"Brain Breaks" give students better focus
10 september, 2017
Guest blogger: Jonas Kärnström, Lead Teacher at VRS Djursholm
Can we improve student focus and, ultimately, their academic results by having them “move more”? I have been thinking about this notion for some time. I have read studies about just this idea – and am testing some ideas at VRS Djursholm.
Three years ago, two colleagues and I attended a conference for physical education teachers where a Swedish teacher named Martin Lossman (teacher at the Östra Gymnasium in Huddinge) told about a study in Naperville High School in the suburbs of Chicago, USA where the school worked with the moderate to intense activities daily with the students.
This school had successfully incorporated moderate to intense exercise each morning before reading and math class and that gave better academic performance in school. The students improved their results on standardized tests and in classroom attention rates. The school engaged students both in early morning exercise class and Brain Breaks during class help students stay focused.
Not long after this conference, Pernilla Hemmingsson (Head of School) and I had the opportunity to attend a lecture where two teachers from Naperville presented how they worked with pulse training and how they had conducted brain breaks.
Brain Breaks should take place after about 25-30 minutes into the lesson. The teachers introduce some type of activity to help the student brain that might be starting to turn off – ”reboot” / restart. The effects of a brain break should be that the students, with a little movement, restart the brain through cross lateral movements so that they will be able to hold focus the whole class and thus perform better.
We even got to test it for ourselves. Based on this experience and further reading, we decided to introduce this approach at VRS.
Last year, we started with one 7th grade class who had 30 minutes more movement each week before the math lessons to improve their performance, and we began to introduce Brain Breaks in the theoretical lessons. This year, we will continue the work with the same class (now in 8th grade). They will have an additional sports class. We are also starting with a new 7th-grade class. They will have 30 minutes extra before math x 2 additional sports classes each week.
In addition, when VRS students have their national tests, we will offer training in the morning before the tests to give the students the best chance to succeed.
We have held information and training workshops for teachers and students on the effects of movement and the benefits of exercise prior to learning and Brain Breaks.
The idea of ”more movement” is being expanded in other ways as well. Some teachers have tested Walk and Talk methods when having their individual development discussions with students. I am thinking of testing this approach with my year 9 students when we have our development talks later this term.
Even if the effects may not be felt immediately but we believe that increased movement and Brain Breaks will eventually lead to better student results.
Every week, we post three new brain breaks that teachers can use in their lessons on our school portal. Here is one example:
1. Stand Up.
2. Start by waving your right hand in front of you – left to right. Your palm should be facing away from you while keeping your hand with your fingers pointing up.
3. Now stop that hand and have your left hand in front of you waving it up and down.
4. Now practice moving them at the SAME TIME. Do not move your hands going diagonally.
5. Now switch to have your right hand up and down and your left hand left and right. Do this faster and switch often to make it more difficult.
6. Lastly, to increase the difficulty, have your arms crossed while doing this.
Other resources for Brain Breaks: