10/22/12

Bored Kids Talk During Service



Watching TV while Browsing Pinterest
     Have you ever kicked your shoes off  to lounge on a big fluffy sofa, and got so sucked into a movie that it consumed ALL your attention? Your eyes were glued to the screen, the idea of texting or surfing the Internet did not even cross your mind. My husband and I have a litmus test for prime time tv and the Netflix that streams to our Samsung flat screen tv. It's this...do we get sucked in enough, with our eye balls glued to the screen to put down the iPad. To shut the laptop? To ignore the beckoning siren of our black shiny smart phones? If so, we deem it worthy. We vote our TV and movie likes or dislikes with our attention. The same holds true on Sunday mornings in youth groups everywhere.

    A few weekends ago, I was sucked into watching captain America on DVD. I was nursing my little one, with my well worn burlap Tom's kicked off my feet below, and I was one happy mama snuggled contently on the sofa. My soft, warm, cuddly baby girl in my arms. I had my iPad propped between the arm of the sofa and my elbow. Ready to watch the movie, feed a baby, and browse Pinterest all at the same time. After watching the movie for a few minutes, I set aside the iPad. I was sucked in to the story, my eyes glued to the screen. My cell phone and Facebook ignored. The captain captured my attention. I started quoting Captain America to my family for days after. How do we capture the attention of middle schoolers on a Sunday morning? What do you do to win them over and suck them into your talk? Do they shut their ipads to listen? My church has one of the best Bible teachers on the planet, so I am always challenged to step my teaching up a notch.

     When students are bored on Sundays during sermons, youth talks, or long church services, they talk. They wiggle. They destroy offering envelopes and rip apart their sticky name tags. They text, write on their arms with black ball point pens, and if they are sneaky, they are on Facebook too.  Adults are not much different. We pretend to read the Bible and take notes on our ipads, but truth be told, are we checking our Fantasy Football match ups? In what has been termed "Brain Based Learning" research tells us:
  "Learning involves both focused attention and peripheral perception. The brain absorbs 
   information of which it is directly aware, but it also absorbs information that lies beyond the 
   immediate focus of attention. In fact, the brain responds to the entire sensory context in which 
   teaching and communication occur." -The National Education Association
Am I Interested Enough in What You Are Saying
 to Close My Ipad?  

     Our talks do not have multi-million dollar budgets and can in no way compete with the entertainment industry, but the power of grasping the focused attention of both adults and students alike is essential for learning to take place. When we grab their attention AND utilize a well thought out learning environment,  great things happen. 

     When youth group kids look up, lean in, and have a big smile on their face, I know their brain is learning through focused attention.  Stand on stage and teach a dynamic lesson which grabs the full attention of students, you will see distractions substantially lessened. By all means grab their peripheral attention too.What lies beyond their immediate attention (you), is what is called peripheral perception (everything else). When the peripherals are connected to the lesson being taught, a thriving learning environment emerges.

     This only happens when their focused attention is ours. You can immediately tell when this is happening when all eyes are on you and you know you have their attention. No one is texting or placing stickers on the people in front of them, my personal challenge to myself, to try and be that dynamic in creating a learning experience  Not without fail for sure! The peripherals like sermon notes, back ground music, Bible verses, the Powerpoint on the screen in front of them, props on stage, a banner or art with the current lesson series on stage, the decor of the room, etc, all work together to help our students learn.  A sensory experience which communicates our message to teens. 

     If we don't have their focused attention, I am pretty sure that their peripheral attention is lost too. Their peripheral attention is now on the cute boy or girl sitting across from them. They stare at the clock, glance down at cell phones, ipads or ipods. There are whispered conversations between students. When I am not on my A game, I can tell that the really bored students suddenly need a bathroom break or a drink of water. I lost their focused attention. I lost their peripheral attention too. Youth leaders (me included) can sometimes be talking heads with words coming from our mouths. Students can hear what we are saying, but no actual learning or active listening is taking place. Kind of like when my Colombian  Grandma comes over to babysit my baby girl and the Spanish TV is on. I can hear it, I can pick up a word or two, but there is no comprehension. No understanding.  

    How do we create better youth talks using what we know from Brain Based Learning principles?  Here are a few I found at Brain Health and Puzzles (http://www.brainhealthandpuzzles.com). I am working hard to integrate these principles into my youth talks. 

Brain Based Learning Principles

Here are some tips to make use of brain based learning principles.
  • Try teaching with real experiences and interactions.
  • Take advantage of student's interests and combined those with lesson material. Group discussions and peripheral learning lend more support to lessons.
  • Teaching should progress from known facts to new, unknown facts.
  • Include art, music, games, audio/visual aides and jokes to appeal to different types of learning and increase lesson retention.
  • Use the material taught to solve realistic problems.
  • Try to give feedback. Where age appropriate, reports or self assessments are a great way for learners to understand their progress.

  



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