Hitting Pause: Put Learning Ahead of Teaching

Sample Handout for Hitting Pause Workshop

This workshop/plenary/seminar is based on the book “Hitting Pause.”  Objectives for the workshop are tailored to the requesting group.

Pausing with our students at critical teaching moments can make all of the difference between a lecture and a memorable, meaningful learning experience.   This session is planned for teaching faculty who:

  • want to improve lectures to more fully engage students
  • want to rehabilitate their lectures, not dispense with them
  • want to provide information in manageable chunks
  • want practical suggestions to chunk lectures to capture student attention and improve retention
  • are willing to try “small changes” if cognitive science backs them up

Session objectives:

  • Identify research-based ideal characteristics of learning pauses
  • Experience/Analyze/Critique/Design learning pauses
  • Take home pause plans ready to insert into learning sessions

Context and Content:

Cognitive science encourages us to:

  •  Create curiosity and anticipation
  • Chunk teaching into manageable segments
  • Encourage retrieval and interleaving
  • Assist creation of meaning
  • Encourage action planning

…..And yet we fill nearly all of our classroom time with teacher talk and wonder where the magic of teaching has gone.

What matters is what students learn, not what teachers teach.  When educators insert pauses into lectures, students focus, personalize, check for understanding.  Pauses at different times in the learning session function in different ways. Beginning Pauses can increase interest, arouse curiosity or anticipation, or activate prior knowledge.  Closing pauses ask students to review through retrieval, and commit to action, thus increasing the likelihood of transfer. 

Pausing instruction allows the instructor to assess the effectiveness of instruction and receive feedback from students about their learning and their personal responses. Cognitive science research suggests:

  • Providing students with opportunities to look back during the last 5 minutes of class can maximize the learning experience of the classroom.
  • Pausing every 15 minutes or so during the lecture resets student attention
  • Even the best and most entertaining lecturers begin to lose the attention of the audience within 15-20 minutes
  • Keeping students’ attention requires regular “mental breaks.”
  • Students learn more from a short lecture than a longer lecture.
  • The opportunity to teach each other results in improved understanding of course concepts and improved exam performance
  • Students retain more from lectures focusing on a few well developed points than from those with a great deal of new information.
  • Students perform better on outcome exams when the teacher pauses periodically during the lecture in order for the students to review their notes and teach each other.

Engagement activities

Activities for f2f meeting will include running responses on sticky notes, working in small groups, forming a large circle around the perimeter of the room, observing video clips, analyzing research data, reflecting on implications, completing pause worksheets, and critiquing the pauses experienced.

Zoom conference includes online adaptations of these activities.

Presentations regarding Hitting Pause   

Faculty Colloquium for Andrews University 2019.

Hitting Pause Conference in Utah

Faculty Development Showcase Presentation, 2018

Keynote presentation at Lilly Conference 2020 (zoom).

Presentation by Respondents to Hitting Pause Book

Report of Hitting Pause used in Internet Environment.

What others said: 

“I want to thank you for your presentation at Andrews University in August of this year! (Hitting Pause: Rejuvenate Your Classroom, Faculty Colloquium, Plenary Address, August 5, 2017).

I actually have over 20 years of teaching experience on the secondary level but this is only my 5th year teaching at the college level. When I started teaching at the college level I was told that I had to do most of my classes by lecture using power points because that is what college students expect. This isn’t my usual style and my course evaluations revealed that none of us were real excited about it. After listening to your presentation you empowered me to go back to teaching the way I like best. You gave me permission to not have to use power points and lectures to get the material across.  I changed my fall course in a just few days to be ready to teach Health Assessment to undergraduate nursing students the following week. Basically, I flipped the classroom and we had a ball! Even though the class started at 7:30 am the students were engaged for the entire time. Students reported learning and retaining the information much better, and test scores increased from the previous year. I would send you a copy of my course evaluation but it glows in the dark and I don’t want anyone to think it is radioactive. LOL!”


Here is a comment I received from a student:

“As I am about to complete my sophomore year, I just wanted to say thank you very much for being a great professor. Thank you for all the encouragement you have given me.  I enjoyed your teaching, I must say you have a unique way of teaching, that is not easy for any student to forget. The use of index cards and practice questions made it easier for us to remember. You made the class more interactive, you made 6:30 am class feel like 12:00 pm in the afternoon. Your way of teaching was not only helping us to pass the course but also, helping us for future classes… (4/26/2018)

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