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Brains, books and bytes - and teenagers


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From one of Nicola Morgan's training days for school librarians, about what reading does to the brain, effects of different sorts of reading, how reading improves wellbeing and how to help pupils through exams.

Published in: Education
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Brains, books and bytes - and teenagers

  1. 1. BRAINS, BOOKS BYTES and teenagers! with Nicola Morgan
  2. 2. More information: • My books – About the teenage brain – About teenage stress • Classroom resources: – Brain Sticks • Your handouts • My website: – And my blog • Free Brain Sane newsletter re wellbeing, brains, mental health, adolescence, teenage stress, science of reading, digital matters
  3. 3. The day: 1. Reading and the brain - does it matter what or how we read? – Simple/complex? Fiction/factual? Digital/print – online/e-reader 2. Reading and wellbeing - readaxation 3. Helping students face exams and beat stress 4. Conclusions, discussions and wind-down
  4. 4. Brain basic - 1 • The brain is “plastic” = everything we do changes our brain • Use it or lose it – what have you lost?
  5. 5. Brain basic - 2 • When we do something a lot, we grow relevant areas – (more connections, rather than more neurons) • London taxi driver study • Grow areas at expense of others – Time and space • TIME spent on activity is crucial
  6. 6. What does reading do to our brain? • Changes it – and therefore us • Not evolved to read (see Proust + the Squid) • So, time spent reading grows some networks at the expense of others – Visual/perceptual/spatial – Linguistic – Cognitive – Motor
  7. 7. Have we damaged our brains?! Matthew H. Schneps: An astrophysicist with dyslexia Quotes from Scientific American Mind, Aug 19 2014 “The Advantages of Dyslexia” Bet he can spell it, too
  8. 8. By learning to read, we change our brain permanently
  9. 9. Copyright Eric Chudler, University of Washington - reproduced by kind permission
  10. 10. We’re reading 3x as much as in 1980 1. More simple texts 2. More non-fiction 3. More online/screen See THE ORGANIZED MIND by Daniel Levitin
  11. 11. 1. Simple/complex • “Obscurantism” – remember more? • Research with Wordsworth: – Remember/comprehend more – More brain activity in language areas AND autobiog memory + emotion • Our brains like to be woken up • If text looks hard, our brain prepares
  12. 12. 2. Fiction/non-fiction • Should value all reading choices, but… • Research suggests fiction boosts empathy • Keith Oatley + Raymond Marr – – Such Stuff as Dreams (book) – Onfiction (blog) – Article on your handout • BUT: CAUTION re this research
  13. 13. Caution about this research • Necessarily very limited • Doesn’t account for different types of factual books • Crucial that children read • And listening to stories should have same benefit
  14. 14. Digital/print 1. Online: • Mostly information / non-fiction • Shorter text • Fast • Competition on page and in room – Decisions – Distractions
  15. 15. Suggested positives? • Getting better skimming? (Probably) • Getting better at finding info? (Yes, but not remembering. Might be OK?) • Better at avoiding distractions? (No) • Better at multi-tasking? (No)
  16. 16. Multi-tasking problems • “Bandwidth” problems – capacity is c.120bps • Loss of focus and concentration – * • Attempt causes stress and overload •  Lower performance on certain tasks – those requiring concentration Again, see The Organized Mind *Telegraph Feb 2016 “shorter attention span than goldfish”
  17. 17. Other digital negatives • Exhausting; low-level anxiety • Sleep is affected • We are remembering less • More TIME online = less what? – Physical exercise – (good for brain) – Time to think and be creative – Time to rest info-laden brains – techno-stress – Time for reading for pleasure, “engagement”
  18. 18. 2. Offline: ebook readers? • Growing evidence: digital may slightly impair comprehension + recall • Topography of printed page helps comprehension? • But research is ongoing and very specific – See New Scientist 29/10/2014 (handout) • Some e-readers also bring distraction • Some find harder to attain “engagement”?
  19. 19. How does this affect teenagers? • They must be connected – importance of group  continual connection/distraction – Dangers of exclusion from group • Less self-control, greater risk of over-use • May miss instructions; lack of focus during work • Short-termism – harder to look ahead
  20. 20. BREAK! Recipe for Brain Cake on my website!
