Dan Pink, speechwriter, TV producer and acclaimed author, has recently published a new book When (http://www.danpink.com/books/when/). In it, Pink discusses how and when to educate and learn so that we can monopolize our day. He uses biology, economy, and psychology to understand how timing effects how we do what we do. When it seems that every second of our day is accounted for every single day, Pink elaborates on how to make the most of our hectic schedules. This includes the best time to take a test, learn a new concept, take a break, review new material, and so on. His concepts boil down to how every one of all ages can benefit more from less multitasking and more recess breaks.
Pink recently met with the education technology company EdSurge to discuss his book. He says we need to recognize the inherit patterns of our days to fully utilize the time we have. There have been many studies that show elementary students who are taught or tested on mathematics in the morning hours do considerably better than their classmates who are taught or tested in the afternoon. One study showed that “The difference between taking the test in the afternoon versus taking the test in the morning was akin to having missed two to three weeks of school that year,” Pink says.
He also comments on how vital breaks are in cognitive development and retention. Since the emergence of sleep studies, breaks have been highlighted as the key to high performance. We’ve all had the friend that brags about an all-nighter in school or at work and we think “wow that is amazing” or “they are so dedicated to their work,” but in actuality they are fools for jeopardizing their health first and their work second. Science has stated breaks are essential to overall performance, understanding, and creativity. In this way, breaks should not be seen as a diversion from the task but as an integral part of it.
While there is not a specific time period that is set for the most beneficial break, there are ways to make the most of it. When we are able to get up and move around, or even interact with the outside as opposed to staying indoors, we feel more restored and ready to resume our task. Also, for most students and educators, a quick ten minute break is very restorative, in addition to any allotted recess time.
As far as scheduling the day, it is still a bit tricky. Yet new research is coming all the time to help us better decide how to make the most of our day. For elementary and middle school students, we do have a few guidelines. From what we already know, the analytical work, like math, reading and writing, should be concentrated to the morning hours. This leaves the more creative works of art, music, and even physical education classes for the afternoon. Lastly we must remember to give students and teachers plenty of breaks to optimize the school day.