The 30 Second Rule

September 22, 2014 — Leave a comment

“If what you’re explaining takes more than 30 seconds, either you’re not explaining it clearly, or the concept is currently too difficult for the child..”

But what exactly does that mean? We mentioned the 30-second rule a few weeks back in our “Dealing with study tantrums” post but we didn’t really delve into the reasoning behind the rule and why it’s so important to consider the way in which we present ideas and concepts to children.

Before we continue, though, it’s worth noting that the 30-second rule applies best to short-answer questions on fundamental concepts (fractions, decimals, areas or metric units.) There are teaching strategies for problem-solving and mathematical reasoning, which require constructing a more lengthy argument, but that’s a topic for another day.

Our attention spans vary, not only from age to age, but also depending on the time of day, the type of activity we engage in, and our own disposition towards the subject at hand. It’s widely agreed that children’s attention spans are much shorter than those of adults, so it’s very important to keep explanations concise and to the point.

But how do we do that? Here are some suggestions if you find yourself past the 30 second mark:

#1. Ask yourself: Do I understand what I’m trying to explain?

Sometimes we need to check with ourselves whether this concept is clear to us or not. If it isn’t, it’s worth looking for a way to explain it to yourself, so that you can then explain it to your child.

#2. Consider your presentation – are you going overboard with the explanations? Or are you getting lost in an example?

Some people understand things better when the concept is contextualized (ex. linking fractions to baking a cake.) Some would rather have the concept presented to them straightforwardly. The best explanations are a combination of both, but it’s easy to go overboard on either side. If you rely on one, why not try out the other for a while?

#3. Break it down.

Consider what you are explaining. Can it be simplified into two or more steps? Or perhaps you need to go back to basics and build from there. If you have a problem with fractions, go back to illustrating basic ones using a pie chart, then build up from there.

#4. Take a break.

Studies would suggest that focusing too much on a single task diminishes our capacity for understanding. If you and your children are finding it hard to focus, why not take 3 minutes for a cup of tea and a biscuit before you review your explanation? The solution might well present itself.

What is the teaching rule you swear by?

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