Keeping students focused is sometimes a challenge for teachers . . . and everyone benefits from a couple new strategies to help gain and retain students’ attention on the learning at hand. The Focusing Strategies in this newsletter are intended to foster focused attention for students whether they be visual, bodily-kinesthetic, attention-deficit or another style of learner. IEE invites you to give them a try and let us know how they work with your students.
This common practice is sometimes ignored; although, it is a huge step to good classroom management and increasing learning time. Educational researchers report that the average classroom teacher can lose up to twenty days each year . . . just getting students’ attention and redirecting their focus as they transition from one activity to the next. The good news, however, is that teachers can recapture eighteen of those lost days through the consistent use of an Attention First signal.
Teachers often use a “hand-up” signal and ask that when students see the teacher’s hand go up that they put their hand in the air and finish their sentence (not start a new paragraph). Other teachers use a “lights off” signal or a “clapping rhythm” to gain attention. The key to the success of this strategy is the CONSISTENT use of whatever Attention First strategy you use. It is important to wait patiently until everyone has stopped talking; it will speed up over time! So, if you feel that you are losing too much valuable time on task, give the Attention First strategy a try.
Step-by-Step (also referred to as a Visual Paragraph) is a powerful strategy to support visual and bodily-kinesthetic learners (most of tody’s students). It provides “space” or containers for participants to store and access information. It makes directions and steps in processes much easier to understand and remember.
Step-by-Step works like this: the teacher stands in one spot and gives the first step in the process or first message. For example, the teacher says, “Students please take out your journals from yesterday.” Then the teacher pauses and moves (without speaking) one step to the students’ right and then gives the second step in the directions. For example, “Students, the second thing you will be doing is to exchange journals with your A/B partners.” Then the teacher pauses, and silently moves one step further to the students’ right and proceeds to give the next step in the process or directions. For example, “The last step is that you will read your partner’s entry and write a summary paragraph beneath their entry.”
You can return to the first “spot” and check for understanding to see if students recall the information. It is important to move from the students’ left to right and not to speak in between the steps in the process. Step-by Step is absolutely magic in helping students focus on content and directions.
Making Tracks is a reading strategy to help guide students as they read informational text. Often times students struggle with what it is they need to pay attention to when reading new material and Making Tracks provides them with a lens for reading. It works like this: students are assigned a piece of text (story, chapter, and article) and are instructed to make tracks in their reading. For example, the teacher may ask students to, “Place an exclamation point (!) after anything that is a new learning for you, a question mark (?) after anything that is puzzling to you, and a check mark (√) after anything that makes sense to you in the reading.”
While proficient readers frequently make notes when they’re reading, this strategy helps struggling readers zero in on what they are reading. Making Tracks helps students remain focused while they are reading informational text. It also provides the teacher with an opportunity to ask students to share with one another after reading (stand-up/hand-up/pair-up or shoulder partner) to deepen their understanding of what they have read.
Ever have students working in cooperative groups and need to know how much time each team needs to finish their work? Time Check is a great strategy to provide the teacher with feedback to guide his/her decision about moving forward with the lesson. It works this way: the teacher asks each group to come to consensus about how much time they need to complete their work. The key is to give the groups parameters about how much time they may request. For example, they may signal with a closed fist indicating that they do not need more time; with an index finger raised if they need one more minute; or two fingers for two more minutes.
Always give groups a maximum number of minutes that they can request. Once each group has raised their hands indicating the number of minutes they need, the teacher calls out each, saying “I see one minute; I see zero minutes; I see two minutes; I see one minute, So, we are going to take 1 minute 15 seconds more to complete your work.” It is important to call out the Time Check because it allows everyone in the room to gage how every group may be at a different place in the work. The strategy also allows teachers to honor the need for more time to engage in deeper learning.