  21. 21. BRAINS, BOOKS and BYTES with Nicola Morgan Part 2: Reading and Wellbeing
  22. 22. Reading for Wellbeing: Readaxation
  23. 23. Stress A. What is it? B. Why should schools care? C. What’s so special about teenage stress? D. What is the (evidence-based) role of reading? E. How can librarians and schools influence it?
  24. 24. What is stress?
  25. 25. Chemicals Adrenalin and cortisol • Heart beats faster and we breathe faster • Blood rushes to brain and muscles – Carrying oxygen and glucose (energy) • => SUPER-PERFORMANCE – stress is GOOD!
  26. 26. But stress becomes a problem if: 1. It becomes panic 2. Or cortisol builds up from lack of breaks (Affects: sleep, mood, mental + physical health, concentration, control, performance and more) Something else…
  27. 27. “Preoccupation” • Remember brain bandwidth: if part attention on one thing, cannot perform 100% on another – Eg intrusive neg thoughts; worries; self-consciousness – And “scarcity” – of money, time or food • Preoccupation diminishes performance/IQ: 1. Cognitive capacity (aspects of learning) 2. Executive control (aspects of behaviour) Both The Organized Mind and Scarcity cover this
  28. 28. Special teenage stresses
  29. 29. Teenage stress • Change: brains, bodies, chemistry, friends, fears, expectations, pressures • A regular schoolday • “New” stresses: 1. Exams: higher pressure, frequency + stakes 2. The internet and social media • Constant online activity • Intrusive thoughts, rumination – the overwhelming present
  30. 30. What is the role of reading? Reading Agency Literature Review 2015: • Self-esteem; greater life satisfaction • Increased vocab and general knowledge • Increased empathy + self-understanding • Better mood + relationships • Reduced stress
  31. 31. Why does reading work? • Readers believe it’s relaxing • Allows “engagement” / “flow” • Chance to forget present worries • Bibliotherapy – a long history • Clinical bibliotherapy • Developmental bibliotherapy – The Novel Cure – “Narrative transportation”  identification with character  insight + growth
  32. 32. Readaxation Definition: “Reading to relax, as a conscious strategy for wellbeing and stress management. The aim is to feel and function well.”
  33. 33. Does it matter what we/they read? • Must be free choice • No judgement by others – Fiction or factual? – Digital or print? • Anything which allows engagement
  34. 34. How do we make it happen? Victor Nell (1988) The psychology of reading for pleasure: Needs and gratifications. “Unless people experience reading as a pleasurable activity, they will stop reading and choose more enjoyable alternatives.” Also see Nell’s book, Lost in a Book
  35. 35. “Motivational Flowchart” Wahhh! A FLOWCHART!
  36. 36. Nell’s Motivational Flowchart If Adequate skills + Correct book selection + Expectation of benefit …  People will try pleasure reading.  If they find physiological + cognitive benefits,  they will do more pleasure reading.  If not, they will do other activity.
  37. 37. Suggested benefits • You feel less stressed • You can switch off from worries • Helps you get to sleep • Helps you understand other people better • Helps you face and understand problems • Helps you help your friends with problems • Helps you know more about the world • Improves imagination/creativity • Helps you do better at school • Increases vocabulary • Improves confidence and self-esteem
  38. 38. Use my Readaxation diary • See website today • Discuss possible benefits with students: give them autonomy
  39. 39. 2. We need to properly value it • Remember: relaxation is not a luxury – Too much stress  poor performance • This pleasure has no negative and lots of positive side-effects • How can you get this message to senior management?
  40. 40. 3. We need to make time for it
  41. 41. In summary • Relaxation is not a luxury but necessary for health and wellbeing • Readaxation is not the only way to relax but it is a perfect one, with evidence – AND it has many other benefits for performance • TELL SENIOR MANAGEMENT!
  42. 42. CAUTION: Children who read a lot risk becoming independent, open- minded, questioning, knowledgeable and CONFIDENT WARNING!
