The RAS Alert and it's role in the classroom

Public speakers know they have two to three minutes to engage their audience. People navigating through a website will turn go elsewhere after 30 seconds if they cannot find what they are looking for.  Are there any lessons here for what happens in a classroom? It can be claimed that if students are unsure where the lesson is heading within a few minutes, they could or do become confused and switch off. (READ MORE: 

This is where the Reticular Activating System (RAS), a part of our reptilian brain, could be of value to teachers.

What are the RAS and the RAS Alert?
Its major purpose is to keep us safe, to recognize danger and to make us successful. It is usually context-based and filters out unnecessary stimuli to allow us to focus on the job at hand. For example, when driving a vehicle, the RAS filters out scenery as soon as a potential threat emerges, and alerts us to potential dangers such as a person on a bicycle, erratically driven vehicles and also suspiciously parked white vehicles which are likely to possess cameras pointing at us. The reason that this occurs is that our past experience has taught us to be alert to these potential dangers.

When on a shopping mission, once we have decided on a particular item such as clothing, food or technology (thus alerting our RAS), our RAS Alert filters out unnecessary stimuli to allow us to identify these objects as we enter the relevant store. We will also notice this item elsewhere in the public domain.

Students who have one or more tormentors in a school situation have an acute RAS Alert and will easily spot these people, even in a larger crowd. The reason is that the RAS Alert filters out other stimulus in order to help them identify potential danger in order to keep them safe.

The RAS Alert will also help people spot and notice objects, opportunities and others they like.

As teachers, we can use the same principle of the RAS Alert at the start of the lesson to give more purpose to what is to follow. One idea may be to draw a bow and arrow pointing at a Bull’s Eye on the top left-hand side of the white board. Next to the bull’s eye identify the major topic or purpose of the lesson to follow. Then use between 3-7 dot-points to list the major sub sets of the lesson. These dot-points could include content material headings but could also include behaviour and organisational points such as active listening, being careful with technology and collecting and returning of resources.

For example, in a lesson of Romeo and Juliet, we used this RAS~ Alert

•    Understanding interaction of characters
•    Understanding relative strength of the two gangs
•    Noticing links of these to life today in school, sport and commerce
•    Discussion – analytical thinking
•    Working in pairs – active listening and providing feedback
•    Writing a concluding paragraph

Spending one or two minutes on this RAS Alert at the start of the lesson could set up the students for greater clarity of purpose and lead to greater engagement. Leaving the RAS Alert on the board is also useful if the teacher regularly refers to it during certain stages of the lesson. This is not the lesson plan as such, but rather the lesson purpose. It assists in avoiding confusion for students and is more likely. Stephen Covey in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ talks about the importance of being proactive and ‘sharpening the saw’. By this he meant that it is better to spend a few minutes in preparing for the task, such as in sharpening the saw or axe, before embarking on the job of cutting this wood since any tome lost in the initial preparation is soon made up by the use of a more efficient tool. The RAS-Alert is also a tool, but in this case for use in the classroom. Both detailed and global learners will appreciate being offered a map of the lesson.

How to write your RAS Alert?
Identify your major content areas to be covered. Then ask yourself what are the major outcomes, Essential Learnings or Key Competencies you wish to achieve. Note these and decide on how they are linked to the content areas. Finally, include any particular management advice you wish to ensure occurs during the lesson.

Reflection. This is more than an agenda. It is a list of what you as a professional educator would wish to see occurring in your classroom. Sharing these ideas, or alerting the RAS of all your students will more likely lead to shared ownership and purpose of the lesson. You can also test the usefulness of the RAS Alert by asking students what they think of it.

Enjoy your lessons!


Leave a comment

Comments have to be approved before showing up