherine Weare.
Taking Action: We formally incorporated learning breaks in our lesson plans. As we noticed increased student engagement and focus after a learning break, we were encouraged to continue providing students with these opportunities to “settle their brains”. At first, the learning breaks were planned in advance and teacher-chosen. As time went on, students were given the opportunity to collectively and individually choose their own. This provided students a sense of ownership and control in their own learning.
Checking: The impact of learning breaks in our classrooms has been significant. Based on our observations from the beginning to the end of the year, students have been able to increase the length of their self-regulation and have been able to focus for longer periods of time. Because the class environment has changed, students feel more successful and connected to their learning.
We also surveyed students on their perception of the impact of learning breaks on their learning. Overwhelmingly, students noticed the benefits of learning breaks. Furthermore, students have been advocating for learning breaks in other classes.
Reflections/Advice: While class time is “precious”, learning breaks are not a “waste” of time. In fact, more class time is wasted when students are not engaged or focused. We therefore highly recommend the implementation of learning breaks in classes.
We both plan to continue using learning breaks in our classrooms and we seek to expand our repertoires. Robin would like to try more mindfulness exercises next year, while Tessa would like to experiment with more games.
Our simple advice – go for it!