When teachers try to teach students in the class, for the first half of the hour they are attentive. In the next half, their concentration starts to decline. And towards the end of the period, their mind has flown away at least a mile further. A number of teachers show concern and worry regarding this to the principals and parents. So, when asked upon “Why they lose their attention?”, the students unanimously said, “Our teacher doesn’t give us brain breaks.”
WHAT ARE BRAIN BREAKS?
In the simplest words: ‘brain breaks are the time periods given to the brain to restore its attention and rejuvenate’. As students learn by using his or her senses (touch, speak, listen, move, imagine, hear), their brain needs to be in a constant state of work. During this, the receptors from the senses give signals to neurons which then sends signals to the brain to store information in the memory.
In this way, the neural paths get activated and the students retain what he has learned. However, the most detrimental disruptions to this neural network are stress and overload. Stress acts as a hindrance in the way of learning by obstructing the path of signals. You may have noticed that when you were stressed, you retained only a chunk of what you have learned.
The second is the overload-the lethargy that our brain encounters. As our physical body after a consistent work-out (running, gymming, playing or swimming) gets exhausted, similarly our brains hit exhaustion too. To relieve our body of the fatigue we take a ‘break’, likewise to restore our concentration our brain needs ‘brain breaks’.
In other words, brain breaks are organized learning activity shifts that foster the concentration and leverages the attention period during learning. This activity helps to remove disruptions that may come along the path. It also revitalizes the regions blocked by stress or overload.
Hence, the brain breaks switch activity to different networks to allow resting pathways to regain its calm focus. Ultimately, this leads to better memory, prolonged concentration, and lesser stress.
THE SCIENCE BEHIND BRAIN BREAKS
Whenever we read, listen or see anything, our brain perceives it as information. Now for that information to become a memory and get stored in the brain, it goes through a series of regions in the brain. It first passes through the ‘emotional filter’ called the amygdala and then reaches the prefrontal cortex.
When a student becomes stressed, anxious, overwhelmed, confused, the amygdala surges until this ‘emotional filter’ becomes a stop signal. Due to this, new information cannot travel to reach the prefrontal cortex and become a memory.
However, it must be noted that this can occur without stress when the amygdala exceeds its capacity. When it happens the amygdala is no longer able to efficiently conduct new information to the prefrontal cortex.
Brain breaks can be used to restore a calm emotional state which is required to return the amygdala from an overload state to an optimal state. This will further ensure the smooth flow of information across the brain regions.
HOW BRAIN BREAKS RESTORE BRAIN SUPPLIES
In our brain, the message (signal) is carried with the help of neurotransmitters-chemical flowing from one nerve cell to another. The gaps between two nerve cells-called synapses-also play an important role in the carriage of the message. It is these message carriers that facilitate emotional state, memory, and intelligence.
These message carriers or neurotransmitters are in limited supply at each gap (synapse) and can deplete after a time of as short as 10 minutes of doing a continuous learning activity (attentive listening, reading, drawing, etc).
The use of brain breaks can switch the type of mental activity which, in turn, shifts brain communication to fresh networks. These fresh networks have a fresh supply of neurotransmitters. Hence, this intermission allows fresh supplies of neurotransmitters by restoring it in the resting neural networks.
ROLE OF TIMING
The importance of timing in the technique of brain breaks is quite critical. It will decide whether the technique is effective and is applied at the right time. As a rule, brain breaks must be taken before distraction, boredom, and lethargy kick in. Or simply, precaution must be taken before the incident.
The attention capacity and concentration duration of each student are different, therefore the brain break frequency may vary. But it should be developed in such a way so as to make the brain activity before it goes off.
As a general rule, 10-15 minutes of concentrated study for elementary school demands a break of 5-8 minutes. Whereas, for middle schools, a concentrated study period of 20-30 minutes demands a break of 6-10 minutes.
It must be noted here that it is up to the teacher to design the time-table such that benefits all the students in the class. Therefore, he/she must decide the brain breaks duration after interacting and observing the study pattern of different students.
BRAIN BREAKS STRATEGIES
As with the negative disruptions, break breaks don’t cause any hindrance in the way of learning. There are some very simple strategies to apply brain break in your daily schedule. These can include stretching for a minute, deep breathing, moving to a different space, or singing a song. They are known to be helpful in revitalizing your brain.
Also, the teachers must note that they should make use of students’ responses and learning goals in designing the appropriate layout of brain breaks. Aligning the students’ mindset with the model of the schedule will result in an optimal and strategic outline of brain breaks. The time of brain break can be used to uplift mood and increase the motivation of students.
#1 UPLIFTING MOOD:
Mindfulness and self-awareness techniques can be leveraged to attain an emotional state that will save the amygdala from override. Or at least bring it back to its normal state. The teachers can instruct and guide students to develop the habit of calming themselves when they get overwhelmed. This will ensure that students can help themselves whenever they are stuck. In short, they will become self-capable.
According to neuroscience, there are some activities that increase the release of restorative neurotransmitters such as dopamine. For instance, laughing, moving, listening to music, short communication and deep breathing promotes a positive effect on mental health. These can be termed as good mood-boosters as well as great brain breaks.
Teachers can start by doing the following:
- Read aloud from a captivating and engaging book. It is a bonus if the book also delivers a good lesson or moral.
- Introduce physical activities in the schedule like jumping rope, stretching, or tossing the ball while the teacher asks questions. These activities increase the dopamine level and also promotes better oxygen flow across the body and brain. Better oxygen levels mean better and efficient functioning of body parts.
- Tell students to imitate the characters in history, the way they act, speak or move. They can also be told to imitate certain mathematical process or science phenomena.
Whenever a topic or lesson of high importance but of less personal relevance to the students is to be taught, motivating the students can draw their attention. Teachers can start with the following as an add-on to the brain breaks:
- Tell students anecdotes about the author, scientist or mathematician’s history. Tell them about their early life when they were of the same age as that of the students. This will draw their attention and make the subject more personal
- Teachers can also use dopamine boosts such as inviting students to tell their experiences about how they have applied the learning. They can also share their stories of what they have learned outside the school.
After a short time, with the help of brain breaks, students can return to their normal study. This brief interval will allow their amygdala and neurotransmitters to return to their optimal state. Not only the students but also the teachers will reap the benefits of this strategy to rejuvenate brain capacity.