My mindfullness was wandering

I’ve experienced mindless learning and mindful learning, but didn’t know they each had a name.  Langer’s example of arriving at a destination in a car and not remembering the exact trip there is the perfect example, and has happened to me before.  So has reading several paragraphs, or pages, and having no recollection of what I read (it happened while reading part of one of Langer’s articles, for full disclosure).

I absolutely do not want my students to drift into midlessness during my class.  But I’m sure has happened before and might happen again.  It is a challenge with 400 students in one lecture hall.  In the past I’ve tried to incorporate humor into my lectures.  This is exceptionally hard for me because everyone who knows me will readily admit I am not funny, or if I am it is purely accidental.  I’ve tried to add meme’s to my lectures to keep students interested; sometimes it works, sometimes I’ve inadvertantly chosen one that is outdated (more applicable to my age group than theirs).

What I learned most from this weeks’ readings was that simple changes in wording might be more effective than failed attempts at humor or coolness.  The idea that facts are relevant from multiple view points (the Christopher Columbus and U.S. Civil War are excellent examples) is something I think I can incorporate into my lectures.  I imagine  using an interactive tool, like mentimeter (Dean DePauw uses this a lot), could enhance this approach.


Changing readings to the TedTalk from Sir Ken Robinson, I find it ironic (see what I did there?) that it’s a Britain who so succinctly described the problems in the American educational system.  We are teaching to the test too much.  We are treating each student as if they were the same.  I support his approach of increased individualization.  As he states, though, that won’t work until there is a paradigm shift in our country about how teachers are perceived and treated.  Well before I became a teacher I felt that teachers are as important as, and should be paid as much as, doctors or maybe even professional athletes.  My children and I have experienced some of the best and some of the worst teachers there are.  If teaching was respected and well paid enough that it was highly competitive, only the best teachers would be hired.


Coming full circle on the readings, if all teachers were of that high caliber, the classroom experience would be much improved.  Then I imagine students would rarely, if ever, be mindlessly going through a school day.  Perhaps, like Finland, students wouldn’t drop out of school.

15 Replies to “My mindfullness was wandering”

  1. When I look back at my undergraduate experience, I find that the professors that had the largest impact on my life weren’t the ones who used the funniest memes or were the coolest — they were the professors who displayed that they cared about their students more than just as numbers on a page and they really wanted their students to learn more about something about which they were passionate. I don’t think you have to worry about trying to be “cool” (which is such a fickle term), just be yourself and care about your students and your subject! Showing you care makes them care too. 🙂

  2. Thanks mgbullar for your support. It’s hard to be funny or cool. The longer I teach and the more I learn, the clearer it is to me that showing students I care is really most important. Of course, in my case, it’s hard to convey that to all 400 students in my class!

    1. Agree 100%. I think it’s way more important to be yourself than to entertain. While students do respond to the performative aspect of lecturing, I think Meredith is right about what really moves students — sharing your passion with them and letting them know that you appreciate them for the unique and wonderful human beings they are.

  3. I also agree that my favorite teachers were not those that were funny but those who cared more about their students learning than making a perfect bell curve. Since starting grad school, I have had to go back to take some undergrad courses and find that the best teachers are those that respect their students (sadly, a number do not). I find that if they respect my time, the fact that some students learn differently, and don’t try to fail a quarter of them, I tend to roll my eyes less in class, and actually learn more because, in turn, I respect them more as well.

  4. I concur with you insofar that teachers need to be paid more, respected more, and trained more (maybe?). Howbeit, I would disagree on individualization part. According to me, individualization is not the problem, low student:teacher ratio and resulting deficient support (to students) is the problem.

  5. HI Robin,

    Thanks for the thoughtful post–and the honesty on having a mindless lapse. I think that happens to all of us. It might be impossible to be mindful all the time, but it is important to be cognizant of that fact and strive to be mindful when it matters most.

    So I can’t imagine what it’s like teaching to a room of 400, but I commend your creativity and attempts to capture and retain their attention however you can. (Wouldn’t that be a nice professional development workshop to take? “1001 Ways to Nail the Hook: Attention & Mindfulness in Large Classrooms” Wow, a sell-out!)

    And thanks for bringing up Mentimeter. If I was aware of it, I forgot about it, so I appreciate having this interactive tool in my tool-set.

