Maximum learning occurs when learners are in the high-focused attention sweet spot. Parents can observe and gauge where their children are in relation to the sweet spot and support them in reaching the high-focused attention area.
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Steve: 00:34 Finding the “Goldilocks” challenge sweet spot. Imagine a continuum if you would, with these four words placed along the continuum. Boredom, comfort, attention, anxiety. So picture if you would, starting all the way on the right, we have boredom. As we move to the left, we get to comfort. As we move further to the left, we get to attention and then the last spot on our continuum is anxiety. Can you identify when as a adult learner, you find yourself at different spots on that continuum? Can you picture being bored when you’re reading a report that’s perhaps taking too long to get to the main point or you’re in one of those online meetings where the topics currently being discussed are not related to you? Are you comfortable when you’re reading a book or an article about a favorite topic of yours? Would you describe yourself at attention when you’re identifying how a new recipe differs from something that you’ve perhaps already made?
Steve: 02:08 And then, for you, when does anxiety come into learning or carrying out a task? For me, it’s that time that I’m working with the Ikea directions and I can’t decide which screw to use next or which way to turn the two pieces. As you watch your learners at home working, can you spot when your child is at different spots on that continuum, what do they look and sound like when they’re bored and how’s that different from being comfortable or at attention and what are the signs that anxiety has set in? You’ll pick these patterns up as you watch your learner knowing that they are different. And those of you with more than one child at home can probably spot the difference when they are anxious, but they show it in different ways or bored and they show it in different ways. Now, where on this continuum do you think we make the maximum gains in our learning?
Steve: 03:30 Not just one of the spots of bored, comfort, attention or anxiety, but any spot along that continuum. I want to explore in this podcast, a sweet spot and that’s the spot that’s between attention and anxiety. It marks a spot that we might call high-focused attention. The sweet spot. On this continuum, there’s two places where learning won’t occur and that’s the two ends of the continuum. When my anxiety gets high, I step into what’s known as the fight or flight or freeze syndrome. Learning shuts down. It’s not going to happen. The same is true at bored. Our brains are actually designed to protect us from being bored, so as that meeting goes on too long on something you’re not interested in, your mind begins working on the grocery list or tackling something that you want to do when you get home. It in effect, is protecting you from boredom.
Steve: 04:46 Now, learning can occur along the rest of that continuum. The magical spot, that sweet spot is that high-focused attention spot. One way to define that spot is understanding the difference of working out at the gym with a trainer. The value of the trainer is that they work to keep you at that sweet spot. Without the trainer, I’m on the treadmill going, “I think it’s time to stop.” But that’s right when the trainer reaches in and it’s the button says no, three more minutes at a higher speed. But equally, the trainer will make sure that I don’t over exert in the first 10 minutes of my workout and lose the rest of the value. So the trainer keeps me at that sweet spot, allows me to slow down a little bit, begin to move towards comfort, but not let me get too comfortable and bring me back to that sweet spot.
Steve: 05:52 Another way to describe this sweet spot is known as “just time learning.” When you’re in the midst of learning something that you know very quickly, you are going to have to turn and do. You’re going to have to implement that new learning that tends to raise us to that sweet spot of being high-focused as a learner. If you watch your child building a physical skill, you’ll see that they make use of adjustments in order to maximize their practice time right at that sweet spot. If they’re shooting a ball at a target and they’re missing too many, they’ll move closer because too many misses would get them to boredom or anxiety. Equally, if they’re making too many in a row, they will back up to increase the challenge of the task, keeping their practice again at that sweet spot. Video games have mastered the sweet spot unbelievably.
Steve: 07:07 They allow you enough practice to get pretty good at that level and then immediately introduce you to the next level, which will require you moving back towards that more high-focused attention to master at the next level. Highly independent learners know how to move themselves on this continuum when they’re working with school learning similar to the way that they move themselves when shooting a ball at a target. Sensing that a task is getting too comfortable, they’ll move ahead to a more challenging problem or they’ll ask themselves a question to create a new unknown. I wonder why the speed decreases over time. Similarly, they can feel anxiety or frustration building and know to seek some feedback, hints or clues. I know during that time of putting Ikea furniture together, there’s a spot where I’ll ask my wife to interpret the diagram before anxiety shuts me down from finishing the task.
Steve: 08:28 Independent learners also know that it’s time for a break or a change because they can’t stay at that sweet spot for too long, but not too long of a break or you’ll have trouble getting back to focusing your attention on the learning task. As you support your learners, help them to become conscious of where they are on the continuum and what steps they can take to move closer to the sweet spot. What are the possibilities when feeling anxiety building? How do I identify and tap my resources? If I’m losing interest, moving towards boredom, what can I do to move to raise my attention? How can I increase the challenge or set a new goal? Look for times that you can share with your child, your own emotions as you’re tackling a task and how you’re making a conscious decision to adjust and thus gain more from the time that you’re investing in the task. As you help your child, when they are frustrated, make sure to help just enough to get them back to the sweet spot. Keep the challenge strong enough to maximize the learning. If you notice your learner getting too comfortable, offer a question or a challenge to assist them in moving closer to the sweet spot. Conversations and feedback are valuable in assisting your learner in being conscious of how they can influence a situation and maximize their learning result, becoming empowered learners. Thanks for listening.
Steve [Outro]: 10:29 Thanks again for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud on iTunes and Podbean and please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.