Engage with knowledge despite unfocused gloom of classrooms

Gwen Ueding | Cartoonist

By The Editorial Board

We all have that one class that makes it difficult to get out of bed or that is a motivation-sucking void of our attention.

Having trouble focusing is a common occurrence with students. The average studying or school-related attention span is 45 minutes — shorter than most classes. Going through a full day of classes takes a lot of energy, and staying attentive is easier said than done.

That being said, education is a privilege and is incredibly important. As a student or professor, we have an obligation to make the most of our time in the classroom. The effort must come from both sides.

As a professor, it’s vital to understand your personal learning styles and be attentive to your students’ needs. No two students are the exact same with their learning and studying habits; however, listening to a lecture for 50-75 minutes is not the most productive way to acquire knowledge.

Baylor University’s website has a section on effective lectures and goes into how “instructors can use lectures to help students easily acquire knowledge of terms, basic facts, and simple concepts. Lectures are as effective, but not more effective, than other methods in transmitting simple information (Bligh, 2000).”

There is a wide variety of learning styles. The main four are visual, auditory, reading and kinesthetic. Also known as the VARK model, the learning styles are defined as the different ways people accumulate knowledge, and most students fall into multiple categories. According to an article published in the National Library of Medicine — for which 100 medical students were studied — “one single approach to teaching does not work for every student or even for most of the students.”

While students have different preferences in the classroom, professors are partial to an array of teaching styles. So, students might not be able to control the format of their class, but there are ways to remain focused during a class that don’t necessarily align with a certain learning style.

The first step is figuring out what your main learning styles are. This can help determine the types of notes you take, when you need a break and how to study.

Setting up small and nondisruptive brain breaks for yourself during class to reset can be really helpful. These might be as simple as sipping on water or taking a short bathroom break. Limiting technology distractions, bringing a snack and taking notes with colored pens can help make the classroom setting more engaging.

As for professors, knowing your class and what students prefer is a part of creating a successful environment. Teaching a classroom full of college students can’t be easy. Professors have a lot on their plate, and it would be unrealistic to assume they can set up their classes to align with every single student’s expectations.

To check the pulse of a group of students before the semester starts, send out a survey at the beginning of the class regarding what the students’ expectations are and what they think the class should be like. It could be a helpful tool in catering to multiple learning styles.

In addition, changing up the format of a lecture can help reach the varied learning preferences. For example, instead of just lecturing or cold-calling students, put together small groups or “turn to a neighbor” activities before larger discussions to warm up the conversation and increase participation.

Even though appealing to every need isn’t realistic, getting a read on how students learn best and communicating expectations will always go a long way.

The semester is coming to a close, and a new one is right around the corner. Take education and the diverse intelligence of classrooms seriously. Not everyone learns or teaches the same, but with communication and reflection, both sides of the podium can benefit.