How to get and hold attention: stop telling your students to “pay attention!”

Eric Jensen wrote an edifying post about this, which is well worth reading on his site.

In essence, he makes the point that there are much better ways of ensuring attention than asking for it.  Here I have re-produced his tips for making children want to pay attention.  As I mentioned, the original post is on Eric’s site and is an engaging read.

  • Use prediction. Ask students to make a prediction on something related to your content (the process, outcome, circumstance(s), etc.)  BTW…They care more about the outcome. Then help them get vested in their prediction by making the prediction public (“Raise your hand if you believe that …”) Next, increase the stakes of the prediction (“Those that predict correctly will get one free homework pass this month. Now, let’s find out who was right.”) Prediction forces the brain to care about the outcome because we get vested in being right.
  • Use the brief “pause” and chunk technique. Give students a stand up break of 30-90 seconds (the “pause”) to give them mental processing time for the content. It also adds a sense of anticipation or even importance to the content. Brief breaks just to stretch may help focus (Ariga,A. & Lleras,A., 2011). Be sure to also break your content into 5-12 min. chunks (depending on grade level).
  • Prime the learning with small hints, appetizers and teasers ahead of the content to create a pre-attentional bias to the content.
  • Start getting “buy-in” to the content. This is the “hook” that fosters attentional vigilance.  Then, add a strong goal-acquisition to the activity, keeping them vested in reaching the target goal.
  • Do a fast physical activity (like Simon Sez) first to activate executive function areas with the induced strength from the brain’s internal focus-inducing chemical, norepinephrine and working memory ally, dopamine.
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