Sometimes, it is just necessary to stand in front a group of children and speak to them. It’s not the strongest tool in a teacher’s box of tricks, but speaking to groups of pupils is hinged with one notable problem – keeping their attention – especially if you are trying to get key points across to help their learning. However, these ideas – adapted from spring.org.uk, can easily be amended for classroom situations, and are worth exploration in ensuring attention is kept by the majority of pupils:
1. Take a break
We know time is can be of the essence in classroom settings, but giving everyone a break allows a recharge the attentional batteries. Children inherently have low attention spans, so be aware of this. It should not be all ‘chalk and talk’ anyway, so changing your teaching method during is a lesson will be a welcome break to everyone.
2. Chunk it
Since attention only lasts a certain period, it’s good practice to chunk down whatever you’re teaching. It helps to boost motivation if there’s a smaller task to be completed in a manageable block of time that contributes to your overall lesson objectives.
3. Ditch the multitasking (mostly)
This is relevant for teachers and pupils. Despite the differences and arguments about men/women’s multitasking abilities, if there is a focus you are all working towards, focus on it. Turn the phones off (including yours) and focus on the lesson/subject in hand. That mountain of marking over there in the background? Put it out of sight, so you can focus on the class you are currently teaching.
4. The environment
For many, this can be out of your control (mainly), but the environment can help as well as hinder. Busy walls can be distracting as eyes will wonder and attention will dip. Managed carefully, the environment can support, so consider moving classroom furniture (most classroom furniture is not usually nailed to the floor nowadays), and make it as conducive to concentration as it possible.
Talking of the right environment: try nature – if possible, take your lessons outside. Something about the greenery seems to rev up our cognitive systems. Or perhaps it’s just the escape from the distractions of the modern built environment that does it.
6. Dealing with interruptions
Classrooms seem to be designed especially for interruptions. Colleagues wanting to ‘borrow’ something, unexpected distractions from pupils themselves, and so on. Getting back on track after any interruption can be problematic, so spring offer this idea: Keep a tally of each time you’re interrupted. You’ll get into the habit of making a mark on your interruption sheet and getting straight back to what you’re doing. Also, at the end of the day you can see precisely how many times you’ve been interrupted, which might lead to rethinking the environment you’re working in.
It’s not as fluffy as it sounds, and the benefits of small sessions of meditation are now being realised. Explore these ideas from spring.
8. Take a breath
Give mindfulness techniques a try – these will work for you, and your pupils. Reduce stress – click here to see a few ideas previous shared.
Ok, we concede – unfortunately this cannot be practiced within a working classroom, but attention needs to be given to the amount of sleep you/your pupils have had. For those who are wilting early on in lessons, then a regular sleep pattern might be lacking. Sleep patterns can be all confused with teen body clocks, and although you may not be able to change the school opening times, you may need to physically energise your lessons to help pupils wake up.
10. Find flow
We can force our attention to things that are of little or no interest for a period, but for real attentional mastery, the key is to enter a ‘flow state’. Spring advises that to create a flow experience, you need:
- to be internally motivated, i.e. you are doing the activity mainly for its own sake,
- the task should stretch your skills almost to the limits, but not so much that it makes you too anxious,
- there should be clear short-term goals for what you are trying to achieve,
- and you should get immediate feedback on how you are doing, i.e. you can see how the painting, photo, blog post etc. is turning out.
When in a state of flow, an hour’s supreme focus can pass in the blink of an eye. It sounds like a perfectly structured lesson to us, but to read more about the psychology of flow, visit this post.
There we go. The attention of all your future classes will now be assured (assuming we kept your attention to this point!).
Inspired from original article on spring.org.uk.