It’s a big day in our family. My eldest son is 17 and the only thing he has wanted for his birthday since last year has been driving lessons.
So this morning, having spent a large proportion of his inheritance on insurance, I drove him to a quiet street in his mother’s car where the learning began.
I have been thinking about this for a while and decided to test out some of the Brain Friendly tools that we have been talking about recently.
I wanted to test two concepts this morning. The first is the concept of learning in 20 minute sessions; the second was from a book I am currently devouring – Your Brain At Work by David Rock.
He talks a lot about the prefrontal cortex of the brain and how easy it is to overload it and I wanted to see if I could observe this in action.
My son has driven a go-cart and a motorbike and has also driven a car before but this was on a race track and the objectives then were very different to those today.
We talked about clutch control and balancing throttle and clutch and, having talked through the theory it was time to go. And he was actually pretty good. We slowly made our way down the road getting quicker and quicker, changing up to second gear, stopping, starting off again, turning into junctions… all was going well when suddenly…
His clutch control got worse and worse, he was forgetting to steer (an interesting experience as a passenger) and he stalled three times in a row.
It was clear that he had had enough.
We had been out for just over 25 minutes and he was losing the ability to hold all of the complex actions required to drive in his head.
I drove us home and we had a coffee, watched some TV and took a couple of hours off before heading out again.
- he was much smoother
- clutch control was excellent
- steering more positive
- I felt very safe next to him.
However after about 20 minutes his performance started to drop again and so I called the second session to a halt and drove us both home.
After lunch we went out a third time.
Initially his performance wasn’t as high as in session two and after we talked about this we agreed that he was probably trying too hard to match his previous excellence so we decided to slow everything down just a little and to focus on the basics from this morning with no new information from me at all.
We agreed a route and while he drove the car I focussed on what he was doing now compared to the first five minutes of this morning.
It was astonishing how comfortable he was and how he was already beginning to automate some elements of driving.
- The clutch control was smooth and required significantly less conscious focus
- Steering was almost completely automated
- Gear changes were still a little lumpy but he no longer needed to look for the gear lever
- He was also finding the other pedals without having to get visual confirmation that his feet were in the right position.
After thirty minutes of pretty consistent driving I noticed one or two small errors beginning to creep in so I invited him to drive us home – which he did and parked beautifully right outside our home.
So, what conclusions can we draw from today’s experiment?
Firstly, it was very clear that initially 20 minutes was more than enough and one of the key points for me was that because I was looking for evidence of performance drop-off at around 20 minutes I was able to detect the early signs and stop the session before his performance became so poor that this affected his confidence.
Secondly his performance during the second session greatly surprised me. He didn’t start session two where session one ended – he came straight into session two at his peak point from session one ( I would estimate this to be roughly 15 minutes into the session ) and grew from there.
During the downtime his brain had processed all the new information it had received during session one and moved it out of his prefrontal cortex. This meant he had room to take on the second session effectively with an empty short term working memory.
From today’s experience I know he has learned loads, his confidence is sky high and he has had a great time.
So my call to action today is this:
Be aware of any subtle drops in your learners performance at around the 20 minute mark. This seems to be the point at which the prefrontal cortex says:
I’m holding onto a lot of information here and I’m getting tired. I need to off load into other memory areas and refresh myself otherwise I am now starting to drop stuff
(This is supported by the neurologists)
Once you notice these signs it’s time to make some changes. This could be learning style changes or state changes – you will know what to do when you see it and now you are aware of it you will see it sooner.
Next time we will focus on one of the routines that driving examiners look out for – Mirror, signal, maneuver. I want to experiment with creating behaviour routines through play. If it works, I’ll share it in a later post – if it doesn’t I’ll let you know which A&E I end up in. (I like fuchsias by the way)!