There’s a great expression/meme I found circulating the internet that describes how adults encourage young children to talk, play, and discover the world, yet when these young children move on to elementary and middle school, we implore them to sit still in their seats and be quiet. It’s quite confusing for children and completely unrealistic expectations for them.
Teacher-centered instruction, where students are sitting quietly in their seats with the teacher at the front of the classroom lecturing, should be a practice that is long forgotten. It should go the way the Jenko Jeans I fondly sported in the early 90’s and stay in the past.
As educators, we need to be realistic and take into account our own personal experiences when designing lesson plans. I have quickly learned one of my least favorite parts to the job is sitting still at staff meetings or professional development presentations for extended periods of time. I’m an educator: I like to move around the room and experience what I am learning; I find I lose interest when someone is talking at me instead of with me. Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand these types of meetings are part of my professional development and I get the value of important deliverables delegated at these meetings, but that doesn’t mean I have to enjoy them.
Even thinking and writing about them makes me tired, lethargic and overall annoyed. But, I am an adult, and as an adult with years of practice in controlling my emotions and attention, I am able to put a smile on my face and accept that I am always going to be a part of these meetings and dealing with them is just another facet of the job.
Now, when it comes to my students, and when they are forced to sit still for 50 minutes taking notes on a subject they may not be so excited about, can I really just expect them to put that same smile on their faces that I am able to muster up and deal with it? When were they taught that skill and where was I?
We need to take into consideration the attention spans and feelings of young children who grew up in the digital age and have intrinsic needs for stimulation and movement in varying contexts.
Teachers need to be cognizant of these realities and incorporate specific teaching practices to target student engagement and attention. Significant preparation and thought needs to go into lesson design, and all decisions should be made through a student-centered approach.
We recommend using our lesson plan design that helps to promote engagement, but obviously we’re biased. If you choose to use another design, be sure to include the following practices to ensure student engagement and focus:
Incorporate short Brain Breaks into your lesson plan to provide students with a break from academic activities and have a little fun. Brain Breaks allow for rejuvenation and refocusing of attention. You can also use this time to try a class-building or team-building activity.
Allow for Active Interactions and Movement
Design your lesson to incorporate movement, discussions, and interactions in the classroom. Learning is an active endeavor and students need to be active in some form or another to learn. However, the difficulty here is purpose. It is vital to connect the active engagement to the actual learning target.
For example, when I have tried to teach coordinate geometry, I will have students stand up and make a “Y” with their hands to remember the y-axis is vertical, and then I have students make an “X” and then move their arms straight out from them horizontally. They chant the following while they are performing those hand motions:
Classroom Procedures and Routines
Just as with most aspects of life, things get boring if you do them all the time. Therefore, it is important to modify or change your classroom procedures to keep them new and fresh. Some ideas might be to assign students new roles or jobs each week. Change up your seating arrangements so students can work with new classmates. Add in new procedures or routines for your daily Do Now or warm-up.
Direct Instruction to Active Learning
This is the phase of your lesson where you are explicitly teaching your students. Instead of just lecturing in front of a power point presentation, you should employ the practices of guided notes, graphic organizers, demonstrations and questioning.
I usually print out my power point slides and provide specific moments throughout the presentation where students must respond, fill-in information, or develop their own questions.
Along with guided notes, graphic organizers are an invaluable way to break down concepts and ideas into a visual display more in line with how the brain perceives and stores information.
Teacher or video demonstrations of the skills and concepts being instructed is vital. If possible, provide students with several examples of these demonstrations and perhaps require them to develop their own model, alternative connections, or questions about the demonstration.
Also, the use of cooperative learning structures is a great way to help students participate in questioning. Technology is a great tool we can use as well to capture student understanding during the active learning phase of the lesson plan.
The method I usually employ for the guided practice phase of a lesson is I DO, We DO, You Do. I provide three practice problems where I use this strategy and then I extend the “You Do” portion with more problems for students to work independently. This is a great way to differentiate by providing leveled/tiered problems for students to work through as well as student choice in choosing which problems to work on.
Many of these practices and resources may be common place in your classroom, and that’s great! I find it valuable to revisit these practices to ensure my ability to connect the learning target with actual classroom engagements or activities to maintain student attention and focus.
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