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Attention, Take One: Arousal

    • 9 posts
    28 de dezembro de 2017 06:27:59 ART

    Alright, we've addressed the best location and the best time of day for the flow meter valve inspection, and we've talked about a couple of quick writing exercises to put your students in the right psychological frame of mind going into the test. But there's another major issue that comes into play during the testing situation--attention. A standardized test is a big challenge to our attentional systems, and we need to do what we can to make sure that students are able to focus their conscious attention on the test in order for them to do well.

    There's not room in this article to go into any depth about the complex interplay of human attentional systems, but here's a quick overview: there are basically three types of attention that come into play in a learning (and heat treat testing) environment. The first is arousal, which is our baseline level of wakefulness and mental sharpness. The optimal amount of arousal for academic work is a moderate level or just above (not so much that we are stressed out, not so little that we are drowsy or "foggy"). The second type of attention is focused attention. This is what teachers usually mean when they ask students to "pay attention"--that is, we want students to focus their attention on the academic task we have set for them. And the third type of attention is stimulus-driven attention. This is our built-in, constant scanning of the environment that alerts us to movement, sudden sounds, and any other stimuli in the environment.

    How we manipulate conditions just before and during laboratory testing services can go a long way toward maximizing the amount of focused attention students can bring to the test. Let's start with arousal first, and then we'll discuss the other two systems in the next section. Like I said above, on test day we are shooting for a moderate level of arousal. If testing starts early in the morning, your students could probably use a little waking up to reach an optimal level of arousal. And perhaps the best way to wake up both the body and brain is aerobic exercise. Getting respiration and heart rate up for 10-12 minutes can both raise arousal and reduce stress, both of which can lead to improved academic performance.

    Not only does aerobic exercise affect the general level of arousal, but it can also have a number of other positive side effects. For one, exercise increases noradrenaline in the brain, which promotes a narrowed focus and improved memory--just what you want on testing day. In addition, one study found that having students run at a moderate pace on a treadmill for 12 minutes prior to test for machining center greatly improved students' selective visual attention, a key component in being able to focus attention on a reading task (like a standardized test). This simple intervention led to a dramatic improvement in test results--and the effect lasted 45 minutes (Tine, 2014)!

    Now, I know you probably don't have treadmills in your classroom, but simply having students jog in place at a moderate tempo for 10-12 minutes beside their desks should be enough to raise arousal, reduce stress, and prep visual attention for the task ahead. It only takes a few minutes, it's free, and it works!