The impact of drama-inspired attention focus exercises on mathematical problem-solving

Year: 2016

Author: Smyrnis, Eleni, Ginns, Paul

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The cognitive architecture used by cognitive load theory (Sweller et al., 2011) centres on Baddeley’s working memory model. Kane and Engle’s (2001) executive attention model provides an alternative for generating novel instructional designs. Executive attention is the “ability to effectively maintain … information in an active, easily accessible state in the face of interference, to effectively inhibit goal-irrelevant stimuli or responses, or both” (Kane et al., 2001, p.180). In contrast, mindwandering (Kane & McVay, 2014) involving task-unrelated thoughts is an executive attention failure that may impact on learning. Warm-up exercise from drama education such as the mirroring activity – involving participants facing each other and mirroring each other’s movements – may provide a means of temporarily reducing mindwandering and subsequently enhancing learning. Cohen (2013) asserts this exercise is effective in forcing “total situational concentration” and “driving out all contextual awareness” (p. 203).Twenty-six adult participants (mean age: 20.8 years) were randomly assigned to either a mirroring or non-mirroring condition. The instructions were taken from drama education texts (e.g., Cohen, 2013). Individually, each participant engaged in four activities (clap, space counting, morning routine, and magnifying) for four minutes, performed by either mirroring the experimenter, or performing the same activities by themself following a script. Participants then studied four worked examples on a mental mathematics strategy – the multiplication of two 2-digit numbers. Students were given a total of eight minutes to learn the strategy, two minutes per worked example. Learning was tested on 10 elementary questions (e.g., e.g. 22 x 14; thirty seconds maximum per question to complete) and 10 harder questions (e.g. 58 x 85; one minute maximum per question). Ceiling effects on both the elementary and harder test questions precluded analyses of these variates. An independent groups t-test established that participants in the mirroring condition solved the elementary questions more quickly than the non-mirroring condition t(24) = -2.19, p = .039, d = .86. A Mann-Whitney non-parametric test found the mirroring condition also solved the more complex questions more quickly than the non-mirroring condition, U = 37.50, p = .015, d = 1.08. The results of this experiment provide initial evidence for a pre-learning mirroring exercise to enhance learning. Beyond establishing a mirroring effect on test scores (as opposed to time to solution), in future studies we plan to investigate the “dosage” of mirroring time needed to give an effective learning boost to participants, and incorporate self-report variates to measure mindwandering in real time.ReferencesCohen, R. (2013). Acting power: The 21st century Edition. London: Taylor & Francis. Kane, M.J., et al. (2001). DOI: 10.1037/0096-3445.130.2.169Kane, M. J., & McVay, J. C. (2012). DOI: 10.1177/0963721412454875Sweller, J., Ayres, P., & Kalyuga, S. (2011). Cognitive load theory. New York: Springer.