Have you seen this image before?
Probably yes. My school psychologist posted it to our email bulletin board back in April. I see it retweeted at least once a day on #edchat, #mschat, #hacklearning, Facebook, and elsewhere.
The layout is clean and colorful. The topic is compelling. (Who doesn't want to understand the adolescent mind?!) The numbers catch your eye. They seem to validate our struggles with this challenging age group.
I have some serious complaints:
- All middle schoolers lose attention after about 12 minutes?! [purple circle] If so, then teachers must transition to a new activity 3 or 4 times per class period. Those transitions can be more distracting and problematic for students. Google "attention span" and on the first page of links you will find a wide range of pop-science articles that claim various numbers between 8 seconds and 5 minutes. At least those writers cited their source(s). That 10-12 minute range number might be from page 2 of this "Middle Matters" article which is remarkably similar, and unfortunately also did not directly credit the relevant research. I have not found any other reference to this alleged attention span.
- What constitutes a "bit" of information? [orange circle] That item caught my eye the first time I saw this graphic. If I don't know how much info my students can retain "at a time", then what am I supposed to do with that statistic? Does it mean 5 vocabulary definitions, or 5 names, or 5 concepts? What is the time range for this retention?
- In which areas of the brain does this "greatest" amount of growth occur? [yellow circle] The author's related blog post mentions the prefrontal cortex and some relevant implications, but the casual reader of the infographic would unaware of that specific fact. Also, conventional wisdom states that the most brain growth happens in the first 3 years of life. We would need verified scientific research to refute that popular opinion, if the convention wisdom is incorrect.
- Do all adolescents misinterpret social interactions "40% of the time"? [green circle] That is a disturbing notion! Or is that the average number for a range of students' misinterpretations ... or does this only apply to certain kinds of instructions (like verbal directions without visuals)? This number on its own does nothing helpful to improve my teaching practice.
Dear flippers: How could we apply these statements (if all the #s are true) to improve our practice? How many "bits" of information should each video contain? Must we transition to a new class activity every 12 minutes, to keep their attention? Should we expect that 40% of our video lesson will be misinterpreted? If so, must we talk more slowly and/or repeat ourselves for clarity? Uh-oh, that could make the videos too long. And apparently our students need to sleep at 8pm so they get nearly 13 hours before school starts the next day. (Yeah, right!)
This month of July 2016 has been a hot mess of crazy claims, misattributed or uncredited appropriation of other people's ideas, and the dishonest use of statistics. Politicians across the spectrum expect their audiences to agree & connect because of feelings, not facts; perceptions and popularity, rather than accuracy and authenticity. We end up with warped notions of reality, and incomplete solutions.... That is probably why every posting and re-tweeting of this infographic really upsets me: Blindly accepting and sharing a set of claims with no clear basis in research makes you an accomplice to the crime. We need to teach our children better than that.
I have already made my feelings known to the creator of the graphic, and I waited several days for her to provide me the research studies that supposedly defend all 6 of the claims. Then I wrote this blog post. I'm not trying to destroy anybody's business or character, and I don't even care for an apology from anybody. But I do have 3 requests:
- Let's be careful about the education articles, graphics, etc. that we share. Are there citations? Does it reflect peer-reviewed research (not one guy's observations of a small study sample)?
- If you think I'm out of line, or that I failed to follow my own advice -- please tell me!
- Stop sharing and re-tweeting "How the Mind of a Middle Schooler Works"