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Making Meaning and Paying Attention

Making Meaning and Paying Attention


Because of the way our brains work, we can pay attention or we can make meaning, but we can't do both at the same time. Neither can our students.

Making meaning requires reflection on what has been learned. It takes time to make connections, develop further questions, and sort information so that it makes sense. Students don't automatically know how to do this, but they can be taught.


From kindergarten to second grade, students should only have about 6 minutes of direct instruction. Anything more than that isn't going to be helpful. Third through fifth graders can have about 10 minutes of direct instruction. Even adults cap out at about 15 minutes of direct instruction before the benefit is lost.

So, when you are teaching, focus on the one or two things you want your students to know or understand for the lesson. Explain the material during your direct instruction. Then, give the kids a task that will require them to reflect on the information. 


Here are some reflection activity suggestions:

- Draw a picture to summarize the information.

- Write a word, sentence, or paragraph to summarize the information.

- Tell a neighbor what the class just learned.


- Find a connection between the new information and something the student already knows. Write it down and then share with a friend.

- Do a sort that matches the information.

These reflection activities can be short. You can follow them up with a class debrief to further cement the information.

It may feel frustrating to take time away from instruction, but based on brain research, when you don't take these breaks, the kids aren't learning anyway.

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