As I sit down to blog after more than two weeks away, I realized two important things. One, I do not feel guilty at all about taking that break from writing, and two, we need to teach this important life skill to our students.
I try to structure my writing classes so students naturally build up their writing muscles and ideas through a series of low-stakes writing tasks often sandwiching class discussion, reading, and other activities. I do this because I know, based on my own experience and research as well as extensive research by others, that good writing (and not coincidentally good thinking) requires an extensive support system and preparation. But somewhere along the way I lost the practice of telling my students that pacing yourself and taking regular breaks are important to the development of good ideas and good writing. I used to regularly talk to my students about writing in their sleep and other passive writing techniques that don’t involve a pen or keyboard, because I know that often my best writing gets done when I’m not actively thinking about what I want to write. However, somewhere, somehow, I lost the habit. I need to fix that this coming semester.
But, perhaps even more important, I also need to remind my students how important it is to take a break once in a while. We all need regular breaks during the day, the week, the semester, and, far too often, we do not allow ourselves one and we do not allow our students breaks either. Consider some of the reasons why we should consider giving our students a break.
In Finland, teachers traditionally give their students a 15-minute break every hour throughout the day, because it helps students refocus their attention and energy (and think of the advantages for teachers as well!).
I have a number of friends who employ the Pomodoro Technique (or strategic variations) to make large (or dreaded tasks) more manageable. Frequent users report that this is a great strategy to keep you (or your students) fresh and focused throughout the day as well as cutting down on frustration levels.
On Edutopia, Lori Desautels argues that regular brain breaks can help us manage introductions to complicated new material and calm ourselves when addressing challenging tasks. She notes brain breaks “refocus our neural circuitry with either stimulating or quieting practices that generate increased activity in the prefrontal cortex, where problem solving and emotional regulation occur.”
Structure your day and your classes around regular brain breaks and I bet you will see improved engagement and productivity. I would strongly advocate employing strategies, such as low-stakes writing, to help transition into or out of breaks or even as the occasional break from strenuous brain work. Sometimes we need to download our thoughts and ideas to ready ourselves for the next step.
Do you believe in brain breaks? How do you give your students brain breaks?