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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.

13 thoughts on “Good for the Brain

  1. I focused on your mention of daydreaming at the end of the post. My first thought was to have my 2nd graders begin some Writing Workshops with 5 minutes of daydreaming – stretching out on blankets and pillows, closing our eyes, staring out the window – to clear our minds and get us ready for some creative writing.
    I may have to download the article for the administration staff to back up my argument that daydreaming is valuable!


  2. I have been thinking so much about this very thing, Stacey. Your post is so timely as we move into the school year and into the fray of multi-tasking. Brene Brown in Daring Greatly talks about our need to create distractions for ourselves as a way of numbing anxiety. She suggests turning off the devices and being present with the moment, with what we are feeling, with all of it. Writing can cause a great deal of anxiety in adults and children. We have to help kids work though the process of dealing with those feelings. Creating an environment free of distractions is a great way to do that.


  3. Really we all do our best learning (and producing) in short spans — 20 to 35 minutes. When I had a self-contained classroom for 5th grade I routinely set my timer for brain breaks, 2 minute stretch breaks, about every half hour. My students were way more focused as a result.
    Now, teaching intervention, each session is only a half hour or so and that works beautifully for struggling readers. Teachers justify talking on and on and making long lessons by “so my students need more time on the concept” but that’s an indication to reteach a different way tomorrow — not to drag on the time.


  4. Trying to do too much and not having any down time is not good for anyone. I have been making an effort to multi-task less and be more in the moment. Giving people our full attention is a gift. It lets then know we care. I deserve that same gift from myself, so I want to listen to my mind and body when it tells me I need some rest, quiet time, and a break from the hustle and bustle of life. I know I will feel better physically, emotionally, and spiritually for doing this. One goal I have is to disconnect from technology by 8 PM so my brain can settle for the night. Technology is to make things more convenient, not take over our lives. We must choose to be the master of our technology domain and not let technology rule us. Thanks for sharing your previous miniseries, Stacey. Can’t wait to read it!


  5. I think that managing distractions and setting personal limits using technology will perhaps be one of the biggest challenges for this generation.

    I’m reminded of Wal-Marts marketing strategy once you’re in their store. Everything has a purpose from the lighting, location of items, and the Greeter at the door. That purpose is to entice customers to spend money on goods they may not have otherwise planned on spending money on.

    I suppose you can parallel this idea with time spent with technology – to some degree. Facebook, Twitter, video games, our mobile devices, tv and the like that end up distracting us from a larger purpose, whatever that may be. In some cases, kids and even adults find themselves pulled into these particular digital spaces and develop non-time-managed habits.

    I believe we as educators and parents are charged with modeling what a balanced life can look like. Going off the grid for awhile, turning off wi-fi from time to time and turning towards those closest to us is perhaps one way to begin to model for the younger ones around us.

    However, how do we manage the day to day distractions in the midst of our digital lives? Going off the grid for a week is one thing but what does a balanced life look like in the middle of a work week? I suppose it looks different for every family and each of us.

    I appreciate you taking the time to write this post. I certainly don’t claim to know all the answers nor have I “arrived” but I’m thinking about this important topic, much due to this article. Thanks again and I look forward to the continued journey.


    1. I often reply quickly since I don’t like to come back to too many emails. As you know, I’m at Highlights right now. I have a vacation message on my email so I can give myself the gift of having more time to respond.


  6. This is a really important post and article. I think I will hang a reminder of this in my office too! I was so glad you shared it or I might have missed it. I have had many conversations recently with friends and colleagues about our need for quiet spaces. This article and your post are good validations of that.


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