Good for the Brain

The Levitin article sat beside the shopping list and beneath my daughter's water bottle and our S&P shaker last week.

The Levitin article sat beside the shopping list and beneath my daughter’s water bottle and our S&P shaker last week.

I read by “Hit the Reset Button in Your Brain” by Daniel J. Levitin in last week’s NY Times Sunday Review Section. It resonated with me strongly so I tore it out and handed it to my husband when he returned from breakfast with Isabelle.  It remained on our kitchen counter last week until I tucked it away yesterday. I have it in my office so I can bring it out whenever one of feels like we need permission to take a break.

As a result of reading Levitin’s piece, I started writing out my to do lists last week so I could think through the work I had to do in addition to the e-mails I needed to send, the exercise I needed to do, etc.

In addition, I walked away from my computer and put away my devices so I could really focus on some professional reading I’ve been meaning to do for awhile.  Reading Levitin’s piece reminded me of the importance of focusing on ONE task for a sustained period of time.His article also made me think about the importance of downtime. I’ve written about things like being busy and hitting the reset button in the past. (You can read the entire miniseries I wrote about taking care of yourself and others by clicking here.)

As summer winds down and the school year begins, I wanted to share Levitin’s since it has implications for us as adults. But it worthy of thinking about in the context of school, writing workshop in particular. Children need an environment free of distractions (Or as few as possible, because you have to confer and do a midworkshop teaching point!) where they can build their muscles as writers. In order to write independently, students need teachers to help them build their stamina to write for sustained periods of time. (This happens gradually over the first few weeks of school.) Here’s what Levitin wrote that relates to this:

Increasing creativity will happen naturally as we tame the multitasking and immerse ourselves in a single task for sustained periods of, say, 30 to 50 minutes. Several studies have shown that a walk in nature or listening to music can trigger the mind-wandering mode. This acts as a neural reset button, and provides much needed perspective on what you’re doing.

Daydreaming leads to creativity, and creative activities teach us agency, the ability to change the world, to mold it to our liking, to have a positive effect on our environment.

Breaks are a good thing. Our brains need them since they weren’t designed to go full speed 24/7. I know phrases like “time on-task” and “sense of urgency” are uttered in schools, but we have to honor our students by giving them some down time so they can do their best work.

How can you help your students do their best, in writing workshop and in other subject areas, despite all of the technological and environmental distractions that surround them? Please share what you’re thinking by leaving a comment.