    I agree that with a paradigm shift, education will undoubtedly improve. Like you mentioned with you and your children and bad teachers: I’ve also experienced the best and the worst. Wouldn’t it be great if students didn’t have years when they had to suffer through an awful teacher/teaching environment? I dream of a day when teachers are valued as they should be in our society. In elevating the profession, we will all benefit.

  6. I agree with all of the above comments, that if we show we care, then it makes more impact. But also, in a class as large as with 400 odd students, it is not possible to individually attend to everyone. I feel for such scenarios, the most effective way to hold student’s attention is to be really enthusiastic and energized. Enthusiasm is infectious! So if the teacher is really passionate about what he/she is teaching and that really shows up in his/her body language and interactions, the students tend to enjoy and follow. At least as a student, I always felt more involved in such classes where the lecturer would walk about, try to explain stuff with gestures and hand motions and frequently ask the students to answer questions!

    1. Riya,
      You add another key component to good teaching (in my opinion) – enthusiasm. I’ve seen it done really well. I feel that I have moments where this comes across and when it does I’m rewarded by the looks of engaged students (and the occasional applause). Of course it’s hard to be enthusiastic for 75 minutes and harder to make some topics (tolerance stack-up analysis, for example) exciting. Regardless, I agree it is important to try. Thanks for your comments.

  7. Hi Vibhav,
    Thanks for your comment. I agree that low student:teacher ratio is definitely a problem that needs addressing. However I don’t think it is independent of more individualized teaching. I believe that improving one would directly allow more of the other. While it isn’t realistic to expect teachers to individualize learning for every student I think, as in most things, there is a middle ground that would benefit students without over burdening teachers (with the explicit assumption that teachers are better respected, better paid, etc.).

  8. Hi Robin,
    The use of interactive tools to facilitate (and even gauge) class participation and discussion is a really good idea, especially in a class of 400. That’s more like delivering a keynote speech than teaching (at least in a certain understanding of the word). I wonder if taking an approach in that kind of setting to try to inspire and encourage students (very much like a keynote speaker at a conference) is viable? It might not be, but I’m just thinking about how you can align your actions to your setting. You mentioned mentimeter as a good tool. Other similar tools include Today’s Meet, Poll Everywhere, Socrative, etc. (Here’s a bigger list:

    1. Gary,
      Thank you SO much for the list of tools to increase inter-activity. I’ve thought about and even tried to make the lecture more like a Ted Talk but usually I’m having to convey information that ruins that whole vibe.

  9. Thank you for your post and for pointing out that our teachers need to be paid more. I do think that providing higher compensation for teachers in a generally great thing (and needs to be done), but I also want to point out that I don’t necessarily think it is a cure all. I think most people will tell you (reading the comments I feel like this is the case) that the best teachers are the ones that teach because they care about their students and love educating. They are willing to go above and beyond to make sure their students learn and are generally willing to sacrifice for that goal (their time, energy, effort). Yes, increasing teachers’ pay likely makes this sacrifice feel more appreciated (and maybe encourages others to go the extra mile), but in my opinion it takes a special person to do the things needed to be a special teacher.

    Increasing salaries may attract ‘smarter’ people, but do ‘smarter’ people make ‘better’ teachers? Are people who are only interested in teaching because of increased pay the type of people who will sacrifice and be motivated to go above and beyond for someone else’s education? I can’t say for sure that they will be. (Granted, it also might motivate current teachers to try harder – which would be a benefit)

    Yet again… I think teachers should be paid more. Full stop. But I also don’t think having people primarily motivated by money is a great foundation for becoming educators and strictly increasing salaries doesn’t, imo, foster the mindset needed to be a great teacher.

    Regarding the idea about being smarter = better teachers … I don’t always think that is the case, especially at the K-12 range. In fact, I feel one of the most underrated aspects of teaching is understanding why someone doesn’t understand (the so called muddy points) and I feel that the smartest among us struggle to see why ‘you’ don’t see things like ‘I’ see them. It’s hard to explain how to solve an ‘easy’ equation (or question) when you can’t or don’t understand why someone doesn’t think it’s ‘easy’.

    Maybe this begs the question… can we all be great teachers? Is being a great teacher something you can teach?

  10. It might not be the best approach, but inserting humor into a lecture has been known to keep mine and some of my colleagues interest, although it doesn’t come naturally to some of us. I think utilizing interactive tools like the mentimeter or multiplayer thumb wrestling exercise are a great way to get students involved while keeping the content relevant. I think we can best increase mindfulness by engaging with students rather than talking at them.

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