  43. 43.
  44. 44. LUNCH! Food, water, chat and breathe 
  45. 45. BRAINS, BOOKS and BYTES with Nicola Morgan Part 3: Helping students face exams
  46. 46. Brain basic • How we learn things + acquire skills – Grow pathways/networks between neurons – Pathways = branches (dendrites) and connections (synapses) – c 100 billion neurons – each with up to 10k dendrites
  47. 47. Neurons without Dendrites Young/unused neurons More developed neurons
  48. 48. Young/unused neurons More developed neurons
  49. 49. How we grow connections – Trying – Copying – Sleeping • Sleeping brain focuses on what we struggled with • So, failure is not a bad thing – (Socialise, exercise, breaks??)
  50. 50. Learning is affected by: • Stress • Sleep • Confidence / positivity / mood – “I can learn this” • Personality • Teaching • Concentration and focus • Using best ways to learn • The group dynamic and each student’s place in it
  51. 51. Concentration / focus Educate: • Fact: we cannot focus as well on two things – Though the effect depends on the task • So managing screen time is crucial • “You will get your work done faster and better if you switch off distraction” • Tools: pomodoro technique; Antisocial • Intrinsic motivation: experience of benefit
  52. 52. Stress strategies Educate re what stress IS – good and bad • “RELAXATION IS NOT A LUXURY” – Emphasise that relaxation helps performance – Teach about “preoccupation” and • Digital distraction • Cortisol effect – “Cup of stress”
  53. 53. The cup of stress
  54. 54. Strategies A. Breathing skills – for panic or general relaxation B. Down-time – activities to reduce cortisol ~ Different ~ Varied ~ Deliberate C. Perspective: ~ you are not alone ~ this is not forever ~ talk D. Teach intrusive thoughts tool
  55. 55. Intrusive thoughts tool • Every thought is a pathway in the brain • The brain learns by repetition, creating strong pathways that are easy to follow • But the brain can learn negative, unhelpful things, too => negative intrusive thoughts • We can replace with positive thought
  56. 56. Improve sleep
  57. 57. Tools for better sleep 1. Recognise that sleep affects mood, learning, health, stress 2. See my classroom resources – Brain Sticks 3. And your sheet of tips for pupils 4. Understand Sleep Hygiene
  58. 58. “Sleep hygiene” 1-2 hours before bed Aim: 1. Wind down to lower heart rate/stress 2. Stimulate melatonin (sleep hormone) • Remove daylight • Turn screens off 3. Create routine Many tips on handout
  59. 59. Another thing that affects learning • Personality –Introversion – QUIET by Susan Cain
  60. 60. Introversion/extroversion • Introverts are not necessarily “shy” • Spend huge energy in all social situations • More need for quiet time • If needs aren’t met => more stress • May feel inadequate - wrongly • Most school situations v stressful for them
  61. 61. The best ways to learn • (Highlighting, underlining generally NOT best) • Breaks at the right time: – Before a task is finished • Follow learning by exercise, sleep or chat • Test before learning • Spaced learning • Re-writing in own words • Teaching someone else How We Learn by Benedict Carey
  62. 62. Dyslexic students • Organisation and planning need help • Do not assume instructions have gone in • Do not assume all teachers understand • Extra need to be familiar with exam format • Extra need for emotional support • “Studying with dyslexia” – Pocket Study Skills, by Janet Godwin
  63. 63. BREAK!
  64. 64. How well do you look after your brain?! • Take the FLOURISH test
  65. 65. DISCUSSION - READAXATION • Might your school’s SMT be open to the readaxation message? • Different pupils will enjoy different benefits, so can you think of ways to engage all of them in discovering benefits of reading for pleasure?
  66. 66. Ten Things Schools Should Know See your handout
  67. 67. SHARE!
  68. 68. Free quarterly Brain Sane newsletter has much more about brains, reading, adolescence and stress
  69. 69. A Manifesto for Reading • Educate about the wellbeing benefits of R4P • Make time for reading in personal/school day • View R4P as essential, not luxury • Promote Readaxation as anti-stress strategy • Do it equally for